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Posted on Nov 16, 2005 in Electronic Games

TacOps 4 – Game Review (PC)

By Jeffrey Paulding

Small unit leadership under fire. Are you up for the challenge?

My sniper teams have had the insurgent training camp under observation for several days, so I have a good idea of the enemy’s defenses. The perimeter is guarded by light infantry supported by anti-aircraft troops armed with shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles (SAMs). A quick reaction force (QRF) is mounted in wheeled armored personnel carriers in a nearby town.

Covered by an artillery barrage to suppress the SAMs, my helicopter assault troops swoop in, quickly unload and then run for cover. As my forces build fire superiority, the enemy QRF moves out of the town to reinforce the terrorists. Apache helicopter gunships promptly annihilate the enemy’s armored vehicles. The attack proceeds; within 20 minutes the camp is overrun. The Apaches provide overwatch as transport helicopters arrive to extract the assault troops. Mission accomplished – another terrorist camp destroyed!

In TacOps 4, information on each weapon is only a click away. The artillery planning dialog box shows 155 mm cannons targeted to suppress enemy air defense units.

The preceding scenario is taken from TacOps 4, the commercial version of an officially issued training tool of the U.S. Army. The game simulates contemporary and near-future combat with two-dimensional graphics and a bare-bones interface on a scale similar to 1:50,000 military maps. The important part of the game, however, is under the hood. The game engine is supported by a wide array of details about weapons systems, armor and troop units for the U.S. Army, the U.S. Marine Corps and major Allied military forces. The Opposing Force (OPFOR) is representative of countries equipped with widely used Soviet-era equipment.

In TacOps 4, you play from the perspective of a battalion or regimental commander with a focus on ground operations. Maneuver units are depicted as platoons and sections. Helicopter units, fighter-bombers, artillery and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) supplement tanks, armored personnel carriers, air defense and light infantry units. Modern combat elements of the air-land battlefield are present, to include bridging and engineering units for mobility and countermobility operations. The game’s "we go" system allows you to give up to 20 orders to each unit. These orders are followed by one minute of action, during which all forces move and fire simultaneously. Afterward, you can issue new orders or revise the current ones. A host of factors is used to calculate the combat results: line of sight, terrain, defilade position, armor, facing, weapons type and range, and many others. Combat is deadly, reinforcing the Army maxim, "What can be seen can be hit; what can be hit can be destroyed."

Helicopters move to their landing zones at the beginning of their assault on an enemy terrorist camp. The enemy’s quick reaction force is destroyed by Apache attack helicopters as units converge on a terrorist garrison.

Units do not have independent artificial intelligence to interfere with their orders during the one minute of action. Instead, you issue standing operating procedures instructing your troops how to react when in contact (e.g., pop smoke when under fire, stop on enemy contact, or withdraw when under fire), or you can give them more detailed instructions regarding which types of enemy units they are to fire upon. There are no morale rules to hinder the planned actions, and units do not have different levels of training or experience. Everything revolves around weapons systems capabilities and terrain effects. You set the parameters and your units do just as you tell them.

In single-player mode you play as the Blue Force – for instance, the U.S. Army and Marine Corps or the Canadians – pitted against the OPFOR, which fights to the death. The game reaches its full potential, however, as a multiplayer experience when both sides are controlled by humans via e-mail, LAN or the Internet.

TacOps 4 also provides for umpired play, since in many respects it is more than a wargame; it is a command post exercise (CPX) tool. (For example, the Editorial Director of Armchair General, retired Colonel John Antal, used the military version of the game when he commanded 2/72d Armored Battalion in Korea.) The extensive manual and tutorial provide instructions for using TacOps 4 as both a CPX tool and a training vehicle. In addition, game-editing tools and a complete collection of Army and Marine Corps field manuals are available and cover all aspects of modern combat.

In this hypothetical scenario from the Gulf War, Iraqi forces attack an American armored task force stationed near the Saudi border. American forces plan artillery targets on likely avenues of approach.

TacOps 4 creates a level playing field with units unfettered by morale, training or AI, allowing each player to exercise his own style or doctrine. It just might be the closest you ever get to participating in an actual command post exercise. Are you up for the challenge?

Released September 2002
Rated E for Everyone
Developed by U.S.M.C. Maj. (Ret) I.L. Holdridge
Published by Battlefront
MSRP approximately $35
Format: PC, Mac

Tacops home.

Originally published in the November 2005 issue of Armchair General magazine.

Author Information

Lieutenant Colonel (Ret) Jeffrey Paulding is a lifelong student of military history and science. He has been playing wargames since he was nine years old.

Fires from a long-range multiple launch rocket system strike an Iraqi column. A tally of casualties shows the results of a dozen minutes of combat.