Shock Force: In the Heat of the Battle

Friday, September 21, 2007

Combat Missions: Shock Force is much more of a military simulation than an actual game, though it can be fun if you love hard-core strategy titles and have a lot of time to invest in learning the intricacies of command.

The game features a not-so-far-fetched plot involving the Syrian government sponsoring various terrorist activities and ending up on the wrong side of a U.S. invasion.

You control either the U.S. Stryker Brigade and Heavy Brigade combat teams or the Syrian Army's mechanized and armored units. U.S. commanders can expect to encounter suicide bombers, improvised explosive devices, spies disguised as civilians and all manner of deadly terrorists. As the Syrians, you can deploy those types of forces.

Playing on the U.S. side, I thought I would be in for an easy ride. How hard can it be, I thought, using frontline U.S. equipment against Syria? I quickly found out. Although the Syrian army can't conceivably win an overall war against the United States, the Syrians are well trained, well equipped and familiar with the terrain -- and highly motivated to boot, which means they can inflict a lot of casualties and even win battles. Mess up and they'll eat your lunch, though the United States' ability to call in ground artillery and airstrikes provides a big advantage.

It's a lot more challenging playing as the Syrians, having to lure U.S. forces into ambushes or find ways to gain local superiority. You can be successful with less than perfect equipment if you employ good strategy.

The graphics are sub-par compared with most modern war games, but the emphasis is on realism, not eye candy. All of the weapons, vehicles and equipment are touted as accurate, as are the battlefield tactics used by both sides.

Players can give their forces orders in the first phase of a turn. That is followed by about a minute of real-time movement and firing in which both sides engage each other as best they can while you sit back and watch the action. Then you can give new orders. It simulates the fact that in real life commanders can't micromanage large forces. They give orders and then have to live with them until the tactical situation can be digested and new orders issued.

The interface is rather convoluted and difficult to understand. So the hours of study needed to successfully play the game are worth it for only hard-core strategy gamers. Combat Missions is probably too complex for almost anyone else to enjoy.

-- John Breeden II

Combat Missions: Shock Force Teen; PC Windows XP/Vista ($45) Paradox Interactive

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