This game is all about trust. As the local commander in the trenches, you are sending your men and machines into a typhoon of steel - armed with high tech hardware and (they pray!) some good orders in hand from you- as they set off across the next hill. How well you trust yourself, and them, to get the job done is the crux of Flashpoint Germany (FG). Be warned though - the modern battlefield is lethal and if you don't have the right tools you will find your job very difficult. Most -but not all- of the tools are included in this title.
In many wargames you wear both the operational and the tactical hats (you order troops to objectives, but also assign targets to individual units). In FG, you have one distinct objective (take this town, hold this line, etc.). However, you don't have tactical control over your units anymore than a brigade commander would be able to pick targets for each tank under his command. Yes, this is where trust comes in - as you must assign broad objectives for your subordinate units - and trust them to get the job done for you. Much like the Combat Mission series of games, you assign your orders for the next X period of time, and then watch the simultaneous turn resolution as your units attempt to carry out your orders. Unlike that game, FG doesn't allow you to tell each unit which enemy targets to engage. They always pick their own targets (except for artillery, mortars, aircraft, etc., which you do control). This could be a real game-breaker for many players who enjoy micromanaging multiple levels of the command chain (you know who you are!). But don't run off just yet!
OK, I realize that Flashpoint Germany is no spring chicken when it comes to titles for review. However, with the recent release of a major patch to the game I figured it was worth a look. Additionally, as website editor my desk is often filled with games destined for far frontiers - while few are ever left for my own enjoyment. So, when I noticed this game still had a big blinking red light screaming "Review Me!" I jumped on it. It turns out this was a good thing -because the wargamer in me likes this game!
FG does some things so well that I would classify them as Home Runs. The map alone is almost worth the price of admission. As a professional geographer, this is something I usually lament in wargame design -but not so in this one. The map is crisp and clear and is very much what an aerial photograph would look like. This enhances the believability and invests you as a gamer into the situation on the ground. It does have one problematic issue below it, but I'll address that in a bit.
The counter art is another point which I feel deserves a lot of praise. I appreciate the large counter sizes (you can also make them even larger with some of the advanced options), the clear text, and as a big proponent of the more "proper" NATO symbology I was happy to see this as the default. The silhouette option makes the units look prettier (especially with some of the community-made graphic mods), but removes some vital information from your view (such as how many vehicles are running). When I play a game it is important I be able to glance at the map itself for most of my vital information, instead of having to click the details of each and every unit, just like I could if I was looking at any boardgame.
Old schoolers and micromanagers will appreciate the level of detail present in the interface, and I might add most of the critical information is on the main screen itself rather than buried deep in some sub-menu. You can play through most of the game using only what is available on the main screen or with a few hotkeys. Very elegant overall, although the one nitpick I had is the lack of hotkeys for common unit commands such as "M" for move or "S" for screen. This would make it less mouse intensive and would move the turns along a bit faster.
There are enough realism options to satisfy all but the most hardcore modern warfare gamers. You can sit down and play through the demo and be on the battlefield and fighting in less than an hour and be able to hold your own against the AI. As you get more versed in the FG universe, you can tweak things such as spotting, logistics, electronic warfare, fog of war, and even determine how capable your support staff might be (how many orders they can handle at once). At max realism you will be screaming as you discover you can no longer control your entire force each turn because you simply lack the number of staff (not to mention time) to call each and every unit on the field and change their orders. This forces you to adapt, and as you once again revisit the trust issue you will learn to set broader goals for your units. Instead of "go here, follow the road for 1000 meters, then turn right" you will simply order the unit to the destination and hope the unit will make wise choices along the way (it usually does).
