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Command: Modern Air/Naval Operations (CMANO) was released a full six years ago, and has since received endless patches and updates, as we...

Command: Modern Operations Command: Modern Operations

Command: Modern Operations

Command: Modern Operations

Command: Modern Air/Naval Operations (CMANO) was released a full six years ago, and has since received endless patches and updates, as well as several DLC campaigns and stand alone scenarios. If you are unfamiliar with the game, I'll briefly describe it, but my primary purpose today is to discuss the upgrade to Command: Modern Operations (CMO). In short, CMANO is perhaps the ultimate sandbox for air and naval combat simulation. 

Well, if you don't mind that simulation taking the form, visually, of a map covered in simple icons, lines, and rings. It's what all those simple icons, lines, and rings represent that makes the game so fascinating. Essentially, every single aircraft, ship, submarine, and related weapon that has existed since the end of WW2 on up to the present day, and even a bit into the future, is realistically represented within the game. It's all there in a Wikipedia style database that has more specs and stats than you can possibly ever need. Between the official and community made scenarios, there are somewhere north of 600 scenarios on offer, and a powerful editor that you can use to whip up something of your own design. These scenarios depict some hypothetical and utterly fictional situations, but many recreate historical battles and events with a high level of detail. 

Although the graphics might be simple at a glance, the simulation is doing some serious work behind the scenes. Weapons only function within their real design parameters, aircraft burn fuel at variable rates depending on their speed and payload, the thermal layer and other underwater phenomenon are fully taken into account, and, most importantly of all, real world tactics and strategies are the order of the day. 

While some scenarios are straight forward affairs, many depict actions taking place over multiple days or across hundreds of miles, where you will need to take into consideration things like patrols, reconnaissance, SEAD strikes, mid-air refueling, changes in day/night, and the rotation of aircraft back to base for rearming and refueling. Many of the nitty-gritty details can be handled by the AI automatically; you just create missions and then assign units to them. However, if you really want to micromanage things, you can go in and manually direct the firing of individual weapons at specific targets. 

For some missions, like attacking particular buildings in an enemy base, you'll want to get in there and assign targets yourself. For other needs, like flying a CAP around the fleet, simply creating an appropriate mission and assigning the correct squadron to it will be all you need to do. How will you know which squadron is the correct squadron? Well, if you don't know your F-22's from your F-18's, or even if you do, you'll want to poke around in the in-game wiki a bit. Keeping Google open in the background might be a good idea as well. Needless to say, this is a game that will require some effort on the part of the player, but will reward you with an incredibly deep and varied experience.

Now, after much anticipation, the next iteration of the epic combat simulator is here in the form of Command: Modern Operations. This new version of the game completely replaces CMANO, but also comes with a price tag. This will lead many out there to wonder, is this worth the upgrade price? Alternatively, if you never pulled the trigger on the older version, is now the time to jump in? Read on to see what is new and improved. 

First up I will direct you to the official CMANO->CMO FAQ, which should answer a few questions you might have. Essentially, if you already own CMANO, you can upgrade to CMO for $40 for a limited time. While that is a considerable fee for an engine upgrade, one must consider that CMANO received non-stop updates for the past 6 years, and we can expect that same level of support for CMO going forward. Any extra content you might have purchased transfers over to CMO, and of course the absolutely massive trove of community built scenarios will still work in CMO. Just to give you an idea of how dedicated the fans are, and how easy the mission editor is to use, I'll point out that there are 476 scenarios in the official community pack, and that number steadily grows. Good luck ever playing all of them! 

I was a bit disappointed to see that the previously stand-alone campaigns, like Northern Fury, will no longer be available to purchase as separate mini-versions of the game, but only as DLC within CMO. I thought that was a great way to let people dip their toes into the Command world.  New players will now have to bite the bullet and drop $80 on the full game, or wait it out for a sale. 

Now, what exactly are you getting if you do decide to upgrade to CMO? Let's run down the list of new features, and I'll comment on my experiences with them since getting my hands on the game. 

New User Interface

CMANO veterans will immediately notice that the new UI is much easier on the eyes than that in the original game. The very generic and plain interface of the original has been restyled with a nice dark theme, some softer edges, and a splash of color. A new row of buttons along the top give you quick access to some of the most common commands and windows that you will need on a regular basis. Overall, the controls are the same as before, and you'll still be digging through menus at times, but this should ease new players into the game a bit better and give veterans a little quality of life upgrade. The bottom line is, the game now looks much more like a "game" and less like a piece of generic Windows software. For some players, this won't matter at all, but I very much liked the changes.

Besides looking different the UI now features a lot of new functionality. A much more useful message log now sorts messages into different categories to help you find what you are looking for, and hovering over an entry, for example "Enemy fighter X destroyed by missile Y" will now cause a text bubble to pop up on the map, showing exactly where that event occurred. Very useful in the case where you missed something important during a chaotic battle. Another nice update is that the pictures of various units and weapons are now automatically downloaded into the database as you pull them up. Previously, you had to go to the developer website and manually download a giant folder of images to stick in your game files. This doesn't really change the gameplay at all, but is certainly a better solution. Half the fun of the game is that you have access to ALL the toys from the past 70 years of warfare, you're gonna want to at least get a picture of what they look like. 

Tacview 3D Integration

Speaking of visuals, one major change found in CMO is that you can now integrate it with Tacview 3D Advanced to get a simple 3D view of what's happening on the battlefield. It's important to note that this is a separate software purchase. You do get a nice discount if you own CMO, but it's still almost the price of a AAA release. On the upside, the software can also be used with flight simulators like DCS World, so you could get some additional utility out of it if you are so inclined. A luxury item no doubt, but a very cool feature. For all of its complexity and depth, CMO still involves a lot of staring at simple icons and lines on a map. Having an extra window showing the action in 3D should bring things to life in a more dynamic way. I do not own the software, so I can't give it a review, but here's a shot of what it adds to the game.

