Tiny tanks, tiny guns, tiny men. These are my thoughts when I think of Italian ground forces in World War 2.
Last year Battlefront returned to WW2 with “Combat Mission Battle for Normandy”, now they move on to Sicily with “Combat Mission Fortress Italy”. Not only does “Combat Mission Fortress Italy” mark a change in theatre, it also marks a long overdue interface change, returning some long awaited commands that went amiss during the switch to the CMx2 engine. I grew up with the Combat Mission series. When the first Combat Mission released back in 1999, I was an 11 year old brat that was playing Counterstrike and Quake. Apart from an avid interest in history I knew nothing of simulation games and wargaming.
Then came “Combat Mission Beyond Overlord”. This game had a great impact on my life, as it turned me into a foaming grognard that would rock in his chair and mutter to himself “armour thickness”, “angles” and “hardness numbers” every now and again. My love for the Combat Mission series really took off when Battlefront released “Combat Mission Barbarossa to Berlin” and “Combat Mission Afrika Korps”. In 2007, after years of waiting, Battlefront released a new game set in modern day Syria. Not only did it mark a drastic change in time frame and theatre, it also marked an engine change. With the “CMx2″ engine, Battlefront went full 1:1 scale, with full ballistics tracking and individual soldiers, this also marked a drastic change in gameplay and scope. I never really liked this engine change. This was not because of the different scale but because I felt that, while taking 5 steps forward, Battlefront would at the same time take 6 steps back. It took Battlefront years to fix some of the problems that went hand in hand with the engine change, while others still persist to this day (I’ll get to that later).
Combat Mission Fortress Italy is a Company to Battalion level combat simulation set in World War II. It boasts with an impressive arsenal of highly detailed combat formations, tanks, small arms, artillery pieces and almost anything else ground combat related. Battles can range from Platoon sized forces (which is admittedly tiny) to multiple Battalions involved. You can either play the game “Real Time” or play using a system called “WEGO”, which is a turn based system that has both players issue orders at the same time and then runs 60 seconds of the game game in “real time”. The game requires the player to pay attention to C2 (Command and Control). Units left without their commanders will fight less effectively, will be suppressed more easily and will break sooner. Another unique feature is the spotting system, where each unit can only engage enemy units it can actually see. There can be some quite severe quirks in the gameplay, mainly with spotting. Sometimes infantry will refuse to see the rumbling 30 ton tank right in front of them while, at other occasions, a buttoned up tank will miraculously spot sneaking infantry 500m away through smoke and trees. Fortunately these issues are usually quite rare, although they can be extremely frustrating when they do indeed happen.
The graphics are not really the strong point of Combat Mission Fortress Italy (Or any Combat Mission for that matter), nor would you expect them to be. Buildings are blocky, ground textures are washed out, the LOD is very aggressive and the animations are… robotic at best. However, Combat Mission Fortress Italy features slightly improved graphics (especially shadows and ground textures) over its predecessors and a recent hotfix has significantly improved the quality of the shaders, making the game surprisingly good looking in some areas.
Now, this is a problematic point. With the switch to the “CMx2″ engine, Battlefront basically removes any sort of commanding AI and replaces it with “battle plans”. These plans are set by the creator of a map, with each map or scenario usually having multiple AI plans. This can sometimes result in an enjoyably realistic behaviour of the enemy forces and ensures at least some replayability of scenarios… unfortunately it also means that the AI is entirely unable to react to the player, which is extremely evident once you have turned a flank or managed to get some units into the rear of the enemy lines. In Combat Mission Fortress Italy you will often see enemy units stream into an artillery barrage and take massive casualties, despite the barrage being in place for a few minutes already. This is (IMO) the reason why all campaigns have the player take the side of the attacker, as the AI is evidently better at defending than at attacking. The tactical AI can ,at times, react very strangely to situations and is significantly lacking in CQB.
The multiplayer options are seriously lacking for a game released in 2012. The player can either choose between PBEM (Play by e-mail, means players send each turn back and forth via email), or TCP/IP real time. When CMx2 dropped the TCP/IP “WEGO” feature back in 2007 many players were extremely disappointed, as they found PBEM far too slow and real time far too stressful. However Battlefront has finally added a stop-gap pause feature to the real time multiplayer, making many players happy in the process.
Battlefront gave the interface a partial overhaul, significantly improving it in the process. Players can finally change the keybindings and assign keys to different commands. As mentioned above, Battlefront also reintroduced some features and commands that went amiss during the engine switch, finally giving me most of the tools I feel I need to complete the challenges ahead.
Combat Mission Fortress Italy manages to improve upon Combat Mission Battle for Normandy, but suffers from the same problems as its predecessors. It can be a stellar game if you manage to look beyond its shortcomings, but it can also be frustrating if you don’t. Only recommended for wargamers or people interested in simulations.
For more information on Combat Mission Fortress Italy please visit their website or community forums and is available for purchase on Windows PC or Mac OSX
GameTheory Gamer Score:
It’s refreshing to see an honest appraisal of the AI in a review, thanks for writing this. As someone who came up through the CMX1 games, as you did, I was a little stunned by the lack of responsiveness in the AI that you mention; it’s odd that most fans of the game seem to give this a pass. I think your conclusions are quite fair, and I agree with your overall assessment – the game continues to improve, particularly as more features are added and flexibility is improved on for the player with regards to things like UI and scenario design. Well-done review.
Still waiting for Combat Mission to get an interface worthy of the 21st century. Time for an overhaul!
Me and a bunch of people at webandofbrothers dot de (lots of US, UK, Aussies, Germans) have a great community going and we are mostly older, at 35 i’m the youngest. The old graphics don’t really worry us at all. And the CMBB/AK interface is the best, compared to what i read bout the CM2 games. The latter are like Michael Bay movies: too much into the effects and the plot (i.e. gameplay) is average at best. Check out our club, it’s well-regulated (no one ever calls anyone a Nazi on the message boards, etc) , and has been very rewarding for me to be a part.
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