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Genre: Strategy & War
Min OS X: 10.6

Combat Mission: Battle For Normandy
September 8, 2011 | Steven Marx

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Into the woods

Mac OS X: 10.6 |†CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo 2.2 GHz | RAM: 2 GB | HD Space: 3.5 GB Graphics:†256 MB RAM Video Card

Back in 2000, Battlefront released Combat Mission: Beyond Overlord (CMBO), a World War II game of tactics and operations that won many fans and awards for its realism and innovative game play. Rather than a straight turn-based system similar to board games such as Advanced Squad Leader, CMBO introduced a system where each player set their moves which were then played out simultaneously in real-time. Now known as WeGo, this system made the game more realistic as once you set your orders your units functioned autonomously based on your orders and the action on the battlefield. After two sequels, sadly, Mac releases from Battlefront went silent. The many changes occurring in Macintosh environment, from the switch from RAGE graphics to Open GL, the transition to OS X and then to Intel chips, caused Battlefront to drop Macintosh support from its games.

That all changed in April of this year, when Battlefront announced its return to the Mac with its all-new version of Combat Mission, the first edition of which is Combat Mission: Battle for Normandy (CM:BN). Featuring a new, more challenging AI, a new way to play, and upgraded graphics, CM:BN is based on Battlefront's Combat Mission: Shockforce game, which covers modern warfare. CM:BN is essentially a port of Shockforce to World War II, sharing the same methods of gameplay and improved graphics. For those who liked the original Combat Mission and are looking for a World War II game that emphasizes tactics over bloodshed, it's good to have Battlefront back on the Mac.

The new Combat Mission continues to offer the WeGo system from the original game, but also adds the ability to play in real time like any real time strategy (RTS) game; several multiplayer options exist, which will be discussed below. Whichever version you choose, things start off pretty much the same.

From the opening screen you select a Battle, Quick Battle or Campaign. Campaigns are a series of battles with units moving from one battle to the next based on how they fair in the previous battle. Quick Battles allow you to create a new battle by making several selections such as the type of battle, its size, and then selecting forces. Once youíve selected your mission, you are given a briefing which covers your objectives, the forces available, time of day and weather conditions, and your victory conditions. In addition to a larger strategic map, you have a tactical map giving you a closer view of the battlefield and expected locations of enemy forces and geographic highlights. Once you click through all these screens, you are taken to the battlefield where your mission begins, and itís here that things change slightly depending on which gameplay mode you choose.

Using WeGo, each player sets their moves independently for each turn; once both players (or the player and the computer) are done, the computer calculates what happens, and then plays back the turn in real time. You can replay the turn, changing camera angles and viewing whatever parts of the battlefield you want, as many times as you want. Once youíre done, you click the red button and plan your next actions. This process continues until one side achieves all its victory conditions or the time set for the scenario runs out. At the end of the mission you are given a final screen that tells you whether you achieved your various victory conditions and achieved overall victory.

The real time system works much like you would expect in an RTS game. Once on the battlefield you deploy your forces (within limits), give them their initial orders, and press the button to start the scenario. Then everything happens in real time. You issue orders, change those orders, and hope your soldiers obey, again until victory conditions are achieved or time runs out. Using the real time system, you are allowed to pause the game and look at the battlefield, but you cannot go back in time. I found the real time system cumbersome and difficult to manage, so tended to stick with the WeGo system. Itís possible I could get up to speed by replaying scenarios I already won using this system, but for this game, I find the WeGo system preferable, and many on the Battlefront forums seem to agree.

Combat Mission also offers several multiplayer options, with some caveats. You can only play Internet/LAN games using the real time system, a change from the original where you could use the WeGo system over the internet. The only way to play WeGo is through hotseat (two players on one computer) or Play by Email (PBEM). This change has led to more than a few upset fans of the series, but according to Battlefront the situation is not likely to change anytime soon. On the Battlefront forums some have also complained of the difficulty playing PBEM due to large file sizes of the games (up to 20 MB and more); some have gotten around this by using Dropbox to share the game files. Other complaints regarding multiplayer have been lag times when playing using the Real Time system making gameplay difficult. I was unable to test the multiplayer, but it sounds like if youíre looking for the best multiplayer experience, you might want to look elsewhere or take a very close look at the forums before buying.

As far as the nitty gritty of gameplay, giving your units the various orders they need to accomplish their mission objectives, much remains from the original series while there are also some changes. To give units orders, you select the unit you want, then select from a set of orders divided into four sets of options which appear at the bottom of the screen. I highly advise learning the keyboard shortcuts to move between these screens and to select the most common orders. You have options for Movement, Combat, Special actions and Administration. Most of your time will be spent using the movement and combat panels. You have several mouse and keyboard options for giving orders and moving the cameras. To move your units, you select the unit, select one of the movement options and then click on the screen where you want them to go; you can set waypoints by continuing to click in different places, and even change actions from one waypoint to another (such as changing from normal movement to hunt).

You issue combat orders in much the same way, clicking on an enemy unitís icon to direct fire specifically to that unit, although your units are fairly intelligent and will initiate combat should it be appropriate. In fact it is often preferable to give your units fairly general orders and let them do what they think is best. There is on and off map artillery (with delays) and sometimes you may even have access to air strikes.

In addition to an improved enemy AI, your units, as mentioned above, have brains as well. If you try to send them into a frontal assault on a machine gun, they are likely to ignore your orders, and maybe even retreat from the battlefield. For that reason, you need to keep a close eye on your men. You have detailed information for every soldier in CM:BN. When you click on a unit at the bottom of the screen you have information for the whole unit and information for each soldier. Furthermore, on the battle screen, usually on the left, in green you are given information on what each soldier in the unit is doing, including cowering, spotting, aiming, firing, etc. They will even be medics for injured fellow soldiers. To be successful, you need to keep track of how your individual soldiers and your units are doing, and not expect too much of them.

Despite what might seem like an onslaught of detailed information, the game strikes a good balance between playability and complexity and has a very complete (digital) manual and two training campaigns to get you up to speed. I like the WeGo system because it allows me to follow the overall flow of a turn to see if my tactics are working, and then I can get down on grunt level and watch my soldiers in action. While this series is known for its realistic depiction of World War II tactical combat, it remains very approachable and fun to play.


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