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  If you hear a rumor that long time wargame developer Battlefront is making a modern Combat Mission module about the place where you live, ...

Combat Mission: Black Sea Combat Mission: Black Sea

Combat Mission: Black Sea

Combat Mission: Black Sea

 



If you hear a rumor that long time wargame developer Battlefront is making a modern Combat Mission module about the place where you live, you might want to look into taking an extended vacation. I say that because both of their titles set in our time were developed based on smoldering conflicts that soon after turned into serious real life wars. First in Syria with Shock Force, and then in Ukraine with Black Sea. The key difference in each game of course being the intervention of conventional NATO forces, which in both cases was at least within the realm of possibility. If you wanted to see just what a NATO intervention in Ukraine might have looked like, then you are in luck, because Combat Mission: Black Sea is here to provide that experience.


Although originally released back in 2014, Black Sea is now joining Shock Force 2 on Steam and the Matrix Store, as Battlefront continues their venture with Slitherine of bringing the Combat Mission series to the largest games platform around. I wrote my take on Shock Force 2 and to some extent the Combat Mission (CM) series as a whole in an article a few months back. Today I'll try to focus on what sets Black Sea apart and why you might want to add it to your collection. 




As mentioned, Black Sea depicts the most modern conflict of any game in the Combat Mission series, a war in Ukraine involving a full on United States military intervention. That means peer-on-peer conflict with the best Russia has to offer, as well as scenarios involving the slightly less well equipped Ukrainian forces. This is a far cry from the mostly asymmetric scenarios in Shock Force, where the highly trained and well equipped US and NATO troops faced a challenge only because they were asked to accomplish difficult objectives while taking minimal casualties. The enemy forces in that game usually varied in quality from militia rabbles to poorly motivated regular Syrian army units. One can also make a comparison to the WW2 settings of the other CM games. There, the forces are evenly matched in terms of quality most of the time, as they are here. However, as deadly as a WW2 battlefield could be, infantry firefights mostly involved bolt action rifles slinging only a moderate amount of lead around, and tanks could often shrug off a hit or three. Not so in Black Sea. 


In Black Sea, everything on the battlefield is a glass cannon. Every unit is deadly when positioned correctly, and dead when not. Modern optics and thermal sites and other gizmos make any move in the open a potential death sentence. In this kind of highly lethal environment, information becomes king. If you can see the enemy first, you can eliminate him without risking your own units. Unmanned drones are present in many missions, providing you with intel about whatever part of the battlefield you task them to observe. If you can get eyes on, say, an enemy APC holding an intersection, you can then drop a burst of precision artillery rounds directly on it and open a gap in the opposing defense. The same can happen to your units just as easily.




In a way, playing a battle in Black Sea can feel like something of a game of chess. This isn't a WW2 situation where you hurl an entire infantry company or two into a slugfest over a village, then roll in some tanks to provide extra firepower, and maybe throw in an artillery strike over a general area. This is a game where you carefully position each asset you have to maximize its potential, and hope it isn't blown up in an instant by some unseen foe.


The assets you have in Black Sea include many of the same units we saw in Shock Force, but with new bells and whistles to reflect a conflict a decade further into the future. For the United States, we have Abrams tanks, Bradley's, and Stryker's of all models. The Russians have T-72's and T-90's and of course a smorgasbord of BMP's, BTR's, and so on. The differences between these vehicles in Black Sea vs Shock Force reflect the nitty gritty details that make Combat Mission games shine. Depending on the exact model in question, many of these vehicles have better optics than they had in Shock Force. Some also have Active Protection Systems which can destroy incoming anti-tank rockets, giving these vehicles a fighting chance on the modern battlefield. Being aware of whether your vehicles are equipped with one of these systems or not is essential to forming a successful plan. Another easily overlooked difference from Shock Force is how the playing field has been leveled during night combat. In Shock Force, the Western forces ruled the night with their night vision equipped vehicles and infantry. Now everybody has some kind of night vision capabilities, although quality still varies. 




For better and ill, Black Sea is also still a very similar game to Shock Force and the other CM titles. The interface is exactly the same, which may be frustrating for some, but cozy enough for those already acclimated to it. Quick Battles against the AI are even more underwhelming here than in the WW2 titles, as the generic moves the AI makes in this mode tend to get their units wiped out. Performance with the engine continues to be a mixed bag. While it remains impressive that Battlefront can model a 1:1 battlefield with such exacting detail and at a realistic scope, the engine is just barely up to the task. The framerate can wildly swing as you move the camera around in medium to large scenarios, no matter how powerful your PC might be. Continued updates to the engine have improved things over the years and also made the game look nicer, but at this point I think we would all love to see a jump to something completely new. Hopefully the partnership with Matrix and additional funds from Steam sales will get them there.


The base game comes with 21 stand alone scenarios as well as a campaign for each faction, plus a training campaign. This will keep you busy for a quite a while, as most scenarios are difficult regardless of which side you play, and the campaigns even more so as you must keep your units alive to fight in battle after battle. If you want even more Black Sea, there is also the Battle Pack which adds a new campaign for the Russians and US Forces, along with 6 more stand alone scenarios. For only $10 it's a good amount of content that will keep you busy for hours. There are also a couple dozen user made scenarios and at least one campaign available over at The Scenario Depot that you can freely download.




If you are already a huge fan of Combat Mission, then Black Sea is an easy recommendation. The shift to a very modern battlefield really does make the game feel fresh as you must adjust your tactics to the high-tech, high-lethality reality of a conventional war between two major powers. If you've been putting off the purchase because you didn't like Battlefront's DRM policies of the past and messing with manual patches, well, there's no excuse now. With the game now on Steam, you are only one click away from having the most up to date version of the game on any computer, any time you want it. If you are new to the series and unsure about which game to purchase, remember that Battlefront is great about providing demos for every game. The demo for Black Sea includes a training scenario and two full scenarios from the game, more than enough to see what you are getting into.


Combat Mission: Black Sea is available on Steam, the Matrix Store, and directly from Battlefront.


- Joe Beard



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