Combat Mission Shock Force and Theatre of War

by Chuck “Magnum” Ankenbauer

 

Introduction

This is not meant to be a review of the two games, only a commentary on them. This is more of a “where are we now” look at two games. Games that should have been released to instant stardom and become classics.

Back when both Combat Mission Shock Force and Theatre of War was released for purchase, I had planned to not only get both games but to play the heck out of them and give detailed reviews of both games.

A funny thing happened on the way to that idea. Well not really funny at all, both games were released in terrible technical state. I couldn’t get into or play either one due to extremely low and unplayable frame rates for Combat Mission Shock Force, and terrible path finding and line of sight issues with Theatre of War. I let my opinions be well-known in the SimHQ Land Combat Forums.

Battlefront, the developer and publisher for Combat Mission Shock Force, and the publisher for Theatre of War dropped the ball big time with these two much anticipated releases. In my opinion, this was strike two and three for Battlefront. Strike one came with the release and lack of support for T72: Balkans on Fire.

It was a bitter disappointment because Battlefront has been one of the most heralded, well-loved developers with many previous successful titles.

But, time has passed and Battlefront has redeemed itself in my eyes. Both games are now playable after multiple patches and updates. Better, but far from perfect.

Another Look: Combat Mission Shock Force

The latest CMSF v1.08 currently runs at about 40 fps on my state of the art system (it ran a dismal 4 to 7 fps upon initial release on this same system). The path finding and line of sight issues have been addressed to a reasonable degree, but that doesn’t mean more work isn’t needed to be done in those areas.

Combat Mission: Shock ForceThe turn based system and replay has been addressed and seems to be okay. The CM series got its namesake for great WEGO game play mode, yet CMSF still seems like it was meant to be played as a RTS.

I miss the WEGO game play of the first three excellent Combat Mission games, but for some reason CMSF WEGO system just don’t seem right. The latest patch seemed to fix a lot of the weapon damage, splash damage, and line of round/sight issues from the original release. Something like 32 quick battle maps have been included with the update and the PBEM (play by e-mail) system seems to work better now, but again it still feels different than the prior three games in the series. And the graphics appear to have been updated, dynamic lighting has been added.

I disagree with the area of conflict. I personally would have preferred a 1980’s cold war type game, battles on the Eastern Fronts of Germany, but they went with a near future conflict that frankly isn’t that exciting. The maps are still too small. Even the huge ones are too small for a modern day conflict.

It seems that in most missions the first turn or two takes a quarter of your units out of the battle because of their proximity at the start. There is little to no room to tactfully maneuver and engage enemies from a proper tactical position. If the maps were bigger, it would give the player time to set up a defense or a battleground to maneuver.

Battlefront has recently announced the CMSF Marines add-on. Look for our review of it in a future article.

Another Look: Theatre of War

ToW has now benefited from a huge update, or as Battlefront describes it, “All Inclusive Uber Patch (v1.10.0.81)”. It doesn’t just fix a ton of game play issues I (and others) had with the original game, it also adds new campaigns to the game, and includes a full map editor, battle generator, new single player mission, new multiplayer game modes and features as well as 11 new multiplayer missions and maps. A very nice update.

Theatre of WarI won’t go into the details of the patch or updates, that’s what the “readme” is for. I’ll just say that the game plays a lot better, performance and artificial intelligence wise, but still is limited. At least all the extra multiplayer modes and maps add greatly to the game. Biggest problem is finding an online game to play in. I never see more than a very few servers active in the server list.

Thanks to the updates, I started playing missions again. When first released I got destroyed almost immediately because of the stupid AI and line of sight problems. For the most part I am having a good time with the game now. It’s still an RTS and I have always sucked at RTS games, especially when I have too many units to control. I usually lose, and I lose by selecting ALL of my units to attack the biggest bad guy I see on the battlefield. It’s never pretty.

I do hope they continue to work out the bugs in this game, and correct some of the still existent AI behavior and path finding. This game has a lot of potential, and watching the battles unfold is a sight to see.

Battlefront has announced Theatre of War 2: North Africa 1943. Look for our review of it in a future article.

Conclusion

Both games were released in a pre-beta state (alpha?) in my opinion. Next time Battlefront, please ask us to beta test your games instead of charging us 50+ bucks to be a beta tester.

Battlefront heard our cries and have now come through with two good games. Not great, but good. Both games still have a lot of potential as long as Battlefront doesn’t leave them behind like T72. Yes, I’m still very bitter about that sim. It had a lot of potential and deserved better. I’m also hoping the gaming community themselves will take another look and light a fire under these games that bring mods of improvements and extra content to the masses.

What have we learned folks? There is more to making a good game than graphics and audio effects. While the first three CM titles were ugly by comparison, the detail and level of game play is so high they are classics and still on my hard drive today. Game play counts folks, especially with games like CMSF and ToW.

Let’s hope Battlefront has learned their lesson and returns to quality gaming releases in future titles.

 


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