by Martin Turewicz
While tank, air and naval combat simulations are reaching new heights these days using incredible 3D acceleration, stunning graphics and photo-like environments, it seems that the "classic" wargame of tactical land combat is forever bound to be stuck in a highly abstracted, turn-based hex-grid environment. Fortunately, there is hope.
With Combat Mission: Beyond Overlord, Big Time Software (known for award-winning strategic air combat games like Over The Reich, Achtung Spitfire! and Flight Commander) is introducing a tactical squad-level WWII combat simulation in a true 3D environment for both PC and Mac users.
As the name implies, it is set in NW Europe after the D-Day landings in the Normandy. Published by Battlefront.com, a new independent internet wargame publishing company, this game sets out to boldly go where no man has gone before (oops, wrong genre...)
At a first glance, Combat Mission is a classic wargame, allowing the player(s) to control squads of infantry and single vehicles like tanks and armored cars, using military tactics and strategy to defeat the "enemy" in combat. But that's about all that the game has in common with other computer wargames like West Front, Close Combat or the famous board game Advanced Squad Leader.
The basis for the game's revolutionary approach is the "lack" of a hexgrid. Instead, the battlefield is represented in a true 3 dimensional environment. Infantry and armor are not restricted anymore to 6 possible facings, do not have to be squeezed into artificial "movement rates" of X hexes per turn, and do not have to worry that their line of sight (LOS) is blocked by a hexside which happens to have a couple of houses on it. Instead - units can face all 360°, can move meter by meter and can track their LOS in between and over buildings, trees and hills.
Showing off the 3D nature of Combat Mission... a picturesque river valley somewhere in northwest Europe
Using the in-game camera tool, the player can move freely across the battlefield, pan and zoom, move up and down. Want to see how it is lying in a trench with MG tracers zipping over your head? Move the camera down to ground level and enjoy. Want to ride along on a tank as it moves into battle? Lock the camera behind the tank and watch. Even overhead views are possible, similar to traditional hex-based games, but once you see the action unfold hovering a few meters above the battlefield you will rarely use them.
But the implications of a hexless environment are reaching much further than "looks" alone. Freed from the constraints of an artifical hex overlay, the game designers are able to drop pretty much any convention of "traditional" wargames for the sake of higher realism.
Same map from a different perspective... look at that - a lonely Panther tank
Forget armor "ratings"
The 3D game engine allows for accurate tracking of every shell from muzzle to impact. Physical realities can be (and are) simulated. One example.. shells are not flying in a straight path but follow a distinct trajectory, just like they do in real life. And it depends on the firing weapon, too, which means that the dreaded 88's with its high muzzle speeds have a much flatter trajectory, increasing their hit chances tremendously.
Same is true for the targets of such deadly fire - tanks and their crews, for example. Since tanks are true 3D objects in the game (as they are in real life), a much more detailed approach can and must be taken to represent them in the game. "Gamey" values like armor ratings become a distant shadow of the past.
Every vehicle in Combat Mission uses real life values, not only for distinctions between various parts of armor (e.g. front hull, front turret, sides for hull and turret, top armor) but also for other important things like ground pressure (with an impact on the chances to bog down), silhouette height (how easily is it spotted) and many more.
A look at the stats of this Panther. Note the data for armor thickness and slope for different parts of the tank.
Armor thickness, slope, different types of steel and weapons, the angle of impact - just to name a few - are all part of the equation in Combat Mission's calculations of hit and penetration chances. The impact on realism is tremendous - small variances in armor thickness and impact angle (we're talking millimeters here), for example, which would be thrown into one abstracted rating in other games, DO have a big impact on the chances to kill enemy armor - again, just as in real life.
Go to Part II
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Last Updated October 6th, 1999