PC Game Review: Combat Mission: Battle for Normandy
Curtis Szmania checks out Battlefront.com's wargame entry of the Normandy Campaign through their Combat Mission series.
- world war ii, ground combat, strategic, simulation, real-time pausable, turn-based wego
The story of the Normandy invasion during World War 2 is well known and has been exploited through media and video games ever since. Several genres have ventured into Normandy that range from strategy, tactical, FPS or adventure. Unfortunately other World War 2 fronts are overlooked by the immense popularity the Normandy campaign has received. The Combat Mission series started with Combat Mission: Beyond Overlord, breaking into the PC gaming arena with a great tactical system and up-to-date 3D graphics. The series just recently headed back to the hedgerows with its latest Combat Mission: Battle for Normandy after a brief stint in modern warfare. The Normandy campaign was a slow and costly fight between the Allies and the Germans through northern France, and Combat Mission thinks it can bring forth something new about the struggle to PC gamers.
Immediately I noticed the game wasnt too friendly with high resolutions and in the Options menu I was given only four resolutions to choose from. Though, I was welcomed with atmospheric music setting the tone for battle. The game doesnt really offer a tutorial per-se but it does have one training mission under the Battle option and two training campaigns (which require the manual to be actual tutorials). This isnt that upsetting because its quite easy to catch-on and learn the ropes almost exclusively through the UI. There are three single player battle options at the main menu: Battle, Quick Battle, and Campaign. Battle is a prearranged battle where the player only has to pick sides and read through the mission briefing. The mission briefings give vital details, helping players create their strategy for every mission. There are 21 prearranged battles in all. The army contingents and their size are predetermined. In Quick Battle a player can choose from several options like battle time-length, unit size, map, and weather. Units are purchased with available points, similar to money in the single battles of Total War games. There are several maps to choose from! Probably 100-150. The Campaign option, well of course, is a campaign of what happened in Northern France during the second half of 1944.Four campaigns are available, some American and some German. Casualties are carried over from one battle to the next in the campaign, simulating a realistic death toll a campaign may have.
The interface is very informative and one can control their units almost exclusively through the UI. The UI is sort of self-explanatory as well. It displays the guns, equipment, morale, stats, ammunition, and status of the unit selected. Players can also call in artillery and air support through the interface, which comes in handy as controlling all your units can be tedious sometimes. Commands can be given to units from the interface and range from fast, hide, target light, and pop smoke. The extensive list of commands is appreciated, but clicking through the interface each time to use them is sort of a hassle. Mines, trenches, and anti-tank obstacles can also be moved around during the deployment phase. There are many more commands available. Units are controlled down to the squad-level, and each soldiers firearm is shown through the UI. In-fact, the UI shows a lot of information about the selected unit. Infantry soldiers, light-machine gun crews, mortar teams, artillery, armor, and vehicles are among the controllable units in the game.
The graphics are decent, only if all the graphic settings are on max. However, the units are portrayed superbly and even damage is shown accurately. Much time has been taken to portray the units accurately, and the detail is stunning. But, the terrain isnt as impressive and it lacks great detail. Terrain textures are simple and some maps appear (especially quick battle maps) as if theyve been put together in haste. Although, maps are full of obstacles, buildings, and objects to take cover behind, complicating tactics and strategy. And for a game that has only decent graphics, the loading times are long. Its not very well optimized. Hotkeys are available and easy to remember, and the hotkey layout is easily accessible in-game. Camera movement is also a challenge at times, especially if youve zoomed out and lost the map entirely! Although there are many hotkeys for camera movement, it just always seems you cant get the camera in the perfect spot.
The hardest part of the game isn't the learning-curve; its trying to beat the AI. Even though there are six different difficulty options to choose from, the AI isnt forgiving. It plays in a very realistic manner, using tactics that take advantage of the terrain while exploiting weaknesses and taking advantage of strengths. The realism is extended to the way soldiers react to gunfire, or even the dispersion of an artillery barrage. Also, rifle fire is highly inaccurate and buildings don't provide much cover from large caliber machine guns. However, mortars, tanks, and artillery are very effective in this game; almost too effective.
Players have control of the way the game plays out: either real-time or turn-based. The turn-based system used in the game is called WeGo. The game is actually designed for the turn-based option, so dont get too excited. During the turn-based play, players make their moves during their turn and later get to see it play out after. In the real-time play players give commands while time is moving, and they are able to pause the game. Battles can range from small skirmishes to decent regimental-sized battles.
There is a scenario editor in-game accessible from the main menu. The editor isn't complex, and it has a simple and understandable UI. Map editing isn't the only thing possible here. One can create objectives, add in descriptive briefings, or set weather and time. The objectives range from taking a landmark to conserving forces, or even targeting certain enemy units. The modding community has also paid much attention to the Combat Mission games. Mods can be applied easily and they range from skin changes to gameplay modifiers. Just check out the modding forums!
There is a multiplayer option too as well. Two players can connect and battle each other over a LAN or VLAN (Hamachi, Tunngle, etc) connection. Though, I would recommend using the turn-based option for this type of play, because the game may become very unbalanced and awkward deep into a real-time battle.
Its obvious from the get-go that players need to approach Combat Mission: Battle for Normandy differently than they would other modern PC games. The game is very addicting (especially the campaign) for those who enjoy a tactical and historical strategy game. The modding community is also very active which increases a games replayability. The game offers a detailed UI with an extensive list of orders. The arsenal at ones fingertips is extensive, and the maps are plenty. But realism has been emphasized at the cost of pretty graphics or easy gameplay. It may even be boring or frustrating for the typical PC gamer. Moving about the battlefield can be frustrating and the battle map isn't always fun to look at. Although for any historical enthusiast, or wanna-be Patton, this game is a must have!
The Good: The blend of tactics and terrain simulate war very accurately, detailed UI, realistic gameplay, many different unit types, AI is difficult to overcome, campaign is addictive, replay value is extensive, 100-150 maps to battle on, real-time and turn-based play, online play available, scenario editor that is self-explanatory, and active modding community.
The So-So: Normandy campaign seems to be an over-used setting.
The Bad: Terrain detail is mediocre, camera movement is troublesome, resolutions and graphic options are limited, loading times are too long, lacks a tutorial, online play options are limited.
Does the game have a permanent spot on Curtis hard drive? Yes, because of the addictive gameplay and the realistic campaigns. I simply like the fact that casualties are carried over from battle-to-battle in the campaign. Mods also increase a games replayablility. But Ive always been a sucker for tactical and historical wargames, so this was a given. The graphics are hideous according to modern standards, but they are bearable for one who pays more attention to gameplay.
Review written by: Curtis Szmania, Staff Writer
- AMD Phenom II 955 BE Quad-Core Processor Overclocked @ 3.7Ghz
- 8 GB of DDR3 RAM Overclocked @ 1666 MHz
- ATI HD 6850 1GB Overclocked @ 1030 MHz GPU and 1175 MHz Memory
- Windows 7 Ultimate x64