Publisher: Strategy First/1C Company
Developer: G5 Software
Release Date: November 30, 2005
When the US discovered that the Soviet Union was establishing a missile base in Cuba in 1962, the two superpowers came dangerously close to nuclear war. In the end, compromises made on both sides saw the Soviets withdraw their missiles from Cuba and the nightmare scenario that plagued a generation subsided. But what if the Soviets didn’t back down and the US bombed the missile sites and invaded Cuba? The outcome, according to game developers G5, may have been a global nuclear conflict followed by a conventional war between the dominant military powers of the USSR, the Anglo-American Alliance, the Franco-German Alliance and China. This hypothetical conflict is the basis for their new real-time strategy game, Cuban Missile Crisis: The Aftermath.
The game includes four campaigns, one for each faction, and are set in locations where the interests of the major powers converge: Europe, Asia and Africa. Each campaign includes a number of chapters – a series of player-initiated battles that lead to a set piece chapter mission, which must be completed before continuing on to the next chapter. For those that have played any of the Sudden Strike or Blitzkrieg series of games by CDV, much of this is likely to sound familiar.
Indeed, Cuban Missile Crisis: The Aftermath uses the same game engine as Blitzkrieg, although it’s been refined somewhat by including a dynamic strategic campaign as opposed to the linear campaign found in Blitzkrieg. The strategic game is turn-based and military formations can move a set distance in any direction each turn. Movement is managed by a grid that divides the map, with each square in the grid being further sub-divided into nine squares. This system allows for considerable flexibility in movement. Although the maps aren’t particularly large, they’re certainly big enough to allow sweeping maneuvers as you try to capture key infrastructure centers and smash enemy combat groups. Supply plays a large role in the game and being able to capture and protect depots and factories while also conducting offensive operations is essential for success.
A campaign begins with three equally sized combat groups consisting of a few armored units, motorized infantry and supply vehicles. Starting with the rank of Major, you can have up to 17 units under your command. This can be increased up to 40 units as you win missions and gain rank. New units can be created when sufficient points have been accumulated. The problem is, the cost of vehicles is not made visible, nor is the number of deployment points available. Vehicles that can be purchased are highlighted, however, and selecting one or more will form a new combat group next to a storage facility on the strategic map. This new unit can operate independently, or be combined with an existing group. The same principle applies to groups already under your command. Just select the two units to combine and providing one has sufficient movement points, it will merge with the other. It’s a simple and effective system. Indeed, other than the problem of knowing how much additional units cost, the strategic game interface is intuitive and easy to use.
The AI in strategic mode is good and makes for an admirable opponent. It will attempt to exploit weaknesses in your strategy by cutting off supply routes, capturing bases and marshalling greater numbers of combat groups. Once the balance of combat begins to fall in its favor, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat becomes increasingly difficult. The AI is by no means impossible to beat, but it does put up a very good fight.
When a combat group encounters an enemy combat group, an enemy base, or when the enemy attacks you, the game shifts from strategic to tactical mode. Before a tactical mission begins, you’re presented with an overview of the map, a situation report and a list of objectives to achieve. Also on this pre-battle screen is resource panel, which allows you to alter the amount of the three basic supplies that have been allocated for this battle. With a default value of 20% for each, these can be increased or decreased by adjusting individual sliders. As a rule of thumb, the default setting is the minimum requirement for a battle. While more may be better, particularly if you’re attacking rather than defending, these resources risk being lost if the tide of battle turns against you and you lose. It’s an interesting addition to the game and makes capturing stockpiles on the strategic map all the more important.
Another feature on the pre-battle screen worth mentioning is the auto-combat option. Clicking on this button will automatically resolve the mission. This can be useful as any given chapter in a campaign can include a dozen or more tactical missions, many of which can look and play out the same. I found that on most occasions the auto-combat option would result in a victory, providing my forces weren’t too weak. But the cost was often high, with many of my best units being lost in combat. In order to win with fewer casualties, I found it better to play the mission through. Nonetheless, having the option to quickly resolve a battle is a welcomed feature.
If you’ve ever played Sudden Strike or the original Blitzkrieg game, the 2-D isometric tactical maps in Cuban Missile Crisis: The Aftermath’s will look very familiar. Although the map is nicely detailed, colorful and has some creative animated features like running rivers and weather effects, it’s otherwise uninspiring. Good before fully 3-D environments became the norm a couple of years ago, the game engine is now well past its prime and shouldn’t have been brought out of retirement. Not being able to tilt and rotate the map now seems anachronistic.
Something else I found wanting is the omission of a zoom feature. On more than one occasion I found myself trying to use the mouse’s scroll button to zoom in on the action. Unfortunately the view of the battlefield is fixed so it can’t be enlarged or reduced. All of the vehicles in the game are nicely modeled in 3-D, yet the infantry remains as poorly animated 2-D sprites. That said, these limitations do not restrict game play, but they would have made the experience much more enjoyable.
