Then suddenly, (well it felt like a little time between CMBO and CMBB) Battlefront released a magnum opus. Combat Mission Barbarossa to Berlin or CMBB is it came to be known. No tactical wargame before or since has contained anywhere near the amount of content the new CM game had. The whole of the East Front from start to finish, including minor nations. Pure bliss. Plus, it kept all of the features that made CMBO good like WEGO and Combat Mission's innovative new way of doing turns. Out went the old IGOUGO way of doing turns that had carried over from board wargames. Now, we still had turns that took one minute of game time, but your moves played out simultaneously with the enemy’s, as you had previously plotted your moves and then, when finished, you watched the action unfold. This also added loads of tension and excitement to the game.
Additionally, being able to rewind the turn as often as you liked, meant you never missed any of the action. So CMBB gathered a huge following and multitudes of Mod support. Later, a game set in Africa\Italy was released. This would be the CMx1 swan song. Battlefront had bigger more ambitious plans, esp. as technology had moved far along enough for their dreams to be realised (I still remember reading in the CMBB manual on how they'd love to have done visual 1v1 representation). So, what was it that Battlefront had planned for CMx2, what changes would we see, and how will it be received by the now dedicated and hardcore CMBB fans?
Well, as well documented, things didn't turn out to well when Battlefront released Combat Mission Shock Force. A game set, at the time, in a fictional war-torn Syria (a rather sad prediction of future events). Finally, we had 1v1 soldier representation, but in an unforeseen move, they'd gone with a focus on real-time, relegating WEGO, which, for me, was a seriously wrong move. All interest in the game evaporated and those who enjoy real-time found the game had some serious issues. The outcry was loud and long-and Battlefront listened. WEGO came back gaining its rightful place as a major feature, bugs were hunted down, gameplay was improved, new features added and eventually three superb modules were released: Marines, British Forces, and finally NATO.
I watched a gameplay video that was made for a competition, liked what I saw, so I then bought CMSF several months after release, when WEGO was back and it was playing well. I also bought the Marines module, as that had just been released. However, it wasn't really until the British Forces module came out that I really fell for the game. For me, that module made CMSF and, from then on, I'd be buying as many CMx2 releases as I could afford and, like many others, started the long wait for the WW2 version to be released. One thing that really benefited the WW2 version was CMSF being released first, with all its teething troubles, so by the time the WW2 version was being developed, it had benefited greatly from all the work done during the course of CMSF and its modules. Even today there is a hardcore group that still haven't gotten over the move from CMx1 to CMx2.
The latest release is Combat Mission Final Blitzkrieg, carrying on from where Combat Mission Beyond Normandy and its Market Garden module finished off. CMFB takes us up to the end of what would be the German’s final large-scale attack in the West, which the Germans called Wacht am Rhein, which later became known as The Battle of the Bulge. It also includes scenarios set in the terrible meat grinder that was the Huertgen Forest, a battle that wouldn't have looked out of place to a soldier from a generation before. There are also scenarios set during Operation Nordwind, a battle featuring the German 6th SS Mountain Division. Altogether, there are four campaigns which include one training campaign and 25 scenarios. There is also the Quick Battle feature, which I profess to never use, as I only play against the included AI (plus, the Quick Battles really aren't suited to this and are more for multiplayer use). The reason why quick battles aren't suited to single player is that the TAC AI is scripted, which means it doesn't really work that well in Quick Battles. This is one of the downsides of the engine, and a real bug bear for some. That's not to say the Tac AI is useless, when it comes to the scenarios and campaigns, those clever secanario designers end up weaving their magic ,with the result that many of my pixel truppen have come to a terrible demise and the AI march of victorious. I've never found this to be an issue, as there has always been more than enough content for me in the games without ever needing the Quick Battle feature.
For those new to the game, I suggest downloading the CMFB demo. This is a great way to find out if you like the game enough to then go on and purchase. I do suggest to those who are from a Men at War or Company of Heroes background, please leave everything you learned playing those at the doorstep. CMx2 engine games are a big step up in realism, and if you play the same way you play those other two games. you'll be punished, and punished quickly. I have a few important tips that will help you keep your pixel rappen alive and that is not to rush, take your time moving your troops, split squads at the start, and don't be afraid to use recon by fire. I'd say go take a look at the excellent AAR's over at the forums that involve Bil Hardenberger. Bil also has a website full of tips on how to perfect your tactical know-how. There are also some superb Let’s Play videos over at youtube.
Quality, quality, and quality…
As usual, the scenarios and campaigns are of an exceptional standard. The research that the scenario designers have put in is faultless right across the board. The briefings for each scenario really set the tone and atmosphere of what's to come, as well as set the immediate backdrop to the battle. Try not to skim over them, they add so much to the immersion, as well as contain little snip bits of intel which could really help you over the course of the battle. The maps are being praised by all who own the game, many saying they are the best yet, and that really is saying something, as there are lots of outstanding maps which you'll find in all games in the series. The game definitely succeeds in portraying the harsh winter conditions that swept across Northern Europe during this period. I also like the variety of scenario sizes and how well spread out they are. In a previous game, I found very few tiny and small scenarios which I really missed as they can be great fun. CMFB doesn't have this problem, all sizes get a decent amount of scenarios.
Those who never got over the move from CMx1 to CMx2 aren't going to be swayed by CMFB. Maybe when Battlefront moves on to a new engine, you'll come back into the fold. Here is hoping.Those who have played the previous games and found they weren't for them, then again, CMFB isn't going to change your mind.
So, just like a good old love story, my relationship with Combat Mission has had its ups and downs, with even a split along the way. Yes, there are things I'd like to see improved, like soldier animations, for instance, and be able to set SOP's for units. If I had to really think about it, I'm sure I could list several other wants/improvements, but tell me, which game out there couldn't be improved? I have no doubt that different players would suggest different ways in how the game could be improved, yet the games taking pride of place on my hard drive today are the CMx2 games. That's because they fill a need for tactical wargaming that no other games I've tried, and I've tried many, have managed to fill. Only one has come close, but CMx2 has those killer features for me, WEGO and replay value, which will always relegate other tactical wargames to second place or lower. The CM series is my first true love when it comes to tactical wargaming on the computer and it will take something very special indeed to knock it off my No.1 spot.