Combat Mission: Barbarossa to Berlin Review
By Simon Graves |
Don't run just yet. I know you've been bored with wargames in the past. You'd rather be reading the Adams' family Christmas letter than trying to decipher another Order of Battle. You'd rather be worrying about whether those collection agents were serious about the thumb thing than puzzling out the armor facings on a T-34. And as much as I love the genre, I agree -- wargames of late have been pretty uninspired. There is therefore a real risk that some of you may lump Combat Mission: Barbarossa to Berlin in with the rest. But those of you who dismiss this as just another staid and dry wargame are really going to be missing out.
Set in the Eastern European Theater of the Second World War, Combat Mission: Barbarossa to Berlin is the follow-up to the previous reigning champ of the genre, Combat Mission: Beyond Overlord. In June of 1941, the Germans launched Operation Barbarossa, their codename for the invasion of the Soviet Union. It grew in to one of history's largest and most significant series of land battles. 60 years later, Big Time and Battlefront.com have recreated these battles in a game that does justice to the scope and severity of the fighting.
The game comes with almost 60 pre-scripted missions that display a commendable range. Everything from small infantry engagements in a dense town to massive armor clashes on the broad steppes of eastern Europe are represented here. Larger, linked battles are offered via the game's few Operations. These are linked battles across portions of a single map. As the front line shifts back and forth, the player will have to wrestle with new issues of supply and reinforcement.
Since you can play each side in any of the engagements, you can also choose the battle type. Want to walk in to a German ambush in a small European village? You can do it. Want to stop enemy armor from reaching an important crossroads? Those are here too. The game also carries the player to battles all along the 2000-mile front of the war, stretching from Finland in the north to the Crimea in the south.
The chance to run things on the defensive and assaulting sides of the battles greatly adds to the replayability. And the fact that the battles are drawn from across four years of the war means there's much more variety here than in the year or so simulated in Beyond Overlord. While battles like Normandy and Arnhem and the Bulge are the bread and butter of Second World War wargaming, it's nice to get a chance to see what this whole Blitzkrieg thing is about. Seeing more of a progression in terms of unit availability and theater selection is an added bonus.
Barbarossa to Berlin is unlike other wargames in countless areas. Perhaps the most significant of which is its hybrid turn-based/real-time nature. Orders are first issued to all units in a paused mode. Once you've told every unit what you want them to do, the game plays out a full minute of real-time resolutions. You're completely powerless to affect the game at this point and can only watch as your units carry out their orders. Once this real-time phase is over, you have another chance to issue orders before the next real-time sequence starts.
It's a wonderful system for several reasons. First and most significantly, it perfectly weds the contemplative nature of turn-based games (a feature that most grognards are comfortable with) with the striking immediacy of a real-time game. The excitement is even more expanded since you won't be able to adjust orders during the real-time action phase.
Helmuth Von Moltke, one of the early architects of German war policy, once said, "No plan survives contact with the enemy." The dual nature of the action and orders phases makes this wonderfully apparent. You'll need to keep your orders flexible enough that your units can respond to unforeseen enemy action. And since changing orders results in a variable command lag, you'll want to keep your orders clear and concise. (The game models the poor communication of the Soviets early on by increasing their command delays.)
Moving units is merely a matter of right-clicking them, selecting a command and issuing a destination or objective for that command. A few new commands have been added this time around to allow for greater flexibility and initiative. Units can advance under fire now, hopping from cover to cover as they approach an objective. Tanks can now "shoot and scoot" in which they approach one waypoint, search for targets and then retire towards a second waypoint. Tanks can also go "hull down" relative to the surrounding terrain thus minimizing their exposure to enemy fire. But the best and most useful command is the "advance to contact" command instructing your units to follow their movement path and stop at the first sign of the enemy.
The developer's bold claim is that, if it works in real life, you'll find it works in the game. So far, I've found that to be true. Even something as normally straightforward as armor penetration receives numerous layers of added detail. The ballistics of the weapon are taken in to account first. These even include the shape of the charge, the angle of impact and the armor facing of the vehicle. This game also adds some new visibility concerns to the mix granting heightened spotting ability to units when and where it makes historical or intuitive sense. A sophisticated command hierarchy means you have to keep your units together somewhat to maintain their effectiveness.