Reality Check: Four Great Realism Mods

By Richie Shoemaker 15 Nov 2016 0

It doesn’t matter how hardcore you think you are, somewhere inside of you is a big soft centre. We all have one, even death metal fans, most of whom might well deny owning a Carpenters album, but were you look through their music collection you’d likely find one or two furtively catalogued between Cannibal Corpse and Cathedral. Likewise for every hundred hours logged with Command: Modern Air / Naval Ops, a wargamer will have seen hundreds more lost over the years to Command & Conquer and its derided ilk. Anyone who says otherwise is lying.

It’s ok, I’m not going to tell anyone about your past or present guilty gaming pleasures. No-one need know that at weekends you like nothing better than to wash your floor-length locks, put on a flowery shirt and lead the GDI to world domination while humming along to Please Mister Postman..

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Thankfully there’s now a way you can extricate yourself from ridicule should your dirty little secret ever become public knowledge - by a process we call “pre-emptive augmentation”: taking all of your chart-topping RTS confections like Company of Heroes and Sudden Strike and applying them with realism modifications; fan-made files that range from simple stat tweaks to full-blown total conversions that aim to transform a previously light and frivolous gaming experience into something altogether heavier and more realistic.  

Realism mods have been around for as long as fans have wanted more authentic experiences from their games. Consequently there are plenty of them around - more than could be reasonably covered in one sitting. This article then constitutes the first part in what will hopefully be a series, exploring some of the more essential and current third-party add-ons for those that want to take their RTS and light wargames to levels of verisimilitude far beyond what was originally intended.

So without further ado, let’s get this redemption party started...

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Deterrence (DEFCON)

Many would argue that DEFCON, Introversion Software’s chillingly minimalist game of mutually assured destruction (which was released more than 10 years ago, would you believe), is realistic enough as it is without the need to add more ways to destroy our fragile Earth. The creator of Deterrence thought otherwise as he attempted to “emulate the psychology, mood, and dynamics of first-strike decapitation, mutually assured destruction, no first use policy, credible second-strike capability and “dead hand” retaliatory strikes.” It’s fair to say that he’s been largely successful in his efforts, having added in ballistic nuclear submarines with long-range SLBMs, cluster-nuke MIRVs, air bases equipped with anti-ship weapons, reconnaissance satellites (with optional EMP) and a doomsday device. Essentially what the mod does is go over with a highlighter the tagline of the original release: Everybody Dies.

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Camillo Realism (Cossacks: Back to War)

Despite the appearance of a 2016 sequel some ten years since the release of the last game in the series, not a great has fundamentally changed from Cossacks to Cossacks. It’s still essentially a clone of Age of Empires, only with gunpowder, bright tunics and an impressive number of units allowed on screen. Back to War, the second standalone expansion to the original game (released in 2002), represents in many respects the high point of the series - though perhaps not in terms of realism, which is why Camillo Realism is such a worthwhile addition to seek out.

Unless you’ve played Back to War to excess and tired of its arbitrary balances you might not appreciate the effort that has gone into Camillo Realism, but it offers a vast array of tweaks to resource and unit values and creation timers, not so much to totally distort the game away from its RTS foundations, but enough to move it more in line with then-stablemate Sudden Strike (which, incidentally, is also due a sequel). There’s less of a distinction between the militaries in the game, but range and damage are enhanced, making positioning much more tactical.

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Spearhead (Company of Heroes 2)

Company of Heroes is a curious series: supremely tactical to a degree unlike any RTS before it, but one that in terms of realism is barely any more evolved than Command & Conquer. Company of Heroes 2 especially, with its emphasis on esports and arena gameplay, often has the feel of a frenetic boardgame rather than a wargame - great fun, of course, but lacking in the weighty consequence that many of us enjoy the better episodes of the old Blitzkrieg titles.

Spearhead, very much in the spirit of the old Blitzkrieg mod for the original Company of Heroes (not to be confused with the aforementioned Blitzkrieg games), essentially makes factions a little more rounded with many building restrictions lifted and combat actions made potentially more devastating. Weapon ranges are increased, ordinance is likely to impart high damage and armoured units have more of the characteristics of their real world counterparts, making German tanks something to be feared rather than tackled head on. 

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DarthMod (Empire: Total War)

Empire may not be foremost among the Total War games, but it was nonetheless a watermark evolution of the series that laid the foundations for the likes of Shogun 2 and Warhammer. Best of all was that its campaign and AI shortcomings inspired the development of DarthMod, which for years offered a stunning renovation of the original game that is nothing less than essential. Not only does the mod offer a challenging AI opponent, add new units, offer realistic unit movement speeds and firing ranges, increase army sizes to realistic levels and improve unit textures, everything is handled via a neat launcher that allows you to select the components that matter to you.

Darth went on to create “supermods” for Napoleon and Shogun 2, but neither were as extensive or as fundamental to the playability of the base game. If you have a copy of Empire, fire it up and remind yourself of its limitations, then install DarthMod and admire the wealth of improvements.

That's all for today - if you'd like to see more, let us know your thoughts in the comments below!   

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