There's only one surefire way of revving up expectation for a World War II strategy game: use Dad's Army map arrows during cut-scenes. Works every time. Either Order of War's developers are geniuses on the same scale as Perry and Croft, or their home country of Belarus (as seen in the semi-finals of Eurovision) is a hotbed of not being kidded by Mr Hitler. So yes, Order of War is exciting because of the pointy arrows. But what else?
First and foremost, if you're not automatically drawn in by the diesel-perfume of authentically recreated tanks and painstakingly researched French battlefields, it's an interesting game in that it's going to be one of the first solo toe-dips by Japanese publishing giant Square Enix into an entirely Western market. Quite why Squenix has gone for the hardcore PC RTS market as its first land-grab is up for question (it's also mucking in with Gas Powered Games and Supreme Commander 2), but it admittedly does have the recent takeover of Eidos to cater for the mainstream.
In any case, with a big publisher comes big production values. It's clear from the off that there's a lot more sheen and sparkle to Order of War than in the multitude of WW2 tank/field rivals that have trundled up over the past few years. Historically I think it's fair to say that WW2 RTS games have been afflicted by more than their fair share of clunky menu screens, convoluted UIs and reams of historical text to instinctively click past, so the slick Call of Duty-style intros to each mission (contemporary footage mixed with whizz-bang computer graphics of troop movements and an Optimus Prime-style voiceover) are an unexpected pleasure. Following this an uncluttered screen, simple command of companies of units, and uncomplicated on-screen troop-ordering widgets, which instantly bring to mind the charms of World in Conflict - even if Order of War doesn't play out with such utter destructive tendencies and isn't, sadly, quite as pretty.
There are two campaigns, one detailing the American push through the continent after the D-Day landings, and the other playing as the German forces during the run-in with Stalin on the Eastern front. Missions aren't 'win the map' affairs, but instead break down into individual scripted tasks. An early level called Road to Paris, for example, sees your army attempting to secure a bridgehead over the Seine in a town 20 miles outside the French capital. Your first task is to fend off an ambush, then to take out a hilltop coated with anti-aircraft guns, then paint the local architecture with your cursor to order bombers, before arranging your hilltop troops to fend off your two control points from a massive counter-attack brewing at the bottom of the incline.
You're very much ordering groups of relatively automated troops rather than demanding individual grenade-tosses from your charges, but this should come as a relief, because the number of your charges will grow to around a thousand as the game moves on. In fact, the model of troop command being touted is very much that of Total War, albeit without clevernesses such as unit morale and the like.
Meanwhile, at any point the resource points that you've accrued through general battle can be used to order in fresh troops from the foot of the map, but in a possibly audience-dividing move developer Wargaming.net has also included a feature that means you won't be able to lose on normal difficulty levels. Consistently foul up your tactics and an increasingly exasperated General will simply keep on sending reinforcements until you've stumbled inexpertly to victory, bereft of the medals and upgrades you would otherwise have earned for a job well done. The idea is to keep you on the edge of victory/disaster for as long as possible without sudden 'mission over' screens, but whether it proves slightly too hand-holdy is unclear.
As ever, Order of War has been developed with an eye on ushering in the mainstream. Micromanagement and ammo-shortages will not be an issue here. In fact, even the oft-touted 'FPS feel' is given an airing when the developers show off the cinematic camera you can snap to on the battlefield, should you want to view the carnage in a more personal capacity. It's been done elsewhere, but there's a nice Match of the Day 2 highlights way in which it captures the main talking points of the carnage being wreaked on the field from various unexpected camera angles. What's more, close up, the graphics remain nicely crisp and reassuringly gallic in their authenticity - with the developers promising that signs, houses, roads and brickwork are all exactly as they would be in the different regions of Europe that the game visits.
As for the D-Day landings themselves, when the words "we will beat Spielberg" spill from the excited lips of Wargaming.net CEO Victor Kislyi, eyebrows can't help but rush to the summit. From what I've played, I can confirm that they will at least be fun.
When it was released in Russia at the close of last year, under the frankly brilliant name of Operation Bagration (also a historically accurate and rather serious title, so apologies for the implied giggles), Order of War did rather well critically - and there's little to suggest it won't float the authentically-rivetted boats of the English-speaking gamer either. In fact, the only primary danger is whether Order of War has fallen between the two stools of simultaneously pleasing the mainstream and the sort of person who rolls around in Osprey Tank manuals like a pig in the proverbial. Dad's Army pointy arrows won't please everyone. In fact, that's probably just me.
Order of War is due out for PC later this year.