Combat Mission: Afrika Korps Page 2

Installation, Setup and Manual

Setup for CM:AK is pretty straight forward, just like it has for other games. I have never been able to get auto run to work with the game but go to the CD-ROM drive, hit setup and the game installed without a hitch. Unlike some early difficulties with CM:BB the game shipped with no CD problems, at least for me. Included with the CD is a small gameplay manual and installed is a 213 page game manual.

In all honesty, I was slightly disappointed in the decision to put the main manual on PDF. The manuals for CM:BO and CM:BB were both, IMHO among the best printed manuals ever released for a game. I am not surprised that the game was sent with a PDF manual, that is the trend these days and it is a cost saving measure, but the manual has always been a great bit of sit around reading and it’s loss, at least for a while, is a loss for the game.

Now the manual itself, even if it is on PDF, is just as good content wise, as anything Big Time Software has made in the past. The manual, at 200 plus pages long, is well written, avoids large amounts of fluff, and gives the reader all the information he or she would need to become proficient in the game. If you read the manual there is no reason that I know of for you to not understand the game. This version even comes with some of Bill Mauldin’s best Willie and Joe cartoons. For those of you unfamiliar with the famous cartoonist of WW2 Mauldin was an infantryman in southern Europe whose alter ego’s Willie and Joe were enjoyed by millions of servicemen. Loved by troops, and hated by some brass (Patton in particular hated the cartoons) they have become part of the fabric of 1940’s America that you rarely see these days.

Setup of the game is simple. CM:AK detects the video resolution of your game and asks you if you want to run at that resolution. Click yes and you are pretty much done from there on. A word of warning for those running GeForce type cards. There is a problem in the software (or in NVIDIA’s drivers) that causes a black screen of nothing if you have AA enabled in the window’s settings. It is very similar to the problem some folks have had with FS2004. Setting the AA to automatic or off fixes the problem. This is the only real problem that I have had visually with the game.

Graphics, Sound and Game Interface

menuThe interface for CMAK is essentially the same as the ones for CM:BO and CM:BB Upon entering the main screen the player has the opportunity to play single missions, enter the multiplayer aspects or get involved with the mission editor/creator.

CM:AK comes with a plethora of single mission games. In all honesty, there are few games out there that come anywhere close to giving you the number of single missions available in the Combat Mission series. If there was a major combat action that occurred in Crete, North Africa or Italy you can bet it either was represented in this game or has been made as an add on. Selecting a game gives you the opportunity to play each scenario from either the allied or axis side. In addition you have the opportunity to vary the intensity of the game by overloading your side with extra troops, changing the fog of war to allow partial or complete observation of the enemy. Games can be played as single player, 2 player hot seat, PBEM or direct play for those folks that don’t mind several hours connected.

menuIn addition you have the opportunity to play what are called operations. Like its predecessors CM:AK does not have a true campaign. Instead the game has a prolonged single game that runs over several rounds. These ‘mini-campaigns’ simulate several days of battle and allow for more reinforcement and replacement.

While all of these are interesting I still miss the idea of a campaign mode. One of the best parts of a CM:AK contemporary, Steel Panthers: World at War, is its ability to make and craft a fine tuned combat unit starting from scratch. You tend to become attached to units, particularly ones that you develop from green rookies to crack troops. If there is one weakness in the CM series it has to have been this.

Well, graphically the game hasn’t changed a great deal from the original game. The game has had some graphical updates and improvements to include better trees, changes in terrain resolutions and vehicle fidelity. Compared to the stock version of the original game the game does look a lot better but overall I can’t say the graphics are at the outstanding stage.

Through the desertI don’t want to dig on the graphics too much since it is a wargame but since it is a 3d game it probably needs to be evaluated based upon its graphics clarity. The graphics are sharp and clear, especially on high end machines and there are some nice features like transparent buildings (when occupied), decent rain and snow effects and the ability to turn down the level of trees and foliage based upon your system’s speed.

Unfortunately the buildings look pretty much the same as in older versions; flat and not particularly realistic. Smoke and flame effects still look fake, trees look better but not that inspiring and infantry units still are represented by three guys. Originally this was a concession to performance; units of men were represented by 3 troops that would decrease to two troops when 1/3 of the men were incapacitated and one when 2/3 were gone.

It works and probably cuts down on the clutter but it detracts from some folk’s perception of realism. In addition it has a limit on gameplay, you can’t detach one guy to go looking around an area and come back. GraphicsYou can split squads but that is the extent of it. In real life you wouldn’t send a whole squad over the hill, you would have one guy crawl up there and tell you what he saw.It’s a nitpick for sure but with today’s processors you would think that the game could render twelve guys without any problems.

This probably points out the inherent problems with creating a 3d game like the CM series, especially when compared to older hex based games. There really isn’t much you can do to ‘jazz up’ older 2d style games. 3d games, however, are at the ‘cutting edge’ as far as video game graphics go. This means that a game that looked great just a couple of years ago can really look outdated quickly. We have seen this with the flight sim genre and now the phenomena is starting to get into wargames.

That’s not saying the game looks bad, it just looks dated. Wargamers in general certainly are not a graphically demanding group. If they were then games like Uncommon Valor or Korsun Pocket wouldn’t be as popular as they are. It is all about gameplay in wargames, the AI, the accuracy of weapons systems and armored values. So the real test of the Combat Mission series is it’s ability to maintain the edge in realism.

Sound in this game is outstanding. I am not sure that they really did much to change anything but to me the game sounds even better. Sounds of combat are directional and you can often figure out where the battle is going (in relation to your position on the map) based upon where you hear the sounds. I can’t think of any other wargame where a four speaker system improves the play of the game.

The game is full of little sounds that add to the immersion, from the background battle sounds or the nature sounds you find just before battle starts, to the full blown explosion sound and cries from your troops to do or fix something. The sound effects are often secondary in many wargames but BTS did a very good job of not ignoring the sound input and it shows.

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