Universal Military Simulator 2: Nations at War logo

Rainbird * £29.99 Mouse

The original Universal Military Simulator was one of the great successes in the wargaming genre. Several UMS scenarios were released following its acclaim, featuring the Vietnam conflict, the American Civil War and Napoleon's Waterloo. Die-hard wargamers at last had something near the power of a good board game.

But like war itself UMS has escalated. The next logical advance - global conflict replaces the mere corner of a foreign field. Now anywhere is capable of being an arena of mass-destruction.

New model army
The reason for this is simple - UMS's designers, Intergalactic Development Inc, felt a need to simulate modern-day warfare, especially great battles like World War Two, which could not be represented in the old-style UMS. The solution was to start again, and attempt to represent the whole of the planet Earth. The digitising of the world was a difficult, but not impossible, task which turned out very well.

The process yielded some interesting side effects, which were included in UMS II features weather systems, temperature zones, thunderstorms and barometric pressure variations all over the Earth's surface. These factors are taken into consideration while you fight. Fancy an attack over occupied France when the rain is chucking down? Not me!

Aside from the Ian McGaskill-type extras, UMS II is miles more advanced than its predecessor. It has improved battle-algorithms which take into account things like government control. You can now influence the way your armies fight by altering the amount of money spent 'back home' on rebuilding, producing more weapons and so on.

Production budgets and tax rates can affect the population, which in turn affects a parameter known as National Will. A country with a low will fights badly and produces less - so the emphasis on state control and planning is increased in UMS II.

Other new elements of the conflict systems include transport capability and battle reports. These enable you to ship units all over the world, using point-and-click type controls to direct the various units. Units can be made to transport other units - like ships carrying infantry, planes carrying paratroops - and these can all be deployed as the battle progresses.

Finding how battles are proceeding is easy, despite the possibility of many more simultaneous fire fights than was possible in UMS. Battle reports appear whenever two units come into contact, and you have the choice to pile in and assist, or give the order to retreat - or you can just leave them to get on with it, while hoping for the best.

War stomping
UMS II is supplied with three scenarios - Alexander the Great's stomp of AD 334, the D-Day landings in 1944 and Napoleon's triumphs of 1805. More are promised for the future. Each of the scenarios can be played repeatedly, attempting different strategies and playing whichever side you desire. You can even play both sides (or more than two in the case of Alexander's foes) for true sado-machochism!

Universal Military Simulator 2: Nations at War logo

Lange Zeit galt Rainbirds UMS als die komplexeste Konfliktsimulation überhaupt. Jetzt werden die Strategen wohl umdenken müssen - in puncto Umfang sprengt der Nachfolger alle bisher gekannten Maßstäbe!

Zunächst hat der Feldherr nur die Wahl, ob er auf den Spuren Alexanders des Großen wandeln möchte, oder lieber die Napoleanischen Kriege neu aufleben läßt - wie schon beim Vorgänger sollen später weitere Szenariodisks und ein Editor zum Erstellen individueller Schlachten folgen. Aber zu tun gibt es auch jetzt schon genug: Allein in der Alexander-Variante sind bereits 17 Nationen beteiligt, von denen jede individuell gesteuert wird!

Bis zu 17 Bildschirm-Generäle dürfen also antreten; da aber vor einem Monitor meist nicht so viele Plaz haben, übernimmt der Computer die fehlenden Streithansel. Die Auseinandersetzungen finden auf einer riesigen Landkarte statt, die in vier Zoomstufen betrachtet werden kann und auf Wunsch Straßen, Orte, Temperaturverhältnisse oder Wetterbedingungen informiert.

Zudem läßt sich über ein besonderes Menü (das Master Control Panel) wirklich alles und jedes einstellen und abspeichern: der Schaden, den mangelnde Erfahrung anrichtet, der erhöhte Kräfteverschleiß bei miesem Wetter, die Kosten für die Produktivitätssteigerung einer Nation, die Sichtweite der Einheiten, und natürlich die Dauer einer Kampfrunde in (simulierten) Tagen. All das ist aber nur ein ganz, ganz kleiner Auszug der vorhandenen Möglichkeiten...

