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Publisher:    Genre: Strategy & War
Min OS X: Not Supported    CPU: 603 @ 133 MHz    RAM: 32 MB    4x CD-ROM

Combat Mission: Beyond Overlord
December 1, 2000 | Ruffin Bailey

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Game play
One of the most unrealistic traits found in many of todayís best war games is the turn-based system. Just as in many of the popular "god games" like Civilization: Call to Power, each player in traditional war games will move one after another, taking turns. First one team will issue orders, and battles will take place. Then the next player will take their turn.

As pointed out in the CMBO manual, this sort of turn-based gaming is more than just unrealistic; it also opens many loopholes. As an experienced original Civilization player, Iíve certainly taken advantage of sending a weakling diplomat down a railroad to scout out enemy forces and cities before determining whether it was time to launch an all-out attack. Itís not hard to imagine that this is hardly the way things happened in the battlefields of war-torn France. It was mayhem from start to finish, and there was no such thing as concrete as turns. If you wanted a full-out assault, you had to commit your forces without the advantage of such unrealistic intelligence.

So Big Time has successfully challenged the idea of "I go, you go" games with a "we go" methodology. Each turn consists of 60 seconds of battle. Before the each turn, both forces have to issue orders for their troops. This is accomplished by hold-clicking on each friendly unit (or by selecting many units at a time with a bounding rectangle) and selecting from a contextual "drop-down" menu of commands ranging from run, crawl, target [an enemy], and hide for those on foot to a specialized "hunt" for mechanized weaponry. There are a number of different angles that CMBOís players can take when looking at the battlefield, from a zoomed-out birdís eye view to an over-the-shoulder view from the point of view of any particular unit.

Overall the controls work fairly well, though the dependence on the mouse to access the drop-down commands menu is a bit much. Moving your view laterally is another slight pain, as it can only be accomplished by the keyboard. The controls could be a bit more intuitive, and a smoother keyboard-only method of quickly accomplishing common tasks (like issuing commands) should be implemented. But once some degree of familiarity with the controls is reached, these bothersome limitations are minimized.

Graphics are secondary to game play, and Big Time is explicit about this hierarchy. As an example of this game play-first attitude (as well as CMBOís nearly insane attention to detail), consider a Sherman tank attacking a squad of infantry. The shots from the infantry appear to a gamerís eye as little more than yellow tracers aimed in the general direction of the tank. CMBOís engine, however, is doing quite a bit more detail-oriented computations underneath the hood. If a bullet is determined to have slipped through the Shermanís armor, just inching into the small slit used by the tankís driver for vision, heís toast and the tank is stopped in its tracks.

Similarly, when a shot connects from one infantry squad to another, CMBO not only determines which man with which armament goes down, but also whether that arm was important enough for another member of the squad to pick back up! So, if your heavy machine-gunner is lost to enemy fire, chances are (if your squad still has its wits about it) another man will pick up where the downed man left off ó and keep up the fighting.

Victory is decided by a number of factors, but most scenarios are decided by the capture of specific checkpoints. Checkpoints consist of flags which change depending on which force currently occupies them. Thereís a swastika if a German force has control, a Stars and Bars if itís the Americans, the French tri-color, or a question mark if no one controls that spot, among other options.

Checkpoints can be as simple as an intersection between a few roads or a bridge over a river. Many scenarios have a number of checkpoints, and the order in which you capture and maintain these vantage points can greatly influence your success. At first, the flags seem a bit strange poking up into the sky in the middle of a battle, and often seem to be placed somewhat arbitrarily. You might control an entire city except for the exact spot where the flag for the railway is located, for example, but Combat Mission still says the Germans are closer to victory. But in the end, they are reminiscent of those little toothpick flags stuck into maps on the wall of operation headquarters you see in movies. That exact spot is what the general wants, and until you have it, you havenít won.

The only real drawback in the game play is the forcesí AI. There were numerous times when I had several squads staring across a few hundred yards of ground at their enemy, guns a-blaziní. Iíd often have each of my units concentrate their fire on one enemy unit in the hope that that one enemy unit would lose morale and start retreating. Their retreat would quickly remove many rifles pointed at my men from the front ranks ó more than would have been removed than if Iíd only picked off a few men from many units and no one unit had retreated. The problem was that, once the enemy unit did rout, my men kept firing at their backs. Now Iíve never been at war, but youíd better believe Iíd rather fire at the people who were still firing at me, not at those that just wet their pants while running. Little AI quirks like that one bothered me occasionally, but thatís certainly a minor complaint.


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