Combat Mission: Barbarossa to Berlin is a turn-based 3D simulation of the Eastern Front of WWII beginning with Operation Barbarossa, the Nazi invasion of Soviet Russia. Four geographical areas, battle and operation maps, tables of organization and equipment, historical Orders of Battle, and new armor penetration algorithms are featured. The 600+ units available include Panzerfausts, Soviet T-34 tanks, Katyusha rocket teams, KV-1's, and medics. Combat Mission: Barbarossa to Berlin includes seven nations: Finland, Germany, Soviet Russia, Italy, Rumania, Hungary, and Poland.
It's easy to forget just how revolutionary Combat Mission: Beyond Overlord was when it was first released. A lot of folks considered it not only the shoo-in "Wargame of the Year," but a strong contender for overall "Game of the Year." It completely changed the expectations for a wargame, combining compelling gameplay with realistic results and a superb 3D depiction of the action. Even non-grognards found themselves hooked on the game.
Big Time Software's follow-up, Combat Mission: Barbarossa to Berlin, moves the action from the Western Front to the Eastern Front, 1941 to 1945, and adds some improvements that, at first glance, seem somewhat subtle. However, once you've played Barbarossa to Berlin a few times, you'll realize that these enhancements result in a great game made even greater. This is, quite simply, one of the best games of any genre available for the PC (and even the Mac!)
Wargaming for the Masses
For those unfortunate enough to be unfamiliar with the Combat Mission gaming system, some explanation is in order. Remember when a wargame on the computer looked like the old board wargames? A top-down 2D map composed of hexes and unit markers that were squares with little numbers on the corners? While there are still some very good computer wargames with that look, Combat Mission isn't one of them. Here, the units are beautiful 3D depictions of the actual vehicles and infantry being represented, moving and fighting on a 3D map. This is the first area in which the improvements in Barbarossa to Berlin are evident. Beyond Overlord's graphics were revolutionary for a wargame, but a wealth of user-modified graphics showed what could be done to improve the realism of the units and the terrain. Barbarossa to Berlin brings the out-of-the-box graphics up to this level.
The audio in Combat Mission was excellent, and if anything, it's even better in this new version. Each nationality shouts orders in their own language (German, Russian, Finnish, Italian, Hungarian, Romanian, and Polish.) There's no single generic tank gun sound, or machine gun sound; the plethora of weapons have are accompanied by a plethora of sounds. There's a reason that the .wav folder in Barbarossa to Berlin contains over 2300 unique .wav files! Get involved in a heavy firefight and the sounds of soldiers screaming, small arms and armored weapons firing, ricochets, incoming artillery, and explosions will give you that "you are there" feeling that you'd only expect from a good movie.
Don't let the great sounds and graphics fool you into thinking that this is an arcade game, or simply an RTS dressed in WWII clothing. Barbarossa to Berlin isn't about reflexes; it's a game of planning and tactics. The game is turn-based -- you make your plans and issue your orders, then your opponent (AI or human) does the same. When both sides have issued their orders, they are executed in a 60-second "movie," which displays the results in a VCR manner. You can pause, rewind, fast forward, and change the viewing location. For example, you may zoom out and observe the action once from a "blimp" level view, trying to get a feel for what happened overall, then zoom in to view the action up close and personal for your various units. The turn-based orders / simultaneous resolution system makes Barbarossa to Berlin ideal for both TCP/IP play and Play By Email (PBEM).
Realism can be Fun
While gameplay can be as simple as clicking on a unit and telling it where to go and what to attack, the underlying system is much more complex and realistic than the simplicity implies. For example, every armored vehicle has armor ratings for each surface of the vehicle, and the armor-piercing characteristics of ammunition depends upon the bullet's composition, velocity, distance traveled, and angle of attack. Line of sight is meticulously calculated and can make the difference between being the hunter or the prey. Even if you don't have the line of sight, you may be able to acquire "sound contacts," where you've perhaps heard the rumble of tracks in the woods or the sound of infantry. And, just because you see something on the other side of the city doesn't mean that you automatically know what you've seen: it may show up as simply a "tank," or it may even be misidentified. Which can lead to all kinds of excitement, when you close in on what you thought was a Panzer III and it turns out that it was really a Jagdtiger!