Während des eigentlichen Spiels wollen diplomatische Beziehungen ebenso bedacht und gesteuert werden, wie die Kapazität der Hafenanlagen oder der Aufbau neuer Armeen. Die meisten Aktionen verschlingen sogenannte Produktions- bzw. Rekrutierungspunkte, die nur begrenzt zur Verfügung stehen, jedoch durch Investitionen "nackgetankt" werden können.

Bei der Befehlsvergabe an das Militär kramt man dann entweder in einem umfangreichen Auswahlsmenü, oder beklickt direkt das Armeeicon auf der Karte - beide Möglichkeiten hätten allerdings getrost etwas übersichtlicher ausfallen dürfen. Sobald der Amiga an der Reihe ist, seine Züge festzulegen, ermittelt er praktischerweise auch gleich die Kampfergebnisse.

Weniger praktisch ist, daß derlei Aktionen den Rechner schon mal zehn bis zwanzig Minuten lahmlegen! Und obwohl nur strategische Blöckchengrafik angesagt ist, dauert auch hier der Aufbau eine kleine Ewigkeit.

Was es dann letztendlich zu sehen gibt, wirkt gelegentlich etwas undeutlich, sieht aber immer noch erheblich besser aus, als dies beim Vorgänger der Fall war.

Sound ist während des Spiels gar nicht vorhanden, weshalb wir auf eine Bewertung verzichtet haben. Bleibt noch festzuhalten, daß die Maussteuerung im wesentlichen recht ordentlich funktioniert.

Dank seiner unglaublichen Komplexität dürfte UMS II zwar die ultimative Offenbarung für Hardcore-Strategen darstellen, allerdings spielt sich das Teil schon extrem zäh. Was für geduldige Militärhistoriker ein gefundenes Fressen ist, sollte vom Freizeitzocker vor dem Kauf erstmal angetestet werden - sicher ist sicher! (jn)

Universal Military Simulator 2: Nations at War logo

It is the wargame to end all wargames - but is it friendly enough to win any new converts?

Looking at the games that come into AMIGA POWER, every batch of new releases seems to contain another new wargame. However, the only real difference between most of them is the scenario - and the starting conditions.

Surely if someone somewhere made a game where all the relevant variables were changeable, and there was the ability to add on scenario disks and create your own conflicts, they would have the game to end all wargames. Which is exactly what Rainbird have tried to do with UMS II - Nations At War.

It is ambitious alright, but how well does it work? Well, it is certainly the most comprehensive and complex battle simulator around on any computer, and spread over four disks, it is a biggie. In fact the game is only on a single disk, with each of the three scenarios on one each: Alexander the Great, Napoleon and Operation Overlord, better known as the D-Day landings.

UMS II is unbelievably complex and here lies its claim to being as much a battle simulator as a wargame. In addition to the usual modifiers of Experience, Leadership qualities and Morale, the player can also set numerous other options that all have their own subtle effects on the situation.

Take attrition rates for troops (the rate at which they are worn down by the pressures of battle) alters their morale and leadership levels, which in turn has a further effect on their attrition rate. Even experienced wargamers will find the options offered by UMS II bewildering.

Troops do not just attack or defend - they can also creen, hold or assault. Air units can patrol, escort, bomb attack and intercept, while sea units evade, attack, avoid or launch off-shore salvos. And so it goes on.

Once you have mastered the rudiments of straightforward battle, you can take a step back from the world of moving units and armies to manipulate the political situations in the countries that you hold. You can set the tax rates, morale of the citizenry, speed and effectiveness of production and so on.

Sounds good so far? Well, with any game of this size you might expect a few flaws. UMS II is a little slow and the graphics range from the utilitarian to the downright ugly (I do not care if this is how wargames have been done before, there is no excuse for bad graphics anymore).

But the game's fatal weakness is not the program at all, but the manual. If you think that a game of this complexity needs a detailed and exacting manual you would be right. If you thought such a thing would be included with a game of this quality, sadly, you would be wrong.

The manual provided is a chunky perfect-bound book, very smart, glossy and a good read. It contains an excellent reference guide to the commands and terms used and is solidly packed with tertiary information (even right down to the elective principal and ethos of early Macedonian society!). But despite this apparently comprehensive approach the essential third of the manual - an introductory tutorial section - is noticeable by its omission.

