Reviewed: October 30, 2001
Released: August 8, 2001
When you were a kid, how many of you played board games like Risk, Axis and Allies, and Chess? I still have all of those games sitting on my closet shelf just waiting for the right time and place to play them with my sons. Children these days have it much too easy with the GUI design of current gaming genres. Almost all of the games on the market today use bright and flashy 3D graphics and all you have to do is blast your way through each level until you reach the end of the game. It wasn't that way twenty or even ten years ago. Most games required a person to use creative thinking to win the battle or solve a puzzle in the game. How many of you can remember the days of Zork or A Bard's Tale? Back then it wasn't clicking with the mouse, but typing each and every command into the keyboard.
For those of you that have been playing computer games long enough, you may remember a time when all the wargames on the market used the hexagon playing field design. Almost all of the games from HPS Simulations have used this design over the years and now Shrapnel brings a new game to the field that uses this same tried and true design. Combat Command 2: Desert Rats is a continuation of the series, following in the footsteps of Combat Command 2: Danger Forward which was released on December 13, 2000. This newer version of CC2 takes you to the North African Theater of the Second World War where some of the most exciting battles were fought.
The installation went without a hitch. As you can see from the requirement list on the sidebar, this game should work with any system that is running Microsoft Windows 95 or newer. That is where the problems began. I run most of the review software that I receive on a Dell Inspiron 5000e laptop computer. The Dell has an Intel Pentium III running at 800MHz, 256MB of system RAM, an ATI Rage Mobility M3 video chipset, and Microsoft Windows 2000 with service pack 2. The game would run sluggishly from the start and once the game would get to the Direct Fire Phase it would crash back to the desktop. After numerous emails to technical support at Shrapnel Games, a patch was issued to resolve the Windows 2000 issues.
At one point, the technical support staff at Shrapnel Games even questioned that I had one of their games! I am assuming from the reply times associated with my technical support emails to Shrapnel Games that their technical support staff is limited in personnel and knowledge. They eventually put me in touch with one of the games developers and we got the problem resolved. I doubt that this last step would have taken place in a timely manner if I had not mentioned that I was writing a review for their product.
As I mentioned before, there is now a patch available on their website and if you run Windows 2000 you will need it. The patch solved my Windows 2000 lockup problems, however, it created a new problem that I haven't addressed with technical support yet. The detailed text log screen of all of the gameplay actions turns white and doesn't update with any text. This makes it very difficult for me (or anyone else for that matter) to track what their opponent is doing. I verified this problem on two different systems running Windows 2000 Professional with service pack 2 installed.
As I mentioned before, this game is based on a hexagon block map. Every hex on the map equals ½ kilometer or 500 meters. Each unit is an actual company that consists of 150+ men and 12 or more tanks. Artillery units are mainly battalions with about 12 guns. Each turn represents 2 daylight hours or 4 night time hours. There are normally 8 daylight turns and 2 night turns except during winter scenarios and then there are 6 daylight turns and 3 night turns.
The game is played in successive game turns, each turn being divided into discrete phases. Some of the phases require no user input (i.e.: Recovery, Supply, and Command). The first turn of the game and at 6am each day thereafter there is the Supply Status Phase. During this phase both sides attempt to trace supply lines to their resources. This happens automatically and the player does not interact during this phase. The computer then determines which side has the initiative for the current turn and the winning side performs their action segment first. This is also calculated automatically without any player interaction.
The action segment is really the meat and potatoes of this game. During this portion of the turn there are many phases that must be completed before going on to the next. Most of the phases included in the Action Phase are manually controlled by the user. The Movement Phase consists of the Reinforcement Phase, the Command Phase, the Recovery Phase, and the Movement Phase. Once all of the movement has been determined then the Direct Fire Phase takes place.
If you are running Windows 2000 you will need to get the patch to correct the bugs in this phase. If you don't get the patch you will crash back to the desktop every time you reach this phase on a Windows 2000 machine. The Assault Phase follows the Direct Fire Phase. The two stages in the Assault Phase are the Assault Execution Phase which is automatically calculated by the computer and the Withdrawal and Advance Phase in which the attacking units advance and the withdrawing units retreat. This entire Action Segment is then repeated for the next turn and so on and so on.
This game really shines during the combat tactics and movements of your troops. The strategy that you use really does affect the outcome of the game and whether you win or lose. I have tied on a couple of games and even won a few of them. Be prepared to spend at least a few hours on the smaller scenarios. There are a total of seventeen scenarios included with CC2: DR and the developers have even included a scenario editor so that you can create your own battles.
As I said in the beginning, this game is not in the top 100 for pretty graphics. The developer's first choice was to make sure that the gameplay was very sound. Obviously the graphics could have been better, but if you are a long-time wargame veteran then you should be used to this type of interface. There are much better looking wargames available and if you are new to the wargaming genre you should give Close Combat or Combat Mission a try.
The playing field tends to become very drab and dull after only playing for a short while. It would be nice to have seen some brighter more exciting colors included in the graphics of this game. I recently finished a review of Sudden Strike Forever and those bright Autumn scenes really made an impression on me.
Each phase of gameplay has some type of sound associated with it. There are sounds of infantry marching, machine guns firing, and bombs exploding. The soundtrack included with the game isn't one that will win any rewards, but it is nice to have some background music while stomping on the enemy. The sound effects are basic, but it does add to the overall gaming experience.
I would suspect that if you are a veteran wargamer, that you would get your money's worth out of this game. The scenarios require some strategy to win, but once you have figured out the computer opponents strategies it becomes fairly easy to win each time. I would recommend that you move on to the multi-player aspect of the game as it offers some deeper strategy and planning when playing a real live human being.
Well, the first thing I noticed was that Desert Rats doesn't support GameSpy Arcade. The inclusion of this feature would make it much easier to find opponents online. The game does support TCP/IP, LAN, and PbEM. Play by E-Mail is a great feature that allows each person to play his turn at a time that is convenient to the player. One thing to note with a PbEM game is that you should avoid replaying your turn at all costs. Obviously, if your computer crashes or your child turns it off during your turn, then you can continue where you left off. But beware that this game is smart enough to notify your opponent that you did, in fact, replay your turn.
If you enjoy wargames and you travel often, then this is the game for you. This game ran well on any machine that I threw at it. We're talking about hardware that could be 4 years old up to current technology. The system requirements are minimal and that makes it an excellent candidate for a laptop system. I would recommend using Microsoft Windows 98 as that seemed to run the game better than other Microsoft operating systems.
Gameplay is almost always more important than visuals. This game is no exception. It's nice to see a game that plays well out of the box (unless you run Windows 2000). The included scenarios add realism to the game and the included scenario editor rounds out the package giving this game the ability to expand over time.
This manual is 63 pages of pure gaming goodness. It is nice to see a company that still puts out a quality manual with their games. The manual contains information about the installation of the game all the way down to drop zone charts and tables for paratroopers. This is truly a very complete manual.
I surely hope that the developers are listening to the gaming community and take the time to work out some of the remaining bugs in the game. As I said before, if you enjoy playing wargames, this is one that you should purchase for your collection.