This leads us to the AI. This is where some problems start to creep into this game. I know the developers worked hard on the AI, and I understand there were some tweaks made here and there to improve the combat engine in the latest patch. During my games I still noticed what I would consider less than optimal AI behavior although most of those problems seem to be related to tactical movement and planning rather than combat itself (which appeared to work well). When the AI is on defense it may come out and fight (giving up prime defensive terrain) rather than sit tight and wait for the attacker to arrive. Conversely, on the attack, I would often notice HQ's or AA units up near the front lines, as well as the odd charge of the solo enemy unit against my entire force - often resulting in a quick kill. The real strength of the game would be seen in the multiplayer capabilities, taking the AI out for the most part, leaving only combat between two presumably able bodied human commanders. The differences in tactical doctrine and equipment between the Soviet Bloc and NATO forces would be the central focus of the game. Having said all that, the game is quite playable against the AI, especially when you give it a few less realism options than yourself.
Some of the old problems mentioned in previous reviews seem to have been cleaned up, especially the addition of red and green "firing lines" to denote who is the attacker and who is defending. After a few games I was able to sit back and watch 10-minute increments of simultaneous movement/fighting with zero delay and follow the action just fine. The little puffs of smoke to denote hits are admittedly low key, but are quite functional. Given the more serious nature of this game system I wouldn't want or expect ostentatious fireworks or 3d explosions. Some of the problems of the past are still there, such as the lack of replayability because of the low map count (4) and relatively few scenarios to choose from. I should also mention the lack of infantry on the battlefield, for those who aren't familiar with this game. The developers have recently added some mechanized infantry units which can disembark and fight on foot - although this is a compromise solution. Whether infantry should be modeled in this game is a subject of some debate.
My biggest problem with this game was not the AI however; I was very disappointed with the terrain modeling. Despite having a rich and colorful map, this really means nothing if the map doesn't readily convey the information a commander needs to make decisions about where he will attack, where he will defend, or just what is the best route to get from point A to point B. The scale of this game is at that critical mid point between large scale (in map terms) tactical (Combat Mission) where you can literally stand on a hilltop to see what your units can see, and smaller scale operational where you are given a map of an entire region (where hills and valleys are not your concern). Here, hills and valleys ARE your concern, but you lack the ability to stand on the hilltop as a local commander presumably would be apt to do.
In a perfect world I would have liked to have seen this map draped over a digital elevation model, giving it the "look" of topography, while at the same time allowing the user to move from point to point and get a clear field of vision (user-selectable exaggeration of elevation would also be helpful). As an alternate option, it would have been nice to have a hotkey to overlay a topographic map to give you a better feel for the lay of the land (if the map represents a real place, a topo map should exist for it). Instead, we are left with the final option - which is a watered down number scale of 1-10 representing elevation for each square. This makes for some complicated and time consuming Line-of-Sight Analysis which requires you to click on each square to determine which other squares it can see. This is conceptually difficult for most people (myself included) to do in a recreational environment. The net result is that you cannot look at the map and intuitively know where the valleys and hills are located. This was a missed opportunity for something really special. I understand the whole mapping system is being revamped for the next version.
I found the graphics of this game very user friendly and inviting. The map is excellent as noted above, the units are well defined and crisp, and the menus and interface are clear and easy to read. If you are expecting a RTS game with whiz-bang appeal you can forget about it. This is as it should be.
Simple, clear, functional. As is common with games which you play for hours at a sitting I turned off all sounds and listened to my music instead. The explosions, radio chatter, and moving units were quite good given the type of game but can get tiring a few hours down the road.
The manual is included in PDF format, and clocks in at 106 pages. I admit to not always reading the entire manuals for games, but in this case I was pleasantly surprised at the readability of the manual (and yes, I made it through all of it!). There are several other PDF's included as supplements covering the entire list of platforms in the game, the fictitious OOB of all units involved in this game, a tutorial, and a few others. Overall a rich diversity of good reference material.
People who downloaded Flashpoint Germany have also downloaded:
Gary Grigsby's World At War, Divided Ground: Middle East Conflict 1948-1973, Gary Grigsby's Pacific War (2000), East Front 2, Civil War Generals 2, Fall Weiss 1939, Fields of Battle, Austerlitz: Napoleon's Greatest Victory
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