Picture the scene. You rip open the box, and insert the game disk into your Amiga. After the clever little animated title sequence, you are presented with with a message telling you to back up, a menu bar and, erm, that is it. So, you choose a scenario (say Alexander's campaign), load the disk and suddenly there is a map of the Eastern Mediterranean and you are dropped into the middle of the biggest and bloodiest war the Ancient world had ever seen.

There is no tutorial, no handy on-line help system, nothing. If you have a reasonable amount of experience of this kind of game, you are going to be soundly trashed for the first few games until you get the hang of what is going on.

There are many special interest areas of Amiga games that are now making the crossover into the mainstream. Flight sims are a prime example. UMS II is the most complete battle simulation of its kind and could have been the program to give wargames the same wider appeal.

In the end, however, UMS II falls into the traps of most wargames. In that it appears to have been written for the exclusive club of gamers who are already obsessed by the subject. The novice player is thrown into a vast battlescape with very little aid from the ultimate interesting, but immediately useless, manual.

More scenarios and a Planet Editor are already planned for release and UMS II looks set to become the biggest thing since, well, since the original UMS. Some people will love it, but it will probably never reach the much greater audience it could have done because of its nasty knack of throwing the player headlong into full-scale wars - a problem only compounded by the impenetrable manual. This being the case, my overall opinion reflects the view of a seasoned wargamer.

Universal Military Simulator 2: Nations at War logo CU Amiga Screen Star

PRICE: £29.99

Graphically, Universal Military Simulator II is a bit disappointing. The graphics are a throwback to the utilitarian design that has been used to depict wargames for more than a decade. However, when you consider the size of UMS II, it would be hard to imagine it in any other format, and the new game has certainly taken wargaming into the next generation.

UMS II takes a large jackboot forward in the size of the playing area. Your campaigns are no longer confined to Antwerp, Gettysburg or any other of the small sections that make up most wargames; now you have a genuine global game area incorporating over a hundred and twenty countries and up to 32,000 units!

Ease of use is essential. A great many war games have fallen when it came to menu juggling for simple commands. UMS II has no such problems. To issue an order to a unit double click on it with the mouse pointer. An information screen appears with details, unit statistics and current orders (if any). Orders for land troops consist of basic movement commands plus attacking and retreating options.

To move a unit, select one of the movement orders. A ray trace 'wire' appears which can be moved to any location and lets you programme a series of moves. This allows complicated strategies to be set up without the need for any commands to be typed in.

Armies can consist of missile units, aircraft, land troops and naval forces, resulting in a different set of orders for each. A typical set of commands for a land army consists of march, forced march, attack, assault, screen, defend, hold at all costs, re-supply and transport.

This might not seem much, but they all prove vital and cover and potential holes in the command structure. Other interesting features include bombardment, which allows ships to attack land targets. In the Operation Overland scenario the German forces come with V1 and V2 units, which can be used against any location within range, utilising a targeting system similar to the wire system mentioned above.

The battle fields can be viewed on four levels: group, army, corps and division. Subsequently, if you view a battle field on a group level you can see almost a whole continent with only two or three units present, whereas a division gives you a complete breakdown of your forces plus a close up view of their immediate area.

The unit icons are user friendly in that they are easily identifiable, unlike most wargames. Icons can be drawn up representing the weather and other details, though this makes things very confusing so it is best to switch these off once you know what is going on.

The most important factor in any war game is the artificial intelligence; it is not very rewarding having the opposition retreat because the weather is bad. Fortunately, UMS II holds its own when it comes to thinking. The computer throws a few interesting moves at you which can often lead to the collapse of the best laid plans.

My only gripe here is the computer that seems to follow its objective in a too logical manner and after a while it becomes easy to predict what responses it will offer up to your attacks. If your computer does start to get better of you the battle equation can be altered.

For instance, bad weather will affect a navy's efficiency, and lack of morale can seriously affect an army's performance. There is also a random element so, just as in real life, a small 'against all odds' unit stands a chance of a surprisingly good result, but that is only a slim chance.

UMS II is a very well presented package, owing a lot to its user friendliness. If you have never tried computer wargaming before this is the perfect first time buy, and there is enough in here to keep hardened campaigners happy too. Destined to become a classic.