Combat Mission: Black Sea – PC Game Review
Passed Inspection: Relevant to the world today! Excellent graphics. Easy to learn. Tons of replay ability. Great value for the price.
Failed Basic: Too easy to give a unit an incorrect order. Scenarios can take a little long to load even on faster PCs. Text can be too small for older eyes.
Battlefront.com rolls out the newest release in their prolific Combat Mission series, this time tackling modern conflict in Ukraine. As is stated in the Combat Mission: Black Sea manual:
Sometime in 2009, we determined the setting for Combat Mission: Black Sea: a fictional future conflict between NATO, Ukraine, and Russia in the year 2017. A few years later, the details of this conflict were fleshed out and work began on creating the unique military formations and equipment that would participate in such a conflict. In the midst of development, the unthinkable happened, and conflict actually came to Ukraine during the spring of 2014. After much internal discussion we decided to move forward with the development of Combat Mission: Black Sea. We prefer that our Combat Mission releases cover historical or fictional modern topics, and in that regard Black Sea is still a fictional story. However, the previously written backstory for the game was slightly altered to take into account 2014’s real life events. To be clear: Combat Mission: Black Sea is a hypothetical conflict between NATO and Russia set in 2017, not a depiction of present day events such as the Crimean Crisis or the War in Donbass. War in real life is a terrible, horrible thing that should only be embarked upon as an absolute last resort. Combat Mission: Black Sea is thankfully still a fictional story, and likely to remain so unless our global leaders and populace collectively lose their minds. The stories that will be created within this game can serve as a grim reminder of the human cost incurred when diplomacy and decency fail.
Kudos for Battlefront for releasing this fine simulation of a speculative 2017 conflict in the light of what is really happening in the Ukraine. Combat Mission: Black Sea both expands upon and improves the upgraded system that first appeared in Combat Mission: Shock Force.
For those who haven’t been following the CM simulation line since its inception in the year 2000 with the fantastic and innovative Combat Mission: Beyond Overlord, the system provides players with tactical combat covering almost all World War 2 fronts except the Pacific Theatre (hint … hint … Battlefront … please some Pacific War fighting next, ok?). In the year 2007, Battlefront upgraded the venerable CM engine with a total upgrade and took the battles to the 21st century with Combat Mission: Shock Force, a speculative invasion of Syria. Over the years, Battlefront has released new versions of most of their World War 2 CM systems by upgrading them to the Shock Force standards. Now, the Shock Force engine has been improved and the simulator has come back to a European war.
Combat Mission: Black Sea gives the players control over infantry and armored forces. Each unit is a team or squad of soldiers or one vehicle. The player has control over the general tactics of each unit up to and including calling down air strikes, attack helicopters and artillery. The wonderful thing about this game system is that the player doesn’t have to have the dexterity of a teenager in order to play. You click on a unit (or group of units for giving them team actions) and then tell the unit what to do through easy-to-understand command menus. Actions include such things as infantry squads or vehicle personnel debarking their vehicles, moving troops slowly through terrain while making use of cover, running full speed towards an objective, fire teams setting up or breaking down heavy weapons, setting up zones of fire, etc. For vehicles, you can order them to stay put and ambush the enemy, move slowly, hunt for enemy targets, move full speed, close or open hatches, etc. You have almost full control over the orders for a unit. After you give the units their orders, you press a button and the action plays out in real time. You can even rewind it and watch it from multiple angles. At times, the unit may not follow your orders, based upon morale or other environmental conditions: men under heavy ground fire may just hunker down and try to survive instead of blindly following your orders to charge a machine gun position. In fact, the units behave so realistically that the player often feels like he is controlling real soldiers and not just digital simulations.
A nice feature of Combat Mission is that you can either give orders from one-minute turn to one-minute turn or put the game on real-time mode where you can give orders as the action constantly plays out. This creates a whole new challenge for the armchair commander.
The game maps can be viewed from almost any angle and height. You can watch from a god’s-eye view looking straight down or move to the level of the foot soldiers. Whatever view you want, you can set.
Combat Mission: Black Sea features many unique characteristics that offer distinction from earlier Shock Force releases. It is the first of the modern or near-future games in the series to take place in Europe and, as such, offers terrain not found in the previous Middle Eastern locations, such as rivers and swamps, that provide new tactical challenges. And to that end, CMBS features vehicles specially suited to those terrains: BMP, BTR, BRDM and MT-LB all feature amphibious adaptations that allow them to move over or through watery terrain with a lower chance of gettom bogged down. In addition, since some of the scenarios are at night, many vehicles and foot units have various tools to help them succeed in low light conditions. Some infantry have various night vision assets.
Other new tools to help win on this modern battlefield include drones, precision air strikes and portable battle computers, all of which help form a chillingly realistic look at modern warfare.
Russian and Ukrainian playable vehicles include: various types of T64, T72, T84 and T90 main battle tanks, BMPs, NP157s, BRMs, BTRs, Tanguskas and more.
American playable vehicles include: M1 Abrams, Bradleys, Strykers, M1064A3s (updated M113s), Humvees, etc.
Each side gets air support, artillery units, drones, various types of infantry squad configurations and support weapons and equipment.
The terrain is hyper-realistic with weather conditions affecting the environment: wind lashes and moves trees, rain obscures your vision and makes solid ground into mud, etc. All the game objects can be targeted and damaged or destroyed. When soldiers run inside of buildings you can actually see what they see. In fact, Combat Mission feels much like a miniatures game. Additionally, well-done sound effects lead to a great sense of immersion in the game.
A detailed backstory, full tutorials and an encyclopedia of units are included. The tutorials are detailed and help get the new player up to speed.
This game is addictive and provides tons of fun for those interested in modern tactical combat. Additionally, CMBS provides the players with the ability to make their own scenarios, create quick battles, play on-line against other humans or play in campaigns covering the entire hypothetical conflict. The player can take the sides of the Russians, Ukrainians or Americans.
The problems with Combat Mission: Black Sea are few and far between. For older eyes, the small type font used in the status screens can be disconcerting. If there is a way to increase the size of the fonts, I’ve yet to find it. And while a few other problems with earlier releases in the Combat Mission series have been fixed, it is still far too easy to give a unit an incorrect order for movement. Luckily, the program provides a button that clears the erroneous move and lets the player re-enter the move sequence. Additionally, even on a fast machine such as mine, scenarios or campaigns can take up to three or four minutes to load up. Far too long for those waiting for the action to start.
Nonetheless, these few complaints aside, Combat Mission: Black Sea is an instant classic of modern warfare simulations. Well done, Battlefront!
Armchair General Rating: 95 %
About the Author
A college film instructor and small business owner, Richard Martin has also worked in the legal and real estate professions, is involved in video production, film criticism, sports shooting and is an avid World War I and II gamer who can remember war games which came in plastic bags and cost $2.99 (he’s really that old)!