A review by Barnes

Another day, another 2nd World War RTS game? well, I thought that too, I seem to have been inundated recently with these titles, having done four in the last few months, In one way its good because it allows me to compare the few recent titles that we've received, in others it can get a little repetitive for me to keep saying the same things over and over again.

Well Combat Missions Anthology is a little different, firstly the history and technical details:

Combat Missions Anthology (hereafter referred to as CMA) is 3 games in one package, you have Combat Missions, Combat Missions 2 and, surprisingly.... Combat Missions 3

Now, the original CM was released in 2000 and I have to say it does play slightly differently than you would expect, originally developed as a computerised version of a boardgame (of which I forget the name) it is a turn-based game that does play very much like a boardgame, you give your orders, tell your units what to do (in very detailed manoeuvres) and then hit the go button, 60 seconds later when the turn has finished, you re-assess your positions and continue towards your objectives.

Graphically its what you'd expect from a 2000 release, not phenomenal but it plays at a pretty good speed and if you have anything above average in gaming power these days then you'll run it very smoothly.

The gameplay as I mentioned is turn based, it is either something that you love or will not enjoy, it doesn't allow you to make decisions on the fly, but your units will react when attacked so your not completely at the computers mercy. It takes some getting used to if you're used to standard RTS gaming, however the advantage to turn based gaming is that you can view your turn again and again to watch how the enemy is advancing and take your time in planning your next turn, your not restricted to a time limit on planning your turn.

Historical accuracy has been a big point in these games, the skirmish's are all real and take place on and in historically accurate environments, playing CM1 it is very easy to forget that its nearly 4 years old and if it wasn't for the basic (yet well constructed) graphics you wouldn't notice to look at the game!

AI suffer when compared to today's standard, when on defence the enemies are fairly strong but will not try anything too complex, on attack they really are poor, simply sending one vehicle or unit through at a time, its not hard to fight them off, there isn't a great challenge in beating them but its fun all the same! One very nice feature that I think should have been introduced into more RTS games since CM's release is the fear, panic and flee elements that appear in the game, troops will run away when faced with overwhelming opposition or simply stand their ground in the strangest of situations. its a nice touch of realism, I mean if you were standing alone holding a machine gun would you stand your ground against four advancing tanks?

CM2 continues where CM1 left off, this time continuing the second world war campaign, where as the first game was focused on the western front, the second concentrated on the eastern campaign, with over 600 units, there are representatives from every nation you could imagine, Russian, Finnish, polish, Romanian, German, the list is endless, as with the first game, historical accuracy was paramount so getting every detail right must have been a huge undertaking!

obviously the graphics are greatly improved over the first game, as you'd expect from a later release, this time there are a lot more units, a lot more vehicles and a greater amount of missions, the terrain has greatly improved, from open countryside, you now fight in cities, small towns, and vast arctic type winter expanses, commands and orders have been refined to reflect this, allowing you to move from building to building using cover, also you can give orders to advance until finding a contact to attack, then holding position, tanks will place themselves out of sight with just their turret visible for a line of sight, and my favourite is when troops hold a position in a street, waiting for advancing enemies to round the corner into a hail of bullets! It really captures the feel of urban warfare! overall the commands and gameplay is a dramatic improvement over the first title, battles are immense and now its a far better experience to watch the replays as the graphics are far improved and more of a spectacle to behold, its still a turn based game that is something that either you'll love or hate, but this time its far more polished and looks a much more professional finish.

It's very difficult when you receive an anthology like this because over the space of a games development, improvements are made which make the older game seem redundant, clunky, uncomfortable and generally not that good, its a shame that like many I feel that probably after playing CM2 (and equally CM3 but we'll get to that in a minute) I'd be very unlikely to return to the first title as it was so basic in comparison.

Imagine if you will, say... playing F1 2004 and then being asked to play Ayrton Senna's Super Monaco GP. Whilst its an extreme comparison, hopefully you'll understand what I'm trying to say?

With CM3 the campaign moves to africa for some huge open plain warfare, some of these battles are fantastic, there's not much cover for infantry so the tank battles are fantastic to watch during the turn replays!

CM2 was a great improvement over the first game, which is why its strange that CM3 was not a vast improvement, its more of an add on pack as oppose to an individual game, it has a few really good developments such as the addition of the sandstorm effect which is almost the "fog of war" in the desert, it really does make the replays fantastic to watch! Its a shame to see that little niggily problems that have affected the second title are still evident here, it comes from the fact that the engine used to power the game is still the same one from CM2, the old addage of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" is quite suitable here, well the problem is "it's slightly broke, why didn't you fix it?"

Following on from the engine glitches is the major problem i found with CM3, the AI. Its still as poor as in the first title, there's really been no development of this and its a shame that when releasing this package as a whole they havent bought out a fix or add in that increases the AI's skills, as a long time player of a seven year old RTS game called Total Annihilation i know that updates can be introduced that will boost AI to a far more aggressive and tactical level. This is a vital let down, the AI will still attack weakly and armoured vehicles will flee rather than face weaker opposition, also they'll drive across clear open ground rather than using cover to their advantage, weaknesses that should have been attended to.

The other fault I can pick with the third game is that all the missions are independent, there is no campaign or story mode as a whole to play through, it can leave you with a sense of under achievement as there is nothing to get attached to in the long run.

Overall the series shows a real development and its a great idea to package all of the games together, its a real value package that is well worth buying! with the way that games machines have developed even only having an average pc will run these games like a dream and really encourage you to play all of these like a trooper!

As i've said, if you go through the series in order you'll love it, if you happen to play the second or third one then going backwards will seem a chore as the quality and options available are limited.

Combat Missions Anthology is a great purchase, the games have an almost endless amount of gameplay with a really high level or replay value, well worth the price it costs if you love your RTS games.