Opinion: The CM:SF2 Demo Is a Good Sign of Things to Come

By Bruce Postlethwaite 26 Nov 2018 0

While we are waiting for the full release of Combat Mission: Shock Force 2 (and what a wait it’s been!), Battlefront have released a demo of the ‘new’ game. The demo is pretty substantial and I’ll be looking at it later in the article, but let’s start by looking at where this game comes from.

The original CM:SF was released in 2007 and distributed by Paradox. The game focussed on (at that time) a hypothetical war in Syria in 2008 that drew in the western powers and was unusual in that it was a tactical game that involved asymmetric battles – modern western equipment vs. old soviet weapons and unconventional forces. Relatively soon after the initial release Battlefront split from Paradox and distributed the game themselves, following the base game with three additional modules: US Marines; British Forces; NATO.

Figure 19

CM:SF2 is an updated version of the original game which runs on Battlefront’s latest ‘Game Engine 4’. This has apparently involved a lot of work! Battlefront haven’t done themselves any favours here as the website still shows a release date ‘by the end of September’ (although to be fair it doesn’t say what year) but there’s still no sign of the game. They’ve also cut back on their original plan to release everything at once and instead are going for a staged release of the campaigns with the base game+Marines coming first followed by the campaigns for the British and the three NATO forces. I don’t believe there’s any intention of dishonesty on Battlefront’s part but they really need to work on their marketing.

The good news, for those of us who bought the game in 2007, is that the upgraded game plus all the models will cost only $35. If you don’t have CM:SF1 the price for everything is currently $120.

The demo

The demo is all we have at the moment, so let’s look at what is there and what it promises for the final game. The first thing you notice when starting the demo is that there is quite a lot of content in there.

Five scenarios are included with the demo. The training scenario involves an attack by a reinforced Striker platoon on a village occupied by an enemy infantry platoon. ‘Alamo’ has a German TOC besieged by Syrian forces and waiting for relief. The US marines make a beach landing in ‘Day at the Beach’. ‘Breaking the bank’ has British forces involved in combat in a city and ‘The Passage at Wilcox’ has a US tank platoon and two mechanised infantry platoons attacking a town. All of the scenarios are significant games and easily represent 10-20 hours of playtime (with repeats to try out different tactics). Releasing such a substantial demo suggests to me that Battlefront do have confidence in their final product.

Figure 18

The graphics were the first thing I was interested in (I know it’s eye candy, but I like it). To be honest, on firing up the game I didn’t think there was anything very much different from the original game. Things looked a bit blocky and artificial compared to the newest Graviteam games.

However, I did get a surprise when I dug out my old CM:SF CD from the cupboard and loaded it up. The old game textures were terrible compared to the new game – I guess they looked OK relative to other things in 2007. It’s clear that Battlefront have done a lot of work in upgrading things to suit high resolution displays.

Another thing I discovered on loading CM:SF1 is that it seems to be completely unplayable on a modern computer. The screen scrolling was slow and jerky and it was very difficult to click on units to select them. In comparison, the CM:SF2 demo was silky smooth and responded to mouse-clicks with no problems.

The gameplay doesn’t seem to be a whole lot different to the original game. The available orders are almost the same - there’s now a ‘hull down’ command that I don’t think was in CM:SF1 and the ‘Scout team’ command splits off two men from a squad, but most other things are the same. The one thing I have noticed is that it now seems to be pretty much suicidal to go into a room with a window (people a couple of blocks away start shooting!) In fact, in the ‘Alamo’ scenario I found the best strategy for the Germans was to forget about defending the sides of the fort and instead concentrate everything on the gate.

A previous Wargamer article highlighted some of the new features in CM:SF2. The biggest change from CM:SF1 that I found on playing through the demo was that the demo was actually playable on Windows 10 and a 2560x1440 display. I saw the amphibious vehicles in the ‘Day at the beach’ and precision rounds in ‘Breaking the bank’ and they were nice but not earth shattering. The changes over CM:SF1 are incremental – this is the same game but better. To be fair, Battlefront have never suggested that it was anything else.

So will I upgrade when CM:SF2 finally comes out? Definitely. There’s nothing else that covers this type of warfare and CM:SF2 does it very well. Compared to Graviteam Tactics games the graphics aren’t quite as nice and there’s no operational level, but there is much more of getting involved in small scale tactical problems. If you’ve already got the full set of CM:SF1 then the $30 upgrade price is a steal. If you don’t already have CM:SF1 then you’d probably want to think before spending $120 for everything, but you can download the demo for free and have a good look at what you’ll be buying.

At the time of publication, the latest word from Battlefront hinted that Combat Mission: Shock Force 2 could be out before the end of the year.

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