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Combat Mission: Afrika Korps
Posted: 14/1/04 by Beta1 | Comments (37)

Combat Mission: Afrika Korps (CMAK) is one of those rare games that you really should buy. Not because it's the third in arguably the best computer war game series ever written. Not because it features a cast of thousands locked in bloody battle across the desert. And definately not because it's a shining graphical example of what PC gaming should look like (because it's not). You should buy this game because it's written by BigTimeSoftware (BTS). BTS coded the original combat mission because it was the game they wanted to play. OK so this third incarnation may be a published by CDV (in Europe) but its roots are firmly in those days when bedroom coders could make it big and where detail and accuracy is more important that the latest pixel shaders or surround sound audio. Rant over - onto the game.

Afrika Korps has swapped the mud and snow of the russian front for sun and palm trees as WW2 rages through the mediterranean. While most of the action takes place in the African sands there's also plenty of fun to be had fighting through the villages and mountains of Italy and Crete. The extensive range of scenarios cover paratroops fighting it out on the mediterranean islands, massed tank battles in the desert, alpine maps with plunging gorges and soaring peaks and a frantic level that involves trying to park an M4A3 Sherman in Rome without running over a scooter. OK so maybe I made the last one up but thanks to the editor that ships with the game somebody is probably making it.

As in both of the previous CM games CMAK uses the "we go" system of turns. In this both players issue orders to their troops in turn based style but which are then simultaneously acted out over a series of one minute real time turns with the object of the game being to make the other guy die for his country. This gives the game a very cinematic style as you can only watch as your little armoured scout car turns a corner to be confronted by an heavily armoured tank destroyer which proceeds to redecorate the area in various shades of blood.

Elefant tank destroyer in Italy American M3 Lee, North Africa Panzer III, North Africa

Most of the game's graphics, while still a vast improvment on the original, are still rather lacking compared to the latest RTS games but, as with every CM game, all the textures are all easily modified and within a few months you'll be able to download whatever go-faster-stripes you feel your Panzer looks best in. There is one new graphical trick though that directly impacts on game play - dust. Every vehicle now leaves a dust cloud when moving which is directly effected by the terrain type and the weather. In some desert maps tank groups often disappear into their own dust storm which can often be seen approaching over the dunes long before the actual tanks. I suspect it won't be long before we see on-line players driving large numbers of jeeps around trying to fool opponents with large dust clouds. The new dust system also fixes a long standing complaint - artillery strikes now cause dust and in the case if the larger calibres this dust can obstruct Line-of-Sight over a wide area and really increases the fog of war.

All the CM games are tactical strategy games with the emphasis firmly on combat. You won't find any base building or resource gathering here. It's purely about making the other guy die for his country. This isn't a Comand and Conquer game, tank rushes will almost always end up in a pile of burning metal, and even those brought up on the more complex Close Combat series will soon be brought back down to earth. You need to forget about giant tanks and uber soldiers, what wins here is thinking and planning and real tactics. CMAK is not a forgiving game for beginners and most new players, especially those brought up on Command and Conquer style games, should expect the AI to slaughter them the first few times through. The lack of a decent tutorial doesnt help nor the lack of a printed manual. This is one thing that has changed from CMBO/CMBB, and in my opinion changed for the worse with each incarnation. CMBO had an excellent and comprehensive manual, CMBB had a smaller but still informative leaflet. CMAK has a A5 fold out reference card and a pdf manual. Apparently the BTS published American version gets a manual. So what gives CDV? Your printers broken down? This is really a major problem in a game of this complexity. I can see the BTS forums swamped with questions from new player desperate to find out what they are doing wrong and the old timers not even being able to tell them to RTFM. If Monty had been sent to Africa with instructions like these we would all be speaking German. Well more of us would be speaking german.
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