ESRC12: The Call of Middle East is Fanica's entry to the Ensemble Studios Remake Competition, hosted by Jatayu. Fanica's scenario is a reworking of the Barbarossa's March scenario, with some added parts and slightly more varied gameplay.
The scenario was decently fun to play. As I mentioned above, the gameplay was more varied than the original ES scenario, but there were some balance issues that really affected playability and that I will touch on later. There is little or no replayability value, and it is pretty clear that the author was rushed by the competition deadline. Inconsistency is a key word to describe this scenario, as some parts (the prisoner escape) are really fun, while others (the siege of Constantinople, Barbarossa solo in the desert) were fairly boring.
Simply put, the scenario was way too easy. You are given way more than enough troops to capture Constantinople and Gallipoli, and one can expect only token resistance from the defenders. The use of something like Ingo's angry brother AI would have helped a lot here, and as long as you don't do anything incredibly stupid, you can't lose. However, the author made it a little harder by not giving the player archers, which would have made it a cakewalk. The parts in Anatolia are also too easy, and I was never in danger of losing. Indeed, I found the original ES scenario more difficult. However, when you have to walk Barbarossa by himself, it is rather hit and miss, as there are tons of Saracen Cataphracts(?!) waiting in the desert to kill you. The player should not have to rely upon luck to win; this hurts balance and playability.
The author placed his own creative spin on Barbarossa's march, and it was nice to see something new and fresh in contrast to a carbon copy of the original. Although some parts of the creativity aspect were excellent (again, the prisoner escape and Hospitaller vs. Seljuk fight), inconsistency showed through again. As I said in a review of another user's entry for this contest, the author's artistic license makes the scenario approach absurdity. I am referring to the part where Barbarossa's entire army is destroyed and he is shipwrecked and forced to weave through enemy troops to find a tent in the middle of the desert. However, I commend the author's effort to try something new, and I suggest that he rework that part to have the player fight through the enemy troops with a few more soldiers.
Map Design: 3+
Inconsistency again showed through here. Some parts of the map (Constantinople, Gallipoli, and surroundings, as well as the area by the Hospitaller and Seljuk camps) were designed very well and were worthy of a higher rating. However, points were mainly deducted for the fact that more than a quarter of the map is just a blank expanse of desert terrain with enemy troops standing guard as if they actually expect the enemy to try to traverse that area. I remember reading the project announcement thread for this scenario and viewing the mapshot, which showed this area as very well designed. What happened?
The story was decent. I liked how the author had multiple viewpoints throughout the scenario, though as I said before, I wish that a little more thought had gone into the last part. The overall effect was that the author was rushed by the deadline and just wanted to get the design over with. The instructions are fairly well thought out and written, and the player was prompted by dialogues at times that gave hints and helped advance the story and scenario. I took issue, however, with the author's advice on not attacking Gallipoli, as the resources and buildings can help the player a lot throughout the scenario (I personally thought I would need more troops for the Hospitaller camp part, so I used my resources to spam spearmen, making my battle with the primarily mounted Seljuks a joke). Overall, the instructions were there, but not really anything special or worthy of mention.
This scenario was obviously rushed, unpolished, and unfinished, or such was the impression that it gives. It has nearly unlimited potential and the author has some great ideas. I sincerely hope that the author takes the negative parts of my review as constructive criticism and takes the time to update, as it is a good start, but simply not complete. Despite the seemingly low rating, the scenario is a fun experience and a worthwhile download, although I would prefer to presently think of it as a teaser. The author obviously had something grander in mind, but ran out of time.