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Review by: Nick Stewart
Published: August 4, 2000
Regardless of your philosophy or particular point of view, there’s no denying one singular fact: war is hell. Epic films such as Apocalypse Now and Saving Private Ryan have demonstrated this to a considerable degree, putting the inherent raw brutality and psychological trauma on gritty, blood-soaked display. Yet, some would argue that within this oft-necessary shell of pain and suffering lies a heart of nobility, an amorphous entity that can only be discovered in the trenches and fields of battle. This element shifts and changes for every individual involved; for the soldier, it is the courage to do his sworn duty, to protect his compatriots and his country in spite of the dangers that may lie ahead. For the field officer, it is the faith to carry out his orders handed down by his superiors, regardless of his own uncertainty. For the commander, it is the need to balance the needs of his men with the needs of his mission, and the tactical prowess to make it all happen. These are some of the basic elements of war, and it is these items that award-winning developer Big Time Software attempts to bring to the wargaming genre with their new offering, Combat Mission: Beyond Overlord.
As history mavens and fans of the period well know, “Operation Overlord” was the name attributed to the Allied invasion of Normandy in June of 1944. Considering Combat Mission‘s subtitle, it then only seems natural that its environment of turn-based tactical combat is played out in Western Europe, from “D-Day” onto the end of the war in May of 1945. Throughout its 40-odd missions and seven operations, you’ll be given the opportunity to take command of small to mid-sized companies of varying nationalities, which potentially include U.S., Canadian, British, Polish, French and German forces. Though the play area can cover anything from a small corner of a wooded installation to a massive, sprawling city, everything is conveyed in full 3D. This particular approach to the genre is not a totally revolutionary one, as past titles have seen the transition from the traditional two-dimensional map to a modernized, fleshed-out battlefield. Nevertheless, the ability to direct your troops across rotatable, zoomable land without the fetters of hex-based movement proves to be an integral part of the experience, and is but one of Combat Mission‘s many innovations.
Directly linked to its visual presentation, one of Combat Mission‘s noteworthy aspects lies in its manner of execution. Instead using the traditional “Igo-Ugo” system, in which each side takes a turn in deploying their forces, a newer type of “Wego” format is employed. At the beginning of each turn, each player is given the opportunity to survey the area in order to determine the movements and actions of any units that have survived the previous round. After all commands have been issued and all possibilities considered, control is relinquished and both virtual admirals are left to watch as either side’s troops simultaneously execute their assigned orders. This stage lasts sixty seconds, during which you’re able to travel back and forth across the map, observing the tactical mayhem as it erupts amongst the combatants. If you’re afraid that you missed your line of Sherman tanks overtake an enemy encampment while you were watching your squad of riflemen drill their way past a machinegun nest, never fear: a “virtual VCR” feature has been implemented, allowing you to rewind and fast-forward the action at your whim. In this fashion, you’re able to pinpoint particular holes in your defense as well as acts of bravery — or cowardice — by individual units. This not only introduces a further element of strategic planning, but also allows you to recognize how to use your men to their full advantage.
Units are the core of any given combat situation, and are certainly the heart and soul of Combat Mission‘s various maneuverings. They will be your eyes and ears on the battlefield and are equipped with the appropriate abilities, which range from waypoint travel to minefield sweeping. Their skills may also be combined with one another during the command phase, enabling a considerable degree of control over your troops’ actions. For example, you could order a squad of riflemen to crawl through an enemy-controlled grain field, to sneak along a certain path around the perimeter of a nearby village, only to hide at a particular spot alongside a forest trail in order to prepare an ambush for an enemy patrol unit. Your orders are not written in stone, however, as the successful completion of your command relies heavily on your soldiers’ ability to do so. This is partially dictated by their level of experience, which can range from the lowly conscript to the awe-inspiring elite; thus, while a highly trained individual will execute your orders with impeccable timing, a new recruit might fumble the job and trigger the ambush too soon. As a result, you’ll be forced to become acutely aware of which men you use for which job, as an inexperienced soldier can sometimes mean the difference between a successful mission and a failed one.
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