New Map Layers

Continuing with the visual improvements, the game now includes some additional map layers that you can switch on and off as you please. Just as in CMANO, most of the time you will be looking at a Google Earth style globe that you can freely move around and zoom to wherever you desire. CMO adds a new higher resolution map where you can see right down to individual streets and groups of buildings. Unfortunately, I often had trouble getting the map to load as fast as one might hope for. Often, one "chunk" of the map would load in higher resolution, and then the areas around that chunk would stubbornly refuse to load in for a long time. I don't know if this was just due to my hard drive not being up to snuff, or an issue with the game engine. In the screenshot below, you can simultaneously see both the gorgeous high-res layer of the map, and imagine the frustration of sitting there waiting for the rest of it to load in. 

I also experienced another visual oddity where bits of two different layers seemed to bleed into each other at times. Hopefully a little more polish can resolve these issues. CMO also adds a few other layers that you can use if you prefer. One of these takes away the satellite imagery and replaces it with a cleaner, utilitarian style of map. I liked playing with this one on while operating in urban areas.

Improvements to Ground Forces

Besides looking nicer, the higher resolution terrain visuals also connect with improvements to the actual gameplay. The terrain on the ground is now represented in a far more detailed manner. Hovering your mouse around the map will display information which now includes a specific description of the terrain. Cropland, plains, mountains, jungles, urban areas, forests, swamps, and many more types of terrain are now modeled in the engine. While the description and the visual representation were not always exactly 1:1, it was shockingly close for a map modeling the entire world. 

This is important because a long requested update to one area of the game has arrived: ground operations. Of course, given the title of "Modern Air/Naval Operations," the inclusion of detailed ground combat was never promised, but could only make the game that much more interesting. While mobile ground units are still not a central part of the game, and most scenarios don't have any at all, future scenario makers will now be able to create much more interesting conflicts using them. All of that new terrain information comes into play, along with detailed line-of-sight data. Before, it didn't really matter if you drove some tanks through a swamp, or hid your infantry in dense jungle. Now it matters a great deal. While the developers have made it very clear that they aren't aiming to reach the fidelity of something like Armored Brigade or Command Ops, this is still a pretty nice leap forward.

Check out this Developer Diary for more details on the changes to Ground Ops

Under The Hood

Besides the updates to the UI and visuals, the engine itself has received a massive upgrade in terms of performance and modeling. Though I don't have any hard data, I can say with confidence that the game now runs along more smoothly than ever before, which is especially noticeable in the more complex scenarios. More specific updates include improvements to the aircraft dogfighting AI, the flight model, and even the modeling of G-Force effects on air crews. Other improvements to air combat include radar frequency agility and explicit doppler-notching. Do I know what these terms mean? Absolutely not. But they are now part of the simulation. A little research reveals that these are some advanced air combat maneuvers, the inclusion of which show just how insanely detailed and researched this game really is.

Quick Battle Generator

This is a great idea, but the first iteration is a bit anemic. The idea is to allow the player to jump right into some action, without the context of a larger scenario to worry about. Air, sea, and underwater engagements can all be created in just a few clicks. Unfortunately, the options and results are very limited. Basically, no matter what settings you pick, it's just a small handful of roughly equivalent units run smack into each other and you see who wins. Spending a short time learning how to use the editor would allow you to whip up far more interesting engagements in just a few minutes. I appreciate the thought here, but I hope this feature will be updated to, perhaps, generate simple scenarios like attacking an enemy base with several squadrons of fighters.

Other Changes

There are just so many minor changes and updates to the game that I don't want to drone on describing every single one, so I'll just rattle off a few more here. If you want the exhaustive list of changes, just follow this link to the developer's page and start scrolling. There is a lot to read about!

Expanded Tutorials - Self explanatory, but certainly this game needs all the tutorials it can get. Once you know how to create missions and get units into action, the game really isn't that hard to control, but getting over that initial hump can be intimidating.

Chains of War Features - The DLC campaign "Chains of War" had several features not included in the base game (loading/unloading cargo and amphibious forces, electronic/cyberwarfare, detailed aircraft damage modeling, and some high tech toys). All of that is now baked into the base game, and can be used by anyone for their own scenarios.

Realistic Submarine Communications - A cool new optional setting. Just as in real life, submarines that go deep underwater can no longer be easily tracked or communicated with, even by allied units. You won't even be able to see their exact location on the map, so you better think twice before assigning a mission. Just as in the real world, an ELF signal can be sent to request they come back to the surface to re-establish communications.

This covers many of the changes found in CMO, but definitely not everything. I'm probably underselling a lot of the changes in how the simulation is modeled, since I'm not enough of expert on what is being depicted to tell you just how accurately things were being modeled to begin with. What I can tell you, is that CMO takes what was already a great system, and makes it several notches better. There is simply nothing else out there like it. It's game where you can convincingly simulate a naval battle from 1950, an air-to-air combat in 1967, and a submarine duel in 1985 all within one unified system.

If you already own CMANO and didn't care for it, well, CMO probably won't change your opinion. It's a hefty update, but it doesn't fundamentally change the game in any way. If you loved CMANO and play it all the time, it's a must have. All new updates and content going forward will require CMO, and based on the past six years, we can expect there to be plenty more of both. If you never took the plunge but were curious, the release of CMO is a great time to jump in. Yes, the price is significant, but you will get a one of a kind experience with limitless content. 

- Joe Beard

Command Modern Operations is available directly from Matrix Games and on Steam.