Saturday, April 5, 2014

Combat Mission Red Thunder: First Impressions

I spent some time last night and a lot of time today on multiplayer stuff with Steel Beasts Pro PE. So I'm just getting a chance to play with the shiny new release of Combat Mission: Red Thunder, Battlefront's new CMx2 engine release concerning late WW2 East Front warfare. I decided to start with the tutorial campaign to get acquainted with the new features of this release. Also, I haven't played much with Soviet formations at this level and wanted to get some experience with their very different doctrine.

The improved mission briefing screen that we first saw in CMFI makes a welcome return



This game is a superb addition to the line up, and is already starting to feel like it might become my favorite. Part of that is due to the differences in terrain that make these engagements much more armor-centric than CMBN or even CBFI. I do like my tanks, and the best tanks of the war are here. Beyond that it feels, even in this tutorial campaign, that the already good scenario design has been improved.

Scout cars and scout teams move out to locate the enemy while the MG platoon moves up to create a base of fire.

So far I've been playing in real-time mode. A year or so ago I switched to playing turn-based. I'm finding the games get so long that way that I get bored with them. Playing begins to feel like a chore and is definitely not as immersive and fluid to me. I don't pause the game much either, instead using the space bar to pop up the command menu on the fly. The Battlefront forums have a discussion that this isn't working for some people, but I've had no problems so far.

Come on Pyotr, let's see if there are any Germans down this road...

The objectives in this first serious tutorial mission were well laid out to teach not just how to move your formations. but some good basic tactics as well. That has to be a help for someone new to the game. I won't lie and say I didn't appreciate the reminder myself. Too bad there weren't some reminders about slightly more advance tactics, like infantry-armor coordination!

Da, there are Germans down this road!
 I was glad to have some dedicated scout units. They did discover several German positions...

Late in the war, there are a lot more automatic weapons

...often in the time honored method of moving forward until getting killed.

The ground cover, vehicles, and uniforms are the best I've seen yet in this game. I'm sure modders will perform their usual magic, but the game already looks wonderful.


Soviet doctrine is very different. I read today that I should treat Soviet platoons like German squads, and so on up the line. Here my MG platoon and tanks have driven the Germans from the brow of Hill 124. I've maneuvered my entire Guards Rifle platoon into the dead space at the base of the hill to prepare for an assault. Yes, I'm too clumped up.

Overwatching the advance of a pair of T-34s and my remaining scout car. The Tanks made short work of the AT gun that took out the other scout car.

These T-34s aren't much like the M1A2 SEPs I spent most of the day driving, but they'll do the job. Another big addition in this release are hit decals. It's now possible to see exactly where your vehicles are hit from the gaping big holes the rounds leave!

View of Hill 124 from a scout's position. Fire from my T-34s is impacting the trench line.
The terrain feels like eastern Europe. It's very different from previous games. Sight lines are much longer and the terrain is a lot less constricted. So far high ground is a lot less high than CMFI.

Over the top, boys!
Rather than dividing my squads like I tend to in CMBN and CMFI for more tactical flexibility, I've been keeping the Russians together and using the Assault command more. That's probably a lot more historical and is certainly more conducive to playing real time.

The front tank is dead, courtesy of a German infantry squad with AT weapons.

My forces pretty much swept the Germans from the hill, which doesn't surprise me in a tutorial campaign. I guess I've been playing too much modern era stuff though, since it seemed like a good idea to send my platoon of T-34s around the flank of the hill without infantry support. Turns out that those German panzerfausts work really well.

A nice spot for a picnic

You probably won't notice it in the heat of battle, but even the trees have different bark textures on them. I don't remember that from earlier games, though I admit I never really looked.

My early professional training was in biology and forestry. I'm waiting for the day when these games get textures so good I can identify tree species as I lay down suppressing fire.


Uniforms are nicely done in this release. German units have more "rag-tagging" than has been typical for the stock game. Landsers sport a mix of camo smocks with more traditional field grey uniform parts, along with some camouflage helmet covers. There's not as much variability in the Soviet uniforms but they seem to be packing a lot of detailed gear.

I also really like the yellow highlighting of casualties in the unit control panel, overprinted with the word "CASUALTY" in bright red. It makes it a lot easier to quickly see losses.


Not a surprising victory in a tutorial campaign. I have to say that this was probably the most enjoyable tutorial mission I've ever played.

I think if you like Combat Mission you'll really enjoy Red Thunder. It's evolutionary rather than revolutionary, but that's what we want in a game system we love, right? Red Thunder seems so far to be another solid improvement by Battlefront to a great WW2 tactical wargame system.