Command: Modern Air / Naval Operations Preview

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Introduction

This preview article is based on a beta that is believed to be a fair representative of what may eventually become the retail product. With the understanding that some features may be added, removed, or modified prior to the release, we give you this preview article which is simply a non-critical look at the features that may be included in the retail release. As usual, all material is subject to change, and all errors in content and facts are the author’s and the author’s alone. A note of disclosure: Matt was provided a product key by Matrix Games for the purpose of this preview.

The well has been quite dry for selections in the genre of air/naval combat simulations for a little while; the menu of contemporary options is essentially limited the Harpoon series – while maybe a little dated now, Harpoon maintains an active community (check out Herman’s many threads in the Naval sim forum here on SimHQ). Naval War: Arctic Circle – which I argued was a decent simulator for the money, unfortunately had its developer support halted back in January.

And although I’m a latecomer to this genre of air/naval combat simulations (to confess, I was three years old when the original Harpoon was released), as a navalist at heart, I’ve been following the development of Command: Modern/Air Naval Operations for a while, and jumped at the chance for a hands-on preview.

Briefing and orders for your selected side at the start of the scenario. Some scenarios allow you to replay them from multiple sides

Briefing and orders for your selected side at the start of the scenario. Some scenarios allow you to replay them from multiple sides

Premise

Command is a platform to simulate control units at sea and in the air at the tactical and operational levels. The simulation is played entirely from a map view; there are no graphical representations of units whatsoever except for APP-6A NATO symbology. The scale of scenarios can range from the gunboat or fighter aircraft duels at the lowest end, to WW3-style intercontinental fleet engagements at the highest end.

Calling this wargame Modern Air/Naval Operations is actually a misnomer. Instead of an overarching campaign to play through, you’re provided with a wide variety of scenarios. The unit database exhaustively covers a range of units from post-WWII/Korea up to near-future. Consequently, the scenarios included in the game cover a similar scope. I was impressed to see my beloved Halifax-class frigates represented in-game not only as commissioned, but also following both the refits in the late 1990s as well as the extensive modernization ongoing right now. The array of countries represented in-game is similarly exhaustive.

A glimpse into the unit database

A glimpse into the unit database

Gameplay and Presentation

With the titanic database of units represented, it’s given that this is not a wargame about detailed systems simulation. You’re not flicking switches and pulling the triggers yourself; rather, you’re in command, which means mostly dishing out the orders to your fleets and shuffling them around on the map with waypoints.

Still, Command allows a flexible level of management over the units under your control. You can assign units ‘missions’ defined by geographical areas, such as anti-submarine patrol, air intercept, mine clearing, etc. Units assigned these missions will go about their business with minimal additional input. On the other hand, if you prefer, you’re free to order specific course and speed for units, toggle specific sensors on and off, and engage targets with particular weapons down to the number of salvoes.

I found Command to be a pretty straightforward platform to learn; there’s a hefty but well-written manual in Word format, a few tutorials walk you through the basics of submarine, surface ship, and aircraft control, and the interface is relatively intuitive.

Manually assigning weapons to a target 3

Manually assigning weapons to a target 3

Within about an hour of tinkering, I felt pretty confident to move on and start winning scenarios. Still, some level of knowledge of the systems and principles of naval warfare is a huge asset in Command; there’s not much hand-holding in understanding the intricacies and differences between different platforms, missiles, ammunition types, and sensors. Having Wikipedia in a browser window running in the background was helpful for me on more than one occasion.

The entire platform is also styled as a typical Windows application, which may seem detracting in the eye candy department, but rest assured that software suites used in the real world aren’t particularly glamorous either.  Form follows function in a big way. Sounds are there, but they’re mostly stock effects and they’re better disabled in my view. In my experience, I still developed the full attachment to my blue icons on a map as missiles are closing in and shells are splashing all around.

Playing through a few scenarios, I got the sense that a wealth of effort has gone in under the hood to make the game mechanics as realistic as possible. Jamming, ESM, weapon malfunctions, and ocean thermoclines seem to be as faithfully represented in-game as I can possibly appreciate. On that note, I expected my Core i5 ultrabook would have been able to handle Command with ease given the wholly non-existent graphical representations, but I actually experienced a few slowdowns, especially during the larger scenarios. A lot of this was remedied by toggling off the yellow lines indicating national borders and coastlines, which leads me to believe there’s still some room for engine optimization to be done in future releases. Nevertheless, there’s a price to be paid for such meticulous simulation, and I’m sure most relatively modern desktop PCs should cope just fine.

Missiles inbound on a friendly surface unit with ECM active

Missiles inbound on a friendly surface unit with ECM active

Conclusions

I have to add one more quick word about Command’s potential. With the wealth of units represented, the scope of time covered, and the entire world as a playable area, the possibilities for scenarios set around any real-world or plausible engagements at sea are without limits. Command incorporates a relatively easy to use scenario builder, and I imagine the community will start churning out some interesting and challenging scenarios not long after release.

I had a lot of fun playing this preview build of Command, and I think a lot of fans of this genre will enjoy the final product.

We’ll be posting up a full review on the release version in the next week so check back here soon.

Previewer’s System Specs

  • Toshiba Z830 Ultrabook
  • Processor: i5-2467M
  • RAM: 6 GB DDR3
  • Storage: 128 GB SSD
  • Operating System: 64-bit Windows 7 Home Premium

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