Attention to detail.
Very poor controls. Slow gameplay. No feedback.
Combat Mission Red Thunder Review
Red Thunder is another entry to the Command Mission series. A set of RTS games that pride themselves in historical accuracy and military specs. The game has garnered a small, dedicated following over the years for that reason, though during my time with the game, I found it to be rather slow, unwieldy and unresponsive.
For the most part, missions have you start at one section of the map and have you work your way across, stopping off at markers along the way. The game can be played in either Real time mode or turn based. Real time is at it sounds, while turn based pauses the action every minute to give you time to plan out the following minutes actions, not to dissimilar from Frozen Synapse.
There isn’t much variety in the missions, mostly you just move through the environment killing enemies. One level does have you defending a hill, but that’s about it. This would be fine if the controls were good, but this just isn’t a very fun game to play for a few reasons. Firstly, it’s slow. Orders have to be given individually. While the option to give the same order to multiple units does exist, troops won’t move to the same location, except they’ll move to the location relative to them (A troop to the left of the selection will always arrive to the left of the location, even if it’s in a minefield).
This ties into my second reason; the controls are very awkward. Even if you do decide to give everyone the same order, you may decide to change your mind. You may think this is a simple matter of selecting all your troops again and simply selecting a new course of action, but no, instead this will simply add to the order queue. You instead have to select each troop individually and set new course for them. These complaints may sound petty but they crop up each and every time you have to proceed and add up to be quite annoying.
Admittedly, these grievances may not bother some who are looking for a slower, more realistic war game if they are willing to take their time, though the fun hardly starts once the battles begin. Something that got to me after a while was that I wasn’t even sure if the tactics I was using were even being effective after a while. Does hiding behind cover help? How about high ground? Even knowing if my troops are dead or even hurt was something I could never figure out.
Perhaps I’m too spoiled by games like X:COM and the previously mentioned Frozen Synapse which actually gave visual feedback of such things. Gunfights would take place, I’d try to outflank the enemy (which took long enough with the less than stellar controls) and seemed to come to the same results than if I were just to assault them head on. I’m sure there is depth to be found here, I just couldn’t find it.
A lot of my problems can be solved with one simple step: a well thought out and thorough tutorial. The “T” word is sometimes seen as quite dirty in games but I’ve always felt that RTS games (or certain variations of the genre) were somewhat exempt from the rule as there is always so much to learn from, controls to advanced tactics. Here however, no such things exists. The closest we get is a training level which acts as a simple battle, but doesn’t teach the mechanics of the game. As a result I left the training level with no extra information or experience than before I went in. It may well be that fans have already surmounted the barrier, but not much is done to appease new players.
I’ve spewed a lot of negativity in this review, but that’s just because those are the points that stand out to me. At the end of the day, the mechanics, while hardly perfect, get the job done and with a little practice I eventually came to grips with the controls. Though I would be lying if I said I had enjoyed myself.
The major feeling I got whilst playing this game is that it was more about the militaristic accuracy than it was about the gameplay. While the game is hardly a looker in any sense as missions take place on some floating square in the abyss, there are some nice touches. For the military buffs out there, you can zoom in on the soldiers and transport for some authentic details. It is also nice to hear sound FX the closer you get to the action, from soldiers’ footsteps, there chatting with each other or the rumbling of the tanks.
While Combat Mission Red Thunder is a perfectly functional game, I can’t bring myself to recommend it to anyone other than military buffs. It’s just far too slow and cumbersome for me to recommend to anyone else. It clearly has it’s fans, I’m just not one of them.
Combat Mission Red Thunder Review
4th April 2014