Overview: Campaign Series: Middle East 2.0 Update25 Jan 2018 5
BLUF – Bottom Line Up Front. The new Matrix Games Campaign Series Middle East 1948 – 1985 2.0 (ME 2.0) really has nothing revolutionary under the hood as regards game engine, AI or even gameplay. However, the cosmetic changes and additional scenarios are so vast and sweeping; one could consider this product to be an entirely new game vice an update. For those who have that original, this free reimaging is mandatory. For everyone else, the $ 19.99 US sale price (50%) is just plain silly to pass up. New body styling, paint and accessories have elevated a good game to exceptional.
Now a disclosure. This game has always been a favorite because it resurrected Talonsoft’s 2001 Divided Ground – Middle East Conflict 1948 – 1973. I still have that game, but new technology won’t run it and when Matrix picked up most of the Talonsoft line, Divided Ground was not included. This made the release of ME 1.0 a blessing, especially with expanded real estate and 12 more years on the timeline. As hinted above, this latest evolution really doesn’t play or work a whole lot differently than Divided Ground, a good think IMHO, so if you’re looking for that sort of info, I refer you to Jim Cobb’s excellent review on ME 1.0 done about a year ago. Instead read on and discover why sometimes the visuals can sometimes make a game more engaging without any help at all.
First, a couple of quick things about installation. The executable is a very large file, and here I’m talking over half a gigabyte whereas the ME 1.0 file was only 140 MB. Expect a long download, and since this is a compressed executable, you’ll need 3.79 GB of hard drive space for setup and storage.
Setup itself was pretty easy and worked the same way most Matrix games do, You will, however, be better off if you run the game as an Administrator, and I did have to deactivate my anti-virus for a good half hour to install the game properly. I use Avast antivirus, and for whatever reason it not only quarantined the main executable, but also another file related to uninstallation as well.
Finally, you will have to uninstall your previous version of ME 1.0 to install this new software. Heed all this and you should be fine.
The user interface has new styling that gives a more sleek and modern feel than ME 1.0, which in many respects mimics that found in Divided Ground and similar games designed by John Tiller or his minions. This includes a new shade of tan for the background, in a window that appears midscreen, all without the harsh, sandy texture, double edged windows as in past products. Likewise, whereas previously there was no other option than to run the game fullscreen, 2.0 allows the game to run windowed so you can access all needed Microsoft icons, such Snip for screen captures. The mouse pointer is now a crosshair, which I like a lot.
There is now a new default tool bar that sits at the bottom, which can be resized smaller or larger. The buttons have a slicker look and sport a tan background with completely white icons, vice the old colored icons as in the past. I prefer the older style, but I can certainly see the attraction of the new scheme. I would recommend, like The Operational Art of War IV, visually segregating icons of similar functionality into separate areas or tabs. There is a LOT of icons and sometimes they can be difficult to track down with Sagger wires spinning around your ears.
On that note, I was curious why a couple of other enhancements were not considered. You still have to toggle on the down or up arrow to run through available scenarios, and given I indulge in other games, I found myself consistently trying to use the mouse wheel to scroll up or down, or simply click on a scenario name only to be followed by nothing. Also, in many cases a user window will appear with no back button, the use of the Escape key being the answer to the problem. Nevertheless, it works fine, just as before – and thus reinforces familiarity - but this is 2018 after all.
This is one of the big – no YUGE – areas of change in the game, and it’s impossible for me to hit all I saw. So please take the next few paragraphs as highlights and not everything that has been modified in the game.
Starting out, there is a lot to talk about as concerns terrain. One of the first is that not only have some graphics been upgraded, but 12 new terrain features have been added as well. These include Major Canal, Canal, Major River, Shallow Major River, River, Shallow River, Produce Field, Thicket, Colored Dirt, Airfield, Stream Join Hexside, Minor River Join Hexside and Water Block Hexside. These are in addition to some new versions of old terrain tiles, as well as two new two new display levels for both 3D and 2D. These are Extreme Zoom Out which allows the player to see nearly the entire map without having to resort to the somewhat vanilla Strategic Map. There is also a night time mode which darkens the entire playing map to a subtle mid grey, and in many respects it actually looks like what a recon drone might see if surveying an area from above. If the scenario moves from night or pre-dawn to daylight, so does the lighting on the map. More about this later.
Units have also been extremely enhanced in appearance. Overall, the 3D (and also the 2D to an extent) units are more realistic in their colors, how they deploy and the equipment carried. For the 2D crowd, the NATO symbol “counters” has been pumped up to over 450 different and unique unit types. Finally, the unit icons seem to have been made smaller, likely one reason why the Zoom In level seems so large to me, despite that it may actually be no different than Divided Ground or ME 1.0. The effect this has is to make the screen the player sees actually look more like an actual battle in progress as the 3D unit icons now have the correct size appropriate to the terrain around it. For example, four tank platoons in a hex actually looks like four real tanks on real terrain rather than unit symbols stacked inside a game map hex.
Now combine that aspect with night turn lighting as noted above. The impact was more mental than anything else, but the fact that this so more closely mimicked what I had actually seen and served through as an Army officer did make a difference. All of a sudden, and despite all the computer tools I had available (to include a new game function for units with night fighting devices), I suddenly felt the need to be more cautious because although the units were highlighted, the terrain around them was not. It felt down right creepy to be honest, but it worked and it made the game far more engaging and personal, something you would not normally expect from a visual.
Battles R Us
The other big – OK, once again YUGE – enhancement is the scenario suite. Kudos to be sure for including actions that see the British and French in action, not to mention the Egyptians and Libyans swapping rounds down range, but there is so much more now. Yes, this means a few more formal ME 2.0 scenarios to include eight on the 1985 Crisis in Sirte, four head to head and four against the computer AI. On top of that and the original scenario pack, there are three sets of additional scenarios imported from other well respected wargames on this subject, two of the three not even digital. Some extremely gifted lad with time on his hands named Alan Arvold has provided ME 2.0 conversions of 19 scenarios from the old SPI Strategy & Tactics October War boardgame, another 60 from the old Avalon Hill Arab Israeli Wars boardgame and yet another 78 pulled from the original Divided Ground computer game.
That makes a total of . . . well, a Hell of a lot, so replay value from this game has now gone pretty much through the roof. Please note that the ME 2.0 battlefield images with this article is one of those scenarios, the huge Battle of the Chinese Farm 8, To Fayid and Beyond, out of Talonsoft’s Divided Ground.
Again, the snippets above are not everything. There is now an adaptive AI that actually functions differently depending on nation and time of battle, which kinda explains why Jordan’s Arab Legion is so damn tough, but the Syrian army not so much. There are now new 2D textured mapboards to allow 2D counters to reside on what seems as 3D terrain, new menu items such as toggling the unit list from the right to the left or even the ability to use the old style button/national insignia icons for bases and so on. It really does go on and on.
Yet from purely a personal perspective, I still prefer the look and feel of the old Divided Ground maps and icons, as there is something about that almost “painted” style that Talonsoft used that just looks better. That is just my two shekels worth however, and Divided Ground didn’t have things like the resized units and night time terrain lighting. For the over the top gaming experience they provide, these alone are worth the price of admission and makes ME 2.0 stand above the competition and cement itself as a worthy edition to any gamer’s hard drive.