Battlefront.com has bestowed upon us gamers yet another immersive strategy title, Combat Mission Afrika Korps (CMAK). There is little doubt that Combat Mission II: Barbarossa to Berlin set a standard for tactical strategy games. It contained realistic, if unforgiving, strategic gameplay and content that was the result of extensive historical research. CMAK contains the same, insane amount of detail and dedication to military history. However, besides additional content in the form of animations, units and terrain sets, CMAK is pretty much the same game, lacking any apparent innovation.
CMAK covers the World War II campaigns of North Africa, Italy and Crete. Over 60 battles and seven operations, both historical and semi-historical, present these dry, dusty campaigns in all their glory. The obligatory scenario editor is also included, offering unlimited replay appeal for those of you who can't get enough turn-based, military tactics. Multiplayer matches are available via the same IP, LAN and e-mail options as previous Combat Mission games.
Everything that existing fans of the series expect is present again in CMAK. Conquer, defend and siege missions of various sizes are all here. As in previous games, you'll have to pay close attention to the blocky 3D environments. Line of sight, terrain and weather will all have an impact on your strategic approach. Along with all of that, you'll have to take troop fitness and experience into account. Add in some solid, though limited, sound effects and troop dialogue, and what you have is an incredibly realistic, historical strategy game that is quite a challenge to master.
So what's new? The answer is: not all that much. The Combat Mission franchise has a hardcore fan-base. If you belong to that particular class of people, you've probably been keeping tabs on this title since it was first announced. Yes, the campaigns are all new. There are nice, new terrain sets that reflect the North African, Italian and Grecian environments, namely: dry, rocky, dusty and hot. Vehicles will kick up nice, big dust and sand clouds as they crawl across the flat, African desert, but besides new landscapes and some new units and animations, there has been no real change to the gameplay or interface.
The gameplay is solid yet difficult. Though there is a balance setting that can be tweaked to add more troops to your side, this really doesn't matter if your tactics aren't good to begin with. In that case, those extra troops will just be more grist for the schnitzel mill. Superior numbers will not get it done. I’m fairly confident that Rommel and Patton spin in their respective graves every time I fire up a scenario. Hell, I’m sure even old Monty does a half-spin.
The interface remains the same as previous Combat Mission games. Orders can be given using hotkeys or a right mouse-click that brings up a command menu. Some basic, mouse-over or right-click definitions would be useful to newcomers and veterans alike. As it is, there's a lot of trial and error involved in learning how to play CMAK. This is magnified by the fact that the 'tutorial' is a shorter scenario that contains absolutely no walkthrough help. I would not classify it as a tutorial at all.
I hate to sound at all negative when talking about a high-quality game that has been so exhaustively researched and has a proven track-record of providing high-quality gameplay, but it bears mentioning that stagnancy is a very dangerous condition for a series in this day and age. By its very nature, the Combat Mission franchise is not all that accessible to newcomers. It has a fairly steep learning curve. All of this adds up to a recipe for degradation of their fan-base over time.
Be that as it may, I can still highly recommend this game to strategy buffs. Once you warm to CMAK, you’ll spend many hours maneuvering troops and gradually refining your skills. Images of George C. Scott firing a pistol at an incoming German plane will cloud your mind, or if you’re playing on the other side, you’ll find yourself screaming: “Let’s see you hunt THIS fox you tea-swilling crumpet-munchers!”
Combat Mission Afrika Korps adds another quality chapter to the superior World War II tactical strategy series. If you've played previous Combat Mission games, you'll find Afrika Korps to be reassuringly familiar, for it is really the same game with some new content in the form of terrain that is true to the theatre in which the game takes place, animations and combat units. If you're new to the series, save yourself some money, buy Combat Mission II and prepare to spend a lot of time losing until you're able to refine your strategic skills. At that point, if you like what you see, definitely go out and pick up Afrika Korps.