A hybrid of turn based and real time strategy, players plotted the movement of squads of infantry and individual vehicles in battles ranging from small scale skirmishes all the way up to sprawling city-wide battles. Combat Mission: Black Sea (here on referred to as CM:BS) was recently released on Steam and offers the player a chance to fight notional battles between the US and the Russians, as well as having the option to throw some other forces into the mix.
CM:BS sees the player command a force ranging from a single platoon all the way up to a battalion and comprising any mixture of force appropriate troops, vehicles and support elements such as planes and helicopter gunships.
Orders are plotted simultaneously with your opponent and then executed with units moving and firing according to their orders. Units AI is pretty good and there’s a wide array of orders and postures you can grant to units so that they will react to enemy contact. The game has a robust “fog of war” so enemy units that are obscured do not show up on your map; you’ll need to make careful use of your scouting elements or be prepared to see exposed units take heavy fire from an unseen enemy!
There are options to run the game as a real time strategy but given the wide number of factors you’ll need to use to run the game and give intelligent orders to your units, this is probably only for the truly elite or those commanding just a handful of units.
CM:BS leans hard into its realism. Units are tracked for individual weapons, factors like what kind of ammo or special equipment they are carrying and vehicles are rated for various factors such as the damage to individual components. Hits to vehicles can have a dizzying array of status effects, with the tell tale “penetration” signal telling you that another of your tanks has just been reduced to a burning hulk!
Command and control is also really important, with units requiring contact with command elements in order to get their orders and react to any change in orders. Of course, this being a modern battlefield, most units will have radios to keep in touch but its vital to keep your units grouped by formation and give the HQ element the ability to see the other units.
There’s a huge number of move and firing orders you can give, allowing you to tailor the move of any unit to suit. Units can be orders to go quickly and cut the distance, risking enemy fire or they can be ordered to move slowly and cautiously. They can also be ordered to hunt and take a slow and patient approach: soldiers will now crouch low as they move, weapons at the ready.
Units will automatically (unless ordered otherwise) fire at new enemies they can see. You can order units to concentrate fire on a particular target or just batter an area with suppressing fire. This also applies to calling for off-map artillery support and you can get very granular with your fire support missions, calling for delayed attacks and tailor the level of fire or the type of rounds used!
Graphically, CM:BS is a solid 3D simulation. Vehicles are nicely modelled and anyone with a good understanding of modern warfare will recognize the vehicles and weapons involved. Maps are fully 3D, though at times the map controls can be a bit tricky and you can overshoot the map.
A nice feature is that at the end of each turn, you can replay the turn as many times as you want and see the action unfold. You can even “lock” the camera to an individual unit and watch the battle from their point of view which is a fun little toy to play with.
The sound effects are also nicely modelled, with gunfire and explosions all sounding suitably realistic. The unit chatter is a bit stilted but is perfectly fine and you’ll not get the canned “yes sir” response every time you click on a unit, which is a plus.
Granular is, in fact, a key word to the game CM:BS. Individual troops can be seen moving within infantry units and their weapons are tracked and individual casualties collapse to the ground when the unit is fired upon. The devs have also modelled the difference between every single type of weapon on the battlefield, ranging from the humble 5.56mm fired from an M4 all the way up to a 105mm smoothbore on a main battle tank.
It has to be said that CM:BS does little to hold the hand of a new player. There is no in game tutorial, though there is a full manual and lots of good videos on YouTube that will help get you up to speed. Still, if you’re a new player then the clunky UI and huge array of options can be bewildering to a new player. CM:BS is not for the faint-hearted.
This goes further as the modern battlefield is a deadly place. Whilst that may seem like a rather obvious statement, it means there is very little room for error. Even your average infantry squad can batter a large formation with multiple automatic weapons and most tanks can fire from a huge distance and score a kill. Radar and laser detection make the need for careful manoeuvre and good use of cover even more important than ever, making the game even more unforgiving to a player, even on the lower difficulty levels.
There are a lot of scenarios included, ranging from a simple patrol involving a platoon of soldiers on one side all the way up to massive meeting engagements and city fights. The game be quite demanding on your computer and I experienced a few slow downs and one crash, though the game was generally quite stable.
The game also ships with an option to create a quick battle with a set of parameters and will allow you to handpick your own units, though this is again rather complex and there is no tutorial for this either. There is also a scenario editor which you could use to develop a map to fight over and the troops to contest it.
The game does contain a basic campaign mode, which includes a training campaign to help a new player get the hang of the game, though its limited in its utility. The campaign is fine but you never get a real feel for affecting the outcome nor any real attachment to your units, though that appears to be a feature rather than a bug.
CM:BS is a very well modelled and built game. The basic construction set it comes with is highly detailed and for its niche fans, it will be like cat nip, offering a modern and realistic battlefield. However, for new players or for players unfamiliar with modern warfare, the game is very intimidating and rather than holding a player’s hand, it’ll fire a 7.62mm right at it! All in all, CM:BS will be just what some players will be looking for but be far too steep a surface to climb for the large majority of players.