Recently, Jack and I both have been playing the latest Combat Mission games in order to review them for the blog. Check out Jack’s review of Shock Force 2, if you haven’t, and keep an eye out for my take on Black Sea Friday! But all this playing of excellent tactical simulation games got me thinking. It may have been 20 odd years, but I have memories of playing a Combat Mission game way back in the day. Digging around I stumbled across Combat Mission: Beyond Overlord, the first of Battlefront’s Combat Mission games and a fond memory of bygone times. It turns out that GOG.com has the first three Combat Mission games for very reasonable prices, so I jumped back in to see how far the series has come.
It’s a bit clunky going back, I’ll admit. The UI has certainly seen some growth between classic Combat Mission and the more modern titles. Rather than a nice compact list of possible actions along the bottom UI, things are done with a right-click menu. Still functional, but there’s definitely an upgrade going forward. The basic mechanics of maneuvering and positioning teams is still familiar and after a few minutes of getting used to it I was back to splitting teams, order scouts forward, covering with bases of fire, and all the fun stuff you get up to in a CM game.
I decided to try my hand at the Canadian Armageddon campaign out of a sense of patriotic duty. Getting stuck in with a brigade of the South Saskatchewan Regiment it was time to clear houses and secure a small French town without armour support, of course. Why would I need that?
I’m happy to report that it was just as much fun as the later CM games are. It’s decidedly messier, with map positioning and overall management less intuitive, but it’s still just as entertaining to see orders carried out, see units trying to adapt to changing situations, and cringing when a poor order leads to more casualties than you were willing to accept.
Graphically, it’s obviously much simpler, but the oversized infantry models, the fact that each figure represents a few men, and the distinctly differentiated terrain makes classic CM feel more like a tabletop wargame than the modern games. There is a bit more rigidity to every action and order, but it just reinforces the boardgame feeling.
I was honestly expecting to be underwhelmed. Rose tinted glasses can only go so far and 21 years is a long time in terms of videogame development. The recent Combat Missions have really hit me with just how good they are, so I figured there must be a lot separating them from the classic models. An there is, truth be told, but the classics are still absolutely playable and do a great job of conveying the overall feel of CM, albeit with a simpler tabletop aesthetic, than I was expecting.
It helps that Beyond Overlord, Afrika Korps, and Barbarossa to Berlin are all on GOG for under $10 CAD each. They get cheaper during sales too. As an exercise in feeling old, or if the modern Combat Missions are out of your price range and you’ve already played the free demos, I’d recommend picking up one of the classics to dip your toes. There’s a lot of content and I’m absolutely floored by how well they stand the test of time.