After coming to terms with some of the wonkiness – So this simply won’t run in a window on my desktop? Really? – I finally sat down to work through the tutorials, because I’m curious to find out more about what this thing is.
Seems very straightforward so far, which has me scratching my head at the ASL associations. I would have assumed an ASL-inspired game would be a lot more, well…elaborate. More complex, with more detail, harder to learn. But this thing looks positively casual to me. Surely ASL isn’t this simple?
But my greater reservation was all but confirmed in the tutorials. I love the tutorials, by the way! I wish more games would do tutorials like this. It’s a set of scenarios set up specifically to show you and let you experiment with some aspect of the game. You get a single page intro, then the scenario loads and you can run through it as quickly or take your time and test the various options laid out for you. All nicely bite-sized, and wonderfully flexible. Very nicely done!
But then I get to the next-to-last tutorial for infantry units (there are a couple more that explain armored units). There’s a building with a German machine gunner in it, and my Russian troops are in a forest across a clearing. The tutorial is going to show me how to advance to capture a position that has no cover in front of it. And it explains it like so:
All that text there explains that a unit’s reaction fire gets weaker with successive shots. So to capture the building, I should first move distant units to draw the machine gunner’s fire against targets it can’t harm. Then, once it has used up its reaction fire, my closest unit just walks up and captures the building, unscathed. Basically, I trick the reaction fire into getting used up on ineffectual shots. It’s a classic AI exploit, and something no human opponent worth his salt would fall for, and it’s explained in the tutorial for Second Front as the way you’re supposed to play the game. :(
I don’t really have a solution for this, and I know bad AI is at once the bane and hallmark of computer wargames. But it’s kind of depressing to see it so explicitly codified into a game design. I’m sticking with Second Front because I’m still curious to find out whether this is just some beer n’ pretzels Unity single-player wargame or something more substantial, but seeing AI exploits as part of the tutorials was a bummer.
(To be fair, there are multiple fire phases, and reaction fire is only one of them. And since it’s automated, a human player’s units will also be vulnerable to the same exploit, assuming the computer knows how to do it. And given that the designer codified it for the human player – the tutorials make it clear you’re supposed to use distant targets to draw out reaction fire – I’m hoping he also wrote an AI that does this as well. Otherwise, we’re getting into the issue of the AI unable to play the game it was designed for.)