Sunday, September 29, 2013

Flashpoint Campaigns Red Storm - Preview

Flahspoint Campaigns Red Storm is slated for release on October 8th. This sequel to Flashpoint Germany will put players in command of tactical combat during an hypothetical World War III, at any time between 1979 and 1989.
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All images and commentary in this preview are based in a beta/preview build. The contents, artwork and game mechanics in this build are subject to change.


While comparing to the previous Flashpoint, one gets the impression that there is no stone left unturned for making the new Red Storm. The core of the sequel’s gameplay still remains lined up with the predecessor: a cleverly designed war game experience where command and control play a central role.

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The first thing to notice is that the maps are now based in hexes and not tiles. Each hex is 500 meters wide and represents different types of terrain, cover and mobility. Besides solving some pathing issues for the AI, the new map system has been re-built from scratch to allow for easy map creation, editing and moding by the users. The average map is 20 x 15 km and, contrasting with the meager 4 in the previous game, now we will have twenty or more of these maps already made. The maps are functional and look good for war gaming. The map artwork of the previous edition is gone, which is a good tradeoff for the new functionality and edition capabilities. Perception of height and lines of sight within the map may be a bit hard for the beginner, but with the use of the line of sight tool, the new player gets it after a few turns.

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The minimum unit that can be represented by the engine are individual vehicles and infantry squads, but the most typical unit is the platoon. Two new additions are the possibility of combined units composed of different weapon systems and dismounted infantry. The dismounted infantry is maybe one of the most requested additions to the game, but given the high pace of mechanized combat and the difficulties of command and control, dismounted infantry is quickly lessened to static roles like pickets, observation posts and defensive positions. I was pleasantly surprised with the new and revamped abilities of the scout units to see and remain unseen. In one scenario, despite the chaos elsewhere, my 2 scout Humvees stood hidden some 2.5 km from a whole Soviet tank regiment and I could watch for hours the armor consolidating into a defensive position.

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The player can command NATO (United States, United Kingdom or West Germany) or Warsaw Pact forces. In order to keep a good battlefield effectiveness, the player will have to maintain his maneuver and support units within the command radius of the headquarters units. A game feature that I found very useful is the dynamic order of battle which allows to subordinate a whole unit to another on the fly, with just a drag and drop mechanic.

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Time is represented in turns, which are resolved simultaneously for both players (WEGO). Turns length (i.e. the span of simulated combat time they represent) depend on the average effectiveness of the whole force, with increased turn lengths for forces suffering a drop in their effectiveness. For example, I’ve seen my force’s effectiveness drop due to numerous battlefield malaises (excessive ammunition expenditure, fatigue or too much distance to a headquarters unit) and get my turn length increased from 20 to a command-wrecking 43 minutes. The mind-blowing thing about this? The other side (Soviets in this case), thanks to their undisputed numerical superiority, suffered less effectiveness degradation and had almost no increase in their turn length. This is called asynchronous, variable length turns: I was able to give orders every 43 minutes of simulated combat time, the Soviets were able to give orders every 25 minutes. John Boyd’s observation, orientation, decision and action (OODA) cycle comes immediately to mind. Are you ready for maneuver warfare?

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Flashpoint Campaigns can be played against a human opponent (PBEM, hotseat and LAN) or against the computer opponent. The AI for the computer opponent has been reworked and it is quite evident from gameplay. At least while commanding the Soviets, the AI would send its recon forces ahead of the main effort, no matter the initial deployment of the whole force (in the previous game, it used to send the closest unit to the FEBA). I have also observed the AI to re-evaluate its approach towards an objective and sending an armor-heavy detachment in a wide flanking maneuver. The AI will not offer an opponent of the quality of a human but it is surprisingly competent and above all things, believable. Combined with an easy to use scenario editor and plenty of maps, there are thousands of hours of game time for the solo player.

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Last but not least, the game includes two campaigns in which the player command his forces along a series of chained scenarios. The outcome of each of these battles determines the course of the campaign. There is no additional layer above the grand/tactical battles played in the campaign. The preview beta had two campaigns included, which I ungenerously saved for my own enjoyment just after writing this preview.

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In closing, this one of the most innovative war game designs in recent times. The fidelity of tactical combat, the flexibility and easiness of access to the capabilities of the game engine alone are worth the price of admission. The turn resolution mechanics, so original and meaningful for a wholesome command & control experience, will definitively be noticed by hobbyist wargamers and war simulation professionals alike.