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Combat Mission: Shock Force

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Action
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Developer: Battlefront.com

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PC Preview - 'Combat Mission: Shock Force'

by Andrew Glenn on July 13, 2007 @ 2:05 a.m. PDT

Combat Mission: Shock Force is a tactical military simulation depicting a hypothetical near future conflict between NATO and Syrian forces in Syria. A highly story driven semi-dynamic Campaign, from the US perspective, offers a completely new experience for "Combat Mission" fans.

Genre: Tactical Combat Simulation
Publisher: Battlefront.com
Developer: Battlefront.com
Release Date: July 27, 2007

For many gamers who enjoy military simulations, Battlefront.com has become synonymous with innovative, accessible 3D games that pay close attention to detail and have a high level of authenticity. In addition to its many other military-themed titles, the Combat Mission series is perhaps the best known and maintains a strong fan base several years after the launch of their flagship title, Combat Mission: Beyond Overlord.

Battlefront.com's latest addition to the series, which is due for release at the end of the month, is Combat Mission: Shock Force. Although it's the fourth title in the series, Combat Mission: Shock Force is the first to take the franchise beyond World War II and the first to employ the new CMX2 game engine.

Depicting a hypothetical near-future conflict in Syria, Combat Mission: Shock Force focuses on the actions of the US Stryker Brigade Combat Teams (SBCT) and Heavy Brigade Combat Teams (HBCT) as they fight against Syrian Army Infantry, Mechanized and Armored units. Unconventional forces are also present in the game and players can expect to face an array of asymmetric threats including improvised explosive devices and even suicide bombers. Combat Mission: Shock Force gives players the opportunity to fight single or multiplayer battles on the side of the US (blue) or the Syrians (red). Red against red and blue against blue battles are also possible, opening up the game to further hypothetical scenarios.

Combat Mission: Shock Force offers three types of scenarios to play: Battles, which are pre-made by a scenario designer; Quick Battles, which are user-generated missions; and the Campaign, a semi-dynamic series of linked battles that have the potential to branch in different directions depending on the outcome of the previous mission. In addition, Combat Mission: Shock Force also ships with a map editor, which gives players the opportunity to script their own scenarios and even link them together to create a new campaign.

Once a scenario has either been selected from the Battles list, generated by selecting a range of options in the Quick Battles menu or is the next mission in the campaign, the player is given the chance to position his forces within a setup zone, issue initial orders and examine objectives before starting the game. For Combat Mission veterans this will be familiar territory. What will stand out as different from previous games is the way orders are issued. In addition to clicking directly on the unit, players can now also select the vehicle or troops by clicking on an icon that hovers above the unit. First seen in Battlefront.com's Theatre of War, this floating icon makes unit identification and selection a straightforward affair. Having selected the unit and left-clicked on the destination or target, a structured command system allows players to issue a range of orders from a panel in the bottom left of the screen. Again, this differs slightly from previous games, where a menu of commands would appear above the unit. Commands are available for movement, combat, special orders (which are nestled in between move commands), and admin commands that are specific to the selected unit. Some of Combat Mission: Shock Force's unique commands include Mark Mines for engineers so that other units can move through a mine field; Target Light, which is the same as Target but at a reduced fire output; and Acquire, which allows infantry to pick up additional equipment, usually from an appropriately equipped APC.

Another unique feature of CMX2 game engine employed by Combat Mission: Shock Force is the use of "relative spotting." Here, a number of game elements from command and control to individual unit skill levels come into play resulting in a unique spotting concept where the player can only see what the currently selected unit can see. Available when playing above the basic level, spotting is computed for each unit individually and includes factors such as available optical equipment, what the two units are doing at the time, time of day, climate and skill level. To complicate things further, not all information is passed on to other units, thus making the "fog of war" even more of a challenge for commanders.

Also new to Combat Mission: Shock Force is the ability to play the game either in real time or in the more familiar turn-based mode. In real time, the action kicks off after the player has issued his initial orders and stops only when he hits the pause button. In turn-based mode, the player issues commands to units during the Command Phase where the game is paused and then watches them fulfill their orders — to the best of their ability — in 60 seconds of real time during the Action Phase. Once this period has elapsed, the action is then replayed during the Replay Phase, through which the player can skip, pause or fast-forward. This is a great carry-over feature from the earlier Combat Mission games that allows players to view all of the action up close, which might otherwise have been missed.

Perhaps the most obvious change introduced with the CMX2 engine is the improved graphics and representation of units on the map. When Combat Mission was first launched in 2000, a squad of infantry was represented by three clunky figures with heads not unlike those found on dashboard bobbing head dolls. Fortunately, aesthetics has caught up with functionality, and infantry are not only represented as individuals, but are well detailed with excellent animations. Similarly, vehicles have benefited from the engine update and sport high-quality exterior and interior details, realistic suspension and trail believable engine exhaust and dust.

The maps also have an improved level of detail, although their size and overall look, on first glance at least, is similar to games using the earlier CMX1 engine. A notable exception is buildings, which now possess proper windows and doors that need to be used to gain entry to the buildings. While depicting the generally arid and bleak-looking terrain one would expect to find in Syria, the maps can offer a decent variety of environmental challenges ranging from open desert to large towns comprising of tightly packed, medium-density buildings. A common feature found on many maps is the culvert running alongside major roads, which can provide much-needed cover for otherwise-exposed infantry, assuming they run opposite to the enemy. The maps are also deformable, which means artillery now leaves more than a 2D calling card of scorched earth when its shells explode.

Combat Mission: Shock Force models a vast array of modern combat equipment. For infantry, this can include assault and sniper rifles, anti-tank missiles such as the Javelin fire-and-forget system for the US and the AT-14 Kornet-E for the Syrians, automatic grenade launchers and machine guns. Vehicles for the US include numerous variations of the Stryker combat vehicle, the HMMWV, the M2 Bradley, M1 Abrams and for Syria, the T54-T72 series of main battle tank, BRDMs, BMPs and BTR-60s, amongst others. Off-board assets can include howitzers, mortars and both fixed and rotary winged air assets such as the AH-64D Longbow Apache and A-10 Thunderbolt II.

Combat Mission: Shock Force appears to be a worthy successor to the previous World War II incarnations of the game and is shaping up to be the best title in the series. The new CMX2 game engine does a tremendous job of improving the graphics and playability, although this does come at a price. Calculating movement waypoints, lines of sight, command and control linkages and not to mention keeping track of every bullet fired within a markedly superior graphical environment is a resource-intensive task, and slow frame rates are likely even on higher-end machines. Fortunately, video adjustments can be made in the Options menu, which can improve the game's speed, albeit with some sacrifice in graphics quality.

With the game shaping up to be one of the year's better war games, both fans of the Combat Mission series and gamers looking for a realistic and challenging simulation of modern warfare will want to take a closer look at Combat Mission: Shock Force when it's released later this month.


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