Battlefront.com has recently released a special edition of Combat Mission II: Barbarossa to Berlin (CMBB). This expanded version of the popular sequel to Combat Mission: Beyond Overlord includes over 50 new scenarios and over 600 MB of new graphical goodies. Basically, what you’re getting here is more of an already good thing.
There have not been any upgrades to gameplay in this version of CMBB. What you’re getting are more missions and a plethora of graphical textures. The textures, included on a separate mod disc, are fan-created using the graphics and sound files of CMBB. There are stand-alone mods that can be installed in the BMP folder and will subsequently be represented throughout the game. Then there is a much more powerful and comprehensive group of CMMOS mods: Combat Mission Mod Option Selector. This set of mods is handled by an application, provided on the new disc that helps to preview, manage and install those textures that appeal to you. Basically the mods are a big treat bag for all of you hard-bitten, battle-weary CMBB veterans out there.
When it comes to superior tactical strategy, few surpass CMBB for sheer attention to detail and solid, realistic gameplay. Though the graphics and sound leave something to be desired, the gameplay shines through the coal like a diamond. However, like a diamond, not only is it hard, sparkling and beautiful, but it is also not as accessible to all who would desire it.
For those who are not familiar with the series, CMBB is not exactly a turn-based tactical strategy game. Nor is it a hex-game. It's billed as a hybrid between a turn-based and real-time strategy title, but I don't know if I'm convinced of the real-time label. In my estimation, it is a simultaneous-turn strategy game with the results of those turns played out in a 60 second action clip, during which the player has no ability to impact events. It's a cool concept that makes for a very realistic, dynamic battlefield experience.
Now with over 125 scenarios taken from, or inspired by, actual World War II engagements, CMBB contains approximately 300 different vehicles and 600 different types of infantry. Each of these units is crafted to resemble and act like actual units from the era. The depth of CMBB is staggering. Take into consideration the number of available orders for each unit, the terrain sets in which nearly every tree and fence on the map can play a tactical role in your engagement, and you have a game that requires a good deal of time and patience to master.
A fact that brings us to a crucial point: games like CMBB tread a thin line. Obviously, this franchise has a large, loyal following of fans, so how does one craft and continue to perfect a game that is at once challenging and fresh for its longtime supporters yet accessible to newcomers? It’s a difficult undertaking, but it’s also vital.
My kingdom for a mouse-over help feature! Implementing something of this nature would be a huge leap in making CMBB accessible to newcomers and casual fans alike. Unfortunately, CMBB's menus are crowded and contain little or no explanation of what exactly you're looking at. Much of it can be deduced through play, and this special edition contains a 200 page manual with explicit instructions, but hey, if you're playing videogames, you're generally going to be more of the hands-on, visual type to begin with. In-game tutorials are much, much more valuable than reading through a large manual before firing up a game for the first time.
CMBB does contain a couple of tutorial scenarios, but they really aren't deserving of the name. In order to find the tutorial, you need to consult the manual to find the correct mission name. During play, there are no onscreen tips or hints, so what you have, basically, is an easier, shorter scenario that offers no help whatsoever. Varying difficulty levels would also go a long way towards making the game less frustrating for newbies.
In a strange paradox, CMBB contains finely detailed vehicle models and an incrementally scalable camera, but the graphics themselves are incredibly blocky and archaic looking. Graphics pale greatly in comparison to the gameplay, so this ceases to be an issue in short order. Then there are the physics and damage algorithms that are summed up nicely by the review of the first version of CMBB here on Gamer's Hell. There’s nothing quite like watching an enemy tank brew up and explode.
Every scenario in the single-player game is also available via a couple of different multiplayer options. These options include TCP/IP and e-mail games. As everyone knows, it’s always more fun to take on an irrational, fallible human opponent, so the flexibility of CMBB in this regard is very attractive.
By remaining cognizant of gamers that are not familiar with the Combat Mission series, Battlefront.com could, in the future, establish CMBB as the end all be all of tactical strategy battle sims, and for those of you who are hardcore strategy gamers, you need to check this title out posthaste. Even with a rather user-unfriendly interface for newcomers, CMBB would still be worth an investment in time and patience because it is one hell of an experience, and once you find that diamond in the rough, your heart will belong to it always, or at least, until a bigger diamond comes along.