Version tested: PC
Tom, is it too late for me to turn down this review? Now the disc is in my hands I realise there's been a bit of a misunderstanding. Because of a typo in your original email, I was expecting a startlingly original wargame all about the seventies fishing disputes between Iceland and the UK, not a bog-standard RTS about a fictional fifties conflict between NATO and the Warsaw Pact.
If I'd known how painfully familiar and disgracefully trawler-free Cold War was going to be, I'd probably have avoided it. Hungarian studio Stormregion (now transmuted into Innoglow) has been peddling versions of its likeable WW2 debut for the best part of five years now, and the formula is beginning to fester. Codename Panzers: Phase 1, Codename Panzers: Phase 2, Rush To Berlin, and Rush For The Bomb... They've all been basically the same game - a handsome, tank-heavy tactical romp with a few interesting quirks like unit carry-over and sound-spotting.
Cold War adds some minor embellishments, but come to it as I have, in the grip of Men of War and Empire: Total War infatuation, and it all seems achingly ordinary. Ditching WW2 in favour of a make-believe Soviet-Chinese assault on Western Europe has promise on paper. Play through a couple of missions, however, and you quickly realise all it really means is that the tanks are a slightly different shape, and aerial ops are carried out by swooping jets and gawky (Gorki?) helicopters rather than Stukas and Fieseler Storks.
The devs haven't even bothered to shift the fighting to a fresh front. Because Stalin and his cronies have decided to grab Germany first, then trundle towards The Channel (I must have missed the cut-scene that explains why NATO fails to nuke his pudgy Communist behind) we end up skirmishing in the kind of locales we've been skirmishing in for years. Rubbled Berlin, the ravaged Maginot Line, windmilly Dutch towns on the Rhine... God, haven't the blighters in these poor burgs suffered enough?
A bolder designer would at the very least have let us choose the order in which we contested these well-stamped stomping grounds. Cold War's eighteen-mission campaign sequence is as linear as a varnished eel and equally unpredictable. Despite the presence of numerous optional and secret objectives, most scenarios boil down to tactically simplistic tank rampages. Though there's no base-building or resource-gathering as such, capturing strategic buildings and 'prestige flags' allows you to summon reinforcements. Amass a sufficiently ferocious gang of armour and support vehicles, and the world is your speed bump.
Tank forces are so good at exterminating the Red Menace, you wonder why the devs bothered with infantry at all. Yes, engineer squads can transform into handy repair depots, and grunts will happily man any vehicles the enemy has foolishly left unoccupied, but most of the time the armed pedestrians in your army still feel like fleshy liabilities. It doesn't help that there's usually a scenario-critical personality amongst the squads. It's the Third World War for flip's sake, why should my fun be cut short by the demise of one fairly low-ranking commander?