What do get when you combine a bit of TacOps, Armored Task Force, Close Combat, Point of Attack 2, Combat Mission and Conquest of the Aegean?
Armored Brigade is a free tactical real-time war game featuring Cold War-era armies that fight in randomly-generated, non-hexed maps.
This one-man show did not fall prey to over-ambitious goals as other indie projects did (Combat Mission Campaigns anyone?). This project strikes me as the labor of a very talented fellow who knows both what he wants and what he can do. Kudos.
The scope of the game is similar to the one in TacOPs and the continuous time approach reminds me to the one in Armored Task Force, Close Combat and Conquest of the Aegean. Feature-wise, the maps are simplified but very functional, at a mid-road between the simplistic ones in TacOPs and the exquisite topographic maps in Armored Task Force. When zoomed out, the maps look like real military topographic maps, similar to the ones in Steel Beasts or Armored Task Force. While zoomed in, you can see the individual vehicles and soldiers.
There are no canned scenarios in Armored Brigade. All scenarios are generated at random after the player sets a series of parameters (do you remember when Combat Mission had random battles that actually worked?). You can choose the side you fight for, the type of battle (defensive, offensive, meeting engagement and more) the size of the map, the type of terrain, the amount of hills and vegetation and the type of force at your command. Once the scenario is generated, you are allowed to deploy your troops for the upcoming battle. Also, you better watch for those randomly generated objectives, because the OPFOR will go for them!
Since all maps and objectives are generated at random, the war game has a non-scripted AI in command of the computer forces. Besides being non-scripted, the AI features some impressive traits like flanking and tasking groups of units with main and supporting efforts. It is only recently that I gave up looking for good non-scripted tactical AIs in war games and settled for AIs that actually make sense. I'm happy to report that the AI in Armored Brigade always sends its scouts up front and that when it tries to take an objective, it will use the right tools for the job. I was really impressed when I saw the AI set up a nice defensive position around a bridge. This suggests that the AI in Armored Brigade has some map-reasoning smarts, at least enough to figure out that the best way to set up a defense along a 10 km-long river was deploying at the choke point provided by the bridge. The AI reminds me a lot to the one in Point of Attack 2, which computes possible avenues of approach and is quite good by the way.
When the virtual bullets start flying, Armored Brigade has nothing to envy from other big-league war games. The player right clicks its units and plots waypoints and defensive positions which can be linked to a series of SOPs. Lines of fire show who is shooting who and a message window will keep you posted on what's going on. For the data worshipers among you, the nuts and bolts of the engine are many and you can get a peek of them by clicking on a button that will run down all the technical data of the unit you have chosen. Armored Brigade may be not COSIMAC, but is no Close Combat either.
I was overjoyed when I saw that the game features orders delay (i.e. your troops will execute you commands after a certain period of time) and that you can choose between covered, fastest and shortest routes for your troops. These two features are present in one of my favorite war games of all times, Conquest of the Aegean. Other thing that pleasently surprised me is that if a unit with morale problems sees a neighbor unit being killed it will run away. Last time I've seen something like this was in Rome Total War.
Depending the settings you chose, you can usually fight a lean battle in a half-hour session. The game clock can be accelerated to avoid de boredom of movements to contact. Also, there is windowed mode so you can minimize the game in a hurry when the boss or a coworker are coming to your cubicle (I play this thing during lunch breaks!).
I have the impression that nowadays, so-called professional war game developers apparently do not play other than their war games. Maybe they should take a big cup of humble and learn a bit from the developer of Armored Brigade.
Grab this one before some game publisher does!