Combat Mission: Fortress Italy – First Impressions
Combat Mission: Fortress Italy – First Impressions.
Publisher/ Developer: Battlefront.com. $55.00
Most gamers eventually will slog through the two manuals that come with Combat Mission: Fortress Italy—but few will be able to resist the temptation of plunging right into a game to see what a quasi-new engine and a new field of operations has in store. These are the first impressions from my plunge; a full review will come later.
Vineyards and Olive Groves
The battles in this game revolve around the American beachhead at Gela, Sicily, and the push inland. The terrain seems more open at first glance than Combat Mission: Battle for Normandy. The scenery consists of small farmsteads, olive groves and vineyards. This landscape provides plenty of room for attackers to maneuver, while giving defenders good fields of fire from seemingly innocuous cover. As fighting continue north, the previously level terrain becomes marked by steep, rugged slopes.
Units, vehicle graphics and animations are as clear and detailed as always in this series. Camera controls allow the map to be seen from grass level to bird’s-eye view from any angle. Unit paths can be shown on command. Incoming and outgoing fire appears as tracer-like streaks. Sound effects are both exciting and useful, alerting players to unit condition and approaching vehicles. Smoke from fires, barrages and smokescreens is persistent—very important in tactical engagements.
The new engine introduces a few features that aid play. Clicking on a unit or its floating icon lights up the other icons of its platoon and shows the icons of the rest of its company in another shade. Groups, created by the “lasso” technique, can now be numbered with CRTL-# for quicker access. The interfaces for movement, combat, special tasks and administration still are accessible through menus or hotkeys, but way points are now moveable. Both the turn-based and real time play modes can be paused to adjust orders. Unit ability and status are clearly shown with great detail. The biggest changes in the system appear to be in the editor, a topic outside the scope of a first impression piece.
Emplaced 88s are simply awesome!
New unit types are available in abundance. The US has Rangers and many early model vehicles, such as half-track mounted howitzers, Priests, Stuart tanks and the combustible Sherman. The Germans gain early Tigers, the Hermann Goering Division and Luftwaffe field units. The Italian army makes it debut with Bersaglieri infantry and a wide range of pretty pathetic vehicles. The American and Italian armor are easy meat for any anti-tank weapon in range. German armor is another matter, requiring repeated hits to knock out. Emplaced 88s are simply awesome.
Look Sharp and Keep Low
The 17 battles and the missions in the five campaigns range from company-level firefights to battalion-level affairs over the central and western parts of Sicily. Squads, crew-served weapons and vehicles are the operative pieces in these actions. Americans are usually the attackers and, as such, move into unknown territory. Careful reconnaissance is key to victory and survival. Scouts must push stealthily ahead of the main body while forward observers must gain observation vantage points.
Terrain is more open than in the claustrophobic Normandy hedgerows, but defenders can make good use of every bit of cover. Level country gives way to steep slopes as you drive north.
Communication can cause complications, however. Unless radio-equipped, units can only notify friendly units by voice, tending to keep companies and platoons bunched and making them fine targets. The best solution is to have a heavy weapons position in contact with a spotter to provide suppression fire while a maneuver element moves forward. Unfortunately, the Americans usually only have crew-served machine guns and medium mortars. Mortars run out of ammunition quickly, so the timing of their barrage is crucial.
Infantry on the move take cover and return fire when fired upon but tend to stop. Doing so increases casualties and will result in lower combat abilities, leading to panic. Crawling to attack positions may be slow, but its safer. To gain objectives, attackers must use “Assault” movement, known in modern military parlance as “bounding over-watch”: Two squads move up while another provides covering fire. If the heavy weapons’ fire is timed well, such an assault should succeed with minimal losses. Players need to think in terms of cover, timing and unit fatigue as well as fire. Head-long attacks will always fail.
Crawling is slower, but safer. Just don’t let the clock run out.
Defense has its own advantages. Even low morale, ill-equipped Italian troops can put up a good fight from cover. Using trees and walls early in the game and well-placed spotters for artillery can slow attackers down and run out the game’s 30- to 60-minute time limits. Lowering firing arcs can keep units hidden until they can maximize fire. The AI has different plans for each mission and makes good target choices.
A briefing screen
Quick battles can be constructed to taste using a series of drop-down menus. Parameter selection is very wide but a nice battle can be set up within ten minutes. The five skill levels increase the challenge of play with the highest, Iron, imposing harsh restrictions on command and communications.
A full review will doubtless find flaws in the game; sporadic crashes do occur. Yet, the overall feel of Combat Mission: Fortress Italy is a mixture of authenticity and excitement.
Watch for Jim Cobb’s full review, coming on Armchair General.
About the Author
Jim Cobb has been playing board wargames since 1961 and computer wargames since 1982. He has been writing incessantly since 1993 to keep his mind off the drivel he dealt with as a bureaucrat. He has published in Wargamers Monthly, Computer Gaming World, Computer Games Magazine, Computer Games Online, CombatSim, Armchair General, Subsim, Strategyzone Online and Gamesquad.