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Posted on Aug 16, 2007 in Electronic Games, Front Page Features

Combat Mission Shock Force Review

By Larry Levandowski

The depiction of current weapons is very realistic and lethal. Each weapon is accurately modeled in terms of ammunition type, penetration and explosive effect. The interplay of these weapon systems on CMSF‘s battlefield quickly forces players to use real-world tactics or they will find their forces quickly chewed up. US forces are always the best armed and can’t really be beaten by the Syrians at long or medium range in a barren desert environment. In one scenario, a lone Bradley infantry fighting vehicle easily takes out a dug-in Syrian infantry company at 500m by chopping them up with its chain gun. But in urban areas, where constricted line-of-sight makes every battle a knife-fight, the Syrians can certainly hold their own, and even send the US Army packing. After all, even an ancient T-62 can take out pretty much anything with a point-blank flank shot. One potentially sensitive weapon in the game is the IED. Seeing a squad of infantry wiped out while walking by one of these devices, may be a little too close to the real world for some players. But overall, the inclusion of IEDs is necessary, if the goal of the game is to depict modern combat in the Middle East.


The interface is streamlined and very effective. All information and most actions can be taken with just one or two mouse-clicks from the main screen. Players tell squads or vehicles what to do by first selecting an order such as move, and then designating a waypoint. Orders can not be given to individual soldiers, but this is fine for a game at this level. Artillery and air support are also well implemented, and this feature takes the player through a process very similar to the real life call for fire. With just mouse clicks, the player can designate a target shape, select ammunition, how many guns and how long artillery fire should last.

While the interface is mostly good, there are a few quirks. Hot keys are reused in different modes, so the key that means move in one mode, means set fire arc in another. In the heat of combat, it’s easy for the player to get confused and order the wrong thing. There really aren’t that many commands, so why the development team chose to reuse the same hotkeys to mean different actions is puzzling. The camera controls also take some getting used to. Hard-core Combat Mission fans may take some issue with the new interface, wondering why Battlefront decided to change an already functional thing. Still, over-time CMSF‘s way of fighting does become second nature.

The game is fairly easy to learn thanks to the training campaign and a very good manual. The tutorial showcases the US Army Stryker Brigade, taking the player through training exercises that demonstrate the raw firepower of this new type of Army unit. The manual is also well put together and very effective in explaining all facets of the game. Combat Mission veterans will not have any trouble diving right in, as many of the game concepts are similar to the earlier series. Real time strategy players on the other hand, may think this game seems familiar, but they are encouraged to read the manual and play the tutorial, as CMSF is really a pure wargame, and RTS tactics will lead to many dead troops and burning vehicles.

One of the most exciting features of CMSF is the scenario and campaign editor. The editor is a full, robust part of the game, with great documentation that not only gives you the how, but also the why. The editor is straight-forward enough, that even those who have never written a scenario in their life might be persuaded to give it a try. The interface is graphics-based and everything the scenario builder needs is available by mouse-click. The tools are easy enough that a small battle can be built within an hour. There is no random map generator available directly from the editing screens, but building maps is easy enough that the player won’t really notice. The map is presented on a 2D palate first, where the player sets up elevations, buildings, vegetation and then adds units. The player then moves to the 3D mode, to review his or her handiwork, make adjustments, and set up initial positions of the forces. An exciting function is that the look, number of windows, and cover available in buildings can be changed with a few clicks on the 3D screen. Artificial Intelligence in CMSF is a hybrid of dynamic and scripted thinking, so the editor also allows the scenario builder to set a plan and goals for one or both sides. Because of this robust scenario editor, the game promises to have great legs, providing gamers with a broad selection of community developed scenarios and campaigns for many years to come.

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1 Comment

  1. Just went back in the last few days and started playing this series of games again. Thanks for the great review (a little belated but still).


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