Return to Barbarossa

As I mentioned in my summing up of the Steam Summer Sale, my search for a new game also led me to rummage through some of my old game as well.

The first one I went after was the Battlefront.com classic Combat Mission: Barbarossa to Berlin, sometimes called Combat Mission II.

Somewhere I probably still have the CDs for the game, but since it came out about 15 years ago I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to find them… or if the game would even run.  Still, I was keen to give it a try, so I headed over to the Battlefront.com site to see what they had to say about the current state of the game.

My expectations were not high.  The company has since released an updated Combat Mission series based on a new engine which supports modules set in WWII and the modern era.  Given that the new version, Combat Mission: Battle for Normandy has already aged some, having come out in 2011, I wondered how the original series had fared since.

Back in 2011, when Combat Mission: Battle for Normandy was available for pre-order, I wrote a piece about playing the previous generation.  I won’t rehash all of that, but suffice to say I spent many hours playing the game.

At the Battlefront.com site I was pleased to see that Barbarossa to Berlin was still available.  However, the latest patch was from back in 2009 when they did an update in order to get it to work with Windows Vista.

I wasn’t going to buy a fresh copy based on the hope that it might still work in 2017, but they still had the demo version available.  The demo is almost fully functional, only locking the player out of scenario creation, custom battles, and limited to only a few sample scenarios.  I downloaded that to give it a shot and it actually ran on my Win7 64-bit setup.

So I dove in and bought a fresh copy.  It took a minute to figure out how to download it… the Battlefront.com site feels mired in the last decade… but I got it after a bit, put in the license code… another non-intuitive process, but doable… and got it running.

Given the boost in processing power available since 2002… or even 2009… it also ran very quickly.

A turn-based game, you spend the first phase of each turn giving orders to your units.  Once done, in a single player game, the AI then computes its orders, after which the game resolves the and contact between opposing forces and generates something of a “movie” showing the results of the resulting 60 seconds of the operation.  The “movie” is a 3D rendering of the battlefield with terrain and units that you can pause, rewind, fast forward, and view from multiple angles.

Basically, you give the orders and the game plays out what actually happened.  Things do not always play out as you planned.  Troops won’t do the impossible and their discipline can vary.  There are units that are raw recruits or green troops through to veterans and crack units.  The better quality the unit, the faster it will respond to your orders and the more likely it will try to follow through against opposition.

Back in the day waiting for the AI to do its thing and then the engine to generate the outcome used to take a long stretch.  With my current computer though, everything resolves super fast and in small scenarios we’re practically straight to the movie.  Larger scenarios still take a bit… under a minute… but still much faster than 2002.

Defeating the Germans at Sevestapol took a bit of processing power

The version available now is the deluxe version that includes a lot of extra scenarios created by the community.  I have been running through them, playing both sides.  It is generally better to play the attacker and let the AI defend… the AI gets itself a little hooked up on the attack sometimes… but if you give the computer some bonus budget as the attacker it can give you a challenge.

The interface is pretty good for an indie war game, a genre that is traditionally horrible at interface design.  The graphics are serviceable.  Vehicles are okay, but the people are pretty primitive in design, and the terrain can make it feel a bit like you’re battling 1999 EverQuest at times, but it works.

How many polygons does it take to be a tank commander?

The game will teach you some tactical lessons, like what it really takes to move infantry across the open terrain into opposition.  You need to shell the shit out of obvious points of cover.  And the range of weapons and unit types are vast and detailed and change depending on what year of the war your battle is played out.

There are even minor combatants, including a scenario where the Romanians, having swapped to the Allies, face the Hungarians and Germans.

All in all, I thought this was a great game back in 2002 and despite its age and somewhat dated appearance, it has held up when it comes to enjoyment.  If this sound interesting, but the Russian front doesn’t thrill you, the follow on title in the series, Combat Mission: Afrika Korps follows the campaigns in the Western Desert through Sicily and the Italian campaign.

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