Combat Mission 3: Afrika Korps Review
By Simon Graves |
For a few years now the wargaming scene has been experiencing a very slight resurgence thanks in part to the efforts of battlefront.com. They've now released the third title in the series, Combat Mission: Afrika Korps. This is the final title the developers plan to release using the current technology; Combat Mission 2 will be built on entirely new graphics and AI engines.
This time around the developers have offered up an entirely new theater of war. Players can now fight the battles of World War II around the Mediterranean -- from the tank duels of North Africa to the mountain combat of Italy to the paratrooper engagements in Crete. These new areas expand on the action of the previous game by offering up some large, flat areas for a highly mechanized form of war, as well as offering up some intense defensive fights in the rugged mountains of Italy. Players will field thousands of units from the American, British, Canadian, Australian, Polish, French, South African and New Zealander (New Zealandic? New Zealish?) armies. The two Axis powers of Germany and Italy sit in opposition to the Allied units.
The 60 or so scenarios in the game range from miniscule to gargantuan and the six mammoth operations (composed of linked scenarios with persistent units) offer a wealth of replayability. Not only are there some significant historical and fictional battles here -- the designers have even included such treats as missions based off of movies. The assault on the farmhouse from Lewis Milestone's A Walk in the Sun is a real treat. (For those who haven's seen the movie, imagine Saving Private Ryan done sixty years ago with Lloyd Bridges and less cursing.) Additionally, some of the scenarios are specifically designed for head-to-head play, making them a real treat for multiplay.
Perhaps as a concession to ease of entry, the game now arrives without the obligatory 200-page manual. Though the old manual explained many of the ideas behind the game quite well, it did tend to drag on a bit. The 30-page affair that takes its place does a remarkably good job of outlining the game concepts but players who are new to the series should definitely check out the tutorial before venturing too far into the scenarios. The cover of the manual includes all the hot keys you'll need to know which makes things a bit easier on newer players as well.
What makes Combat Mission so daunting isn't the range of controls; these are easy enough to grasp after a few missions. No, what makes it somewhat difficult for new players to embrace is that it doesn't work according to the same assumptions you use in other games. Combat Mission is as much about intelligence as it is about speed and economy. You have to have a strong sense of what's possible in the real world before you can begin to really grasp the game. The best players are those that are conscious of things like cover and concealment, cohesion and dispersal, as well as topography and a bit of psychology. Afrika Korps works under the same rules that apply in the real world. That's what separates it from more traditional strategy games.
Afrika Korps also differs in terms of its pace and presentation. It offers a hybrid turn-based and real-time simulation that lets players think about their orders but still enjoy the momentum of real-time play. You'll issue orders to your units in between these action phases. (Unlike Barbarossa to Berlin there are no new commands to play with.) Once you (and your opponent) are done issuing commands, the action plays out for a full minute before pausing to let you add or edit commands.