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  Pigs flying, hell freezing over, Battlefront teaming up with Matrix Games to put Combat Mission on Steam. Which of these things were you l...

Combat Mission: Shock Force 2 Combat Mission: Shock Force 2

Combat Mission: Shock Force 2

Combat Mission: Shock Force 2

 


Pigs flying, hell freezing over, Battlefront teaming up with Matrix Games to put Combat Mission on Steam. Which of these things were you least expecting to see in 2020? 


After many years of being competitors, two of the pillars of PC wargaming have established what appears to be a direct business relationship. Shock Force 2 is now available for purchase from a variety of digital stores across the net, including Steam and directly from Matrix's website. Other Combat Mission titles will follow, according to the press release. In addition to being available in new places, you can now expect Combat Mission titles to go on sale on a more regular basis, in line with Matrix Games titles. Battlefront has long resisted this sort of thing, preferring to sell exclusively from their own website, with price discounts few and far between. Matrix made the switch to Steam style sales several years ago and the decision seems to have paid off, with the prolific publisher dropping new titles and DLC's one after another. One can only hope this decision will lead to new cash flows for Battlefront, and more Combat Mission down the road.




I'll get this out of the way first thing: Yes, if you already purchased Shock Force 2 from the Battlefront website, you will get a Steam key for free. Now, on to one of my favorite gaming moments of the year: Downloading a Combat Mission title directly from Steam, then clicking play and watching the game fire up. No tracking down serial keys, no license activations or limits, just click play and go. Marvelous!


Shock Force originally released way back in 2007. After the critical acclaim of the first generation of Combat Mission titles, I and many others eagerly awaited this jump both to a completely different setting, and a new engine. If you were around then, you probably know how things turned out. The game was a mess on release, bugs abounded and a lot of momentum for the series was seemingly lost. Fortunately for everyone involved, Battlefront got to work and eventually hammered the game into a much better state. The next game in the series, Battle for Normandy, released in far better shape and was followed by several other games and modules over the past decade. Controversially, the past decade also saw four "engine upgrades" which improved the engine and made fairly significant changes to the visuals, performance, and more, for a nominal fee. I won't dive into the debate over these updates, but only point out that none of the updates applied to Shock Force. Being the oldest game on the engine, it was left behind for many years. In 2018, Shock Force 2 catapulted the game to the newest version of the engine, it also included touched up and tweaked versions of all the original scenarios, to account for the multitude of balance and mechanical changes in the intervening decade.



Although we covered Shock Force 2 back when it originally came out, I think the arrival of Combat Mission on Steam, after so many years of people yammering and arguing about it on forums, is worthy of taking the Strykers out for another spin around the battlefield. 

Like every Combat Mission title released after it, Shock Force attempts to model tactical combat down to the level of individual soldiers. The game can be played in two modes, either real-time with pause, or WEGO turns where orders are given and then the action plays out for one minute before you can take control again. Although I prefer turn-based for the WW2 titles, in Shock Force I've always been a fan of real time with liberal pausing. Given the more lethal nature of modern combat, a single errant order can get an entire squad wiped out in less than a minute, and when playing as the NATO forces you must almost always been extremely cautious about taking casualties. Unlike the WW2 games, the fighting here is often very asymmetrical. The NATO factions have all the nice weapons, vehicles, and well trained troops, but they are usually outnumbered and forced to take difficult objectives. The Syrian and other opposition forces range widely from units that represent ragtag militias, on up to mediocre regular army forces and the occasional elite unit. Given the wide variety of "red" forces available, there is also a huge amount of user made content out there depicting interesting red vs red scenarios and campaigns where the forces are more balanced in ability.


The stock scenarios and campaigns contained within the game depict a fictional NATO intervention in Syria to contain a civil war. As we all know, the civil war part was sadly destined to become a reality several years after the original release of Shock Force. Scenarios based on real events in Iraq and Afghanistan are not part of the game, but can be easily modeled using the units available. There's plenty of user made content depicting such actions if you are interested. 


Now, all of that aside, how does the game actually play? For veterans of the series who might have skipped Shock Force, you mostly know what you are getting into, with the primary differences from WW2 being that anti-tank guns are replaced with ATGM's and infantry combat is far more lethal with automatic weapons and urban combat galore. For newbies, what you are getting is something I still haven't seen bested by any other game. A detailed simulation that allows you to command realistic forces into modern combat scenarios just like those that have played out a thousand times in the War on Terror. Although infantry are controlled as squads and fire teams, each individual reacts independently of the others, spotting and engaging enemies, reloading, taking cover, or breaking. Vehicles are all controlled individually, with each crewman inside modeled in similar detail. Vehicles can be damaged in a variety of ways, losing their weapons, equipment, and mobility, being knocked out or simply exploded. 



Understanding exactly what kind of firepower you have and what you are up against is key to victory. A decades old BMP-2 with a 30mm cannon can wreak havoc on an unwary US mechanized platoon rolling down a road, while a single US rifle squad packing a Javelin can take out that BMP-2 from across the map without breaking a sweat. It's all a matter of maneuvering and positioning your forces correctly. Group selecting your best forces and sending them straight at the objective will never work in this game. Scouting, careful advances, focusing of firepower, and the occasional lightning fast assault are what will carry the day. 


While there have been plenty of gradual upgrades to the engine over the years, making the graphics and shaders easier on the eyes, as well as improving the AI and mechanics, some of the perpetual issues of the series remain. Ordering around a large force around can be fussy, with every single unit needing it's own specific waypoints for all but the most general of movements. LOS can be finicky as well, with units occasionally unable to see something because they are an inch out of position. It must also be mentioned that although the engine runs the best it ever has, it still has issues maintaining a smooth experience on larger maps, no matter how beefy your gaming PC might be. That said, if you're a fan of the series and missed Shock Force the first time around, Shock Force 2 is well worth your money. If you have the original you can upgrade to the new version for a moderate fee. 



There are three add-on modules available for the game, US Marines, British Forces, and NATO Forces. All three are quality products that I have played through over the years. The different sorts of equipment each nation has can really mix up your tactics. From the extremely heavily armed Marines to the light but mobile Dutch forces, there is a lot of fun to be had between all of the additional campaigns and scenarios. The add-on's are pricey at $35 a pop, but if you get them in the big bundle you can get a pretty good discount. 


I'm excited to see this new era for Battlefront, and I hope that it works out for them so we can see more Combat Mission in the future. Hopefully at some point they will be able to move to a completely new engine that leaves behind the lingering issues of the current one. Combat Mission still offers an experience that is unique and well worth a look from any wargamer.

Shock Force 2 - Now available on Steam!


- Joe Beard




2 comments :

  1. If you have already purchased CMSF2 from Battlefront you are able to get Steam keys for free.

    First register game at Matrix using Battlefronts game key. Then click get steam keys on game window. Then register key on your Steam account

    ReplyDelete
  2. Nice, I have skipped the Syrian one, but now that it is on steam I have purshased, they must do the same for Black Sea, that it's a more equilibred fight.

    ReplyDelete