Most tactical missions are offensive and begin with the units under your command arrayed along one edge of the map. Unless you’ve combined battle groups in the strategic map, the normal line up consists of three or four tanks and a half dozen infantry squads with armored personnel carriers and supply vehicles. Until aircraft are unlocked after completing the first chapter of a campaign, there are no additional units to call on. In other words, what you start with is all that you have to finish the mission.
Control of units is managed in the same manner as most other RTS games: left click to select the unit, right click on the map to set a destination or attack an enemy. Double-clicking on a unit selects all of that type and dragging a box around several allows you to create a group. At the bottom of the screen are several icons to change a unit’s facing, order an attack, entrench, set an ambush, select ammunition type and in the case of infantry, chose formation type. An in-game tutorial option runs through the uses of these functions, which are easy to use and great features to have.
One of the more noteworthy aspects of this game is the units, which may have be found in the inventory of the major powers in the early 1960s. These range from World War II surplus Shermans to the more modern Centurion. Each faction has a similar range of antiquated and modern equipment. For example, it’s not unusual to see German panzers from World War II fighting alongside newer French tanks as part of the Franco-German Alliance. The armored units in the game have individual armor ratings for the front, sides, rear and roof of the vehicle and damage to tracks and crew are simulated. A diminishing green bar above the unit measures the “health” of a vehicle. The same applies for the game’s infantry and artillery units.
In addition to the standard array of vehicle types found in most other war games, there are some unique units in Cuban Missile Crisis: The Aftermath. With its post-apocalyptic theme, the game includes decontamination units to cleanse irradiated land. Vehicles that have unwittingly driven into a contaminated area will have its crew killed unless they quickly escape. Contaminated vehicles may be captured and retrieved once the land around them has been cleared. Other new units include many different types of fixed and rotary wing aircraft. As previously mentioned, however, aircraft only become available once the first chapter in a campaign has been completed.
Also unique to the game are different types of ammunition that can be fired by artillery. As well as standard shells and smoke, many large caliber guns and rocket artillery can also fire anti-personnel and anti-armor mines. These have a long range and are a quick way of setting up a minefield. Engineers can also be ordered to lay mines and clear them once detected. They can repair damaged bridges too and construct new ones in certain areas. This is useful as many maps have bridges on them, which can be easily damaged or destroyed.
Indeed, the tactical game employs what I call a bottleneck strategy to funnel your troops into killing zones. Often these are bridges, but can also include small cliffs that line a road or buildings that stand in front of an objective. Sometimes these can be avoided by taking a wide berth around them, but more often than not they must be passed through or crossed over in order to get to the objective. I can only assume that the game developers have designed maps this way to make up for weaknesses in the tactical AI. Although it’s good in defense, the tactical AI is rarely aggressive and will not attempt to outmaneuver you, preferring instead a direct assault when it does attack.
As you’ll find that you’re mostly on the offensive, you’ll quickly learn to be cautious when approaching bridges and the like. Using a sniper or an officer with binoculars to spot what’s ahead and then pummel the enemy with artillery can often be the only way through. The task is made somewhat easier when aircraft become available, although even they have limitations and can’t see, for example, if infantry are lurking inside a building.
Depending on the outcome of a mission, you can be rewarded through promotion, which will increase the number of units under your command. Further, specific units that have performed well during combat will gain experience, which improves their performance in later missions. Armored units that were hit in previous missions will carry this damage over to the next mission unless they are repaired on the strategic map. This involves taking them off-line for a short period while they self-repair. There are risks associated with either decision. Repairing vehicles can delay an advance but not repairing them means that while all of your forces will be available in the next mission, some may be weaker and therefore easily destroyed. These types of decisions help make the game experience more realistic and enjoyable.
A way in which to experience a tougher tactical opponent is to play the game against one or more human opponents. Cuban Missile Crisis: The Aftermath has a multiplayer network game option through a LAN TCP/IP connection. From two to six players can battle it out on special network maps that are similar to scenario game mission maps. A network game can be one of two types, “assault” and “capture”, both of which are based on capturing and holding objectives marked by flags on the map. Unfortunately the strategic mode isn’t available in multiplayer.
To summarize, Cuban Missile Crisis: The Aftermath is a good idea that suffers from mediocre execution. The concept of fighting a global conflict during the early years of the Cold War is novel and the game includes a great range of units that reflect the period. The dynamic strategic campaign is also a welcome addition and works well. However, where the game’s strength should lie is in the tactical mode, yet this is disappointingly weak, particularly in single-player mode. I would therefore only recommend this game to someone who has an interest in post-World War II alternative history and is able to find a multiplayer opponent.
More articles about Cuban Missile Crisis: The Aftermath