While all of the under-the-hood calculations may seem a little daunting, Barbarossa to Berlin does a very nice job of making information readily available. A simple keystroke will provide a wealth of information on any unit. This version also improves on the type of information for a unit from the menu bar, such as ammo, types of equipment, and armor quality. If you're a novice you may be tempted to think that the AI opponent is cheating after firing at an enemy tank several times, only to have the shells bounce off of the enemy, and then watch your foe's tank fire once and turn your vehicle into a flaming hunk. However, availing yourself of the detailed info will quickly show you the folly of your approach (and be forewarned -- the AI commander knows this stuff pretty well!)
New and Improved
Combat Mission: Operation Overlord was a great game, so where does Barbarossa to Berlin improve on its predecessor? As previously mentioned, the graphics are quite a bit better than the original. And there are the interface improvements discussed above. But the most significant improvements come in the manner in which you can issue orders and the way in which your subordinates will execute them.
New commands are at your disposal, and once you get the hang of using them, it's tough to go back to the original. They seem simple when you read about them in the manual, but the level of control they provide results in some fundamental differences in how you can play out a battle. For example, "Shoot and Scoot" allows you to order a unit to move to a designated point, fire at a target, then scoot back into the cover you assign. Simple, right? But previously, if you wanted a tank to fire at a target, it would often continuously pound away at the target even if retreat was the most appropriate course of action. Now you can tell a unit to move out of cover, fire at the target, and then immediately hide again, thus opening up tactics such as diversions.
"Hull down" is similarly subtle in its description: a tank thus ordered will attempt to take up a position in which it can fire, yet the bulk of the tank is hidden beneath the available elevation. That was almost impossible to achieve in Operation Overlord, yet it was an essential armored tactic in WWII. The ability to set up a "covered arc" makes setting up ambushes much more effective (as you'll discover when you encounter Russian partisan troops!)
The overall AI is also more intelligent (albeit no match for a wily human opponent); perhaps a better description is "realistic." For example, infantry that comes under machine gun fire will go to ground much quicker than before, and less-experienced units may go so far as to beat a hasty retreat. As a result, covering fire for advancing infantry is quite effective, even essential in many situations. The new advance to contact command, combined with the more realistic AI, results in much more realistic first contact results. Overall, both armor and infantry behave more like you'd expect them to behave, particularly if you're a student of the war being simulated.
And, speaking of units behaving in a historically realistic manner, aficionados of the WWII Eastern Front will be pleased to see that the primary differences in the German and Russian command structures are addressed here. For example, German platoon command, particularly early in the war, was advantaged due to a combination of training and radio equipment (which the Russians generally lacked). This allowed more flexibility and range of, say, how far a German tank could stray from the command tank and still coordinate its attack. This can be seen in many of the scenarios in Barbarossa to Berlin, with Russian tanks and units typically staying close to their commanders, and separated units often becoming relatively tentative.
The Sweat Factor
It's difficult to really get a feel, from a list of features, for how effectively Barbarossa to Berlin pulls all of this together into a streamlined, addictive gaming experience. The game is massive in the range of options available: you can play any of seven nationalities, on maps that range from tiny to very large, with orders of battle varying from a few units to more than you can see at once. You can play any of the single battle scenarios that come with the game, operations (which are a series of linked battles), or any of the many battles and operations that are downloadable from the Internet. On top of that, you can use the quick battle generator to create a battle and specify everything from the type and quality of units to the size of the battle to the location to the weather and time of year, or let any of that be selected at random if you want a surprise.
And, once you get into the game, all of the features will blend together to give you as sweat-inducing a game as you'll encounter in any genre. The thrill of seeing your tank platoons roll across wheat fields, heading to their objectives, only to panic as you see the first one suddenly explode into flames from an unseen anti-tank gun hidden in the tall grasses; the stress of building-to-building combat as your infantry attempt to clear a city of the enemy, never knowing what they will find in the next block; the shock of having your tank turn a corner in a large city and suddenly be face to face with an enemy tank, at point blank range, and the tension as each tank's turret slowly turns in an attempt to be the first one to get off what will surely be a killer shot, with you screaming at your tank "shoot! SHOOT!!!" It's truly great stuff, whether you're a hardcore grognard or simply a gamer looking for excitement that doesn't involve orcs or elves or zombies.
People who downloaded Combat Mission 2: Barbarossa to Berlin have also downloaded:
Combat Mission 3: Afrika Korps, Combat Mission: Beyond Overlord, Close Combat 5: Invasion Normandy, Close Combat 3: The Russian Front, Close Combat 4: The Battle of the Bulge, Close Combat 2: A Bridge Too Far, Codename: Panzers - Phase Two, Close Combat
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