Sunday, September 29, 2013

Flashpoint Campaigns Red Storm - Preview

Flahspoint Campaigns Red Storm is slated for release on October 8th. This sequel to Flashpoint Germany will put players in command of tactical combat during an hypothetical World War III, at any time between 1979 and 1989.
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All images and commentary in this preview are based in a beta/preview build. The contents, artwork and game mechanics in this build are subject to change.

While comparing to the previous Flashpoint, one gets the impression that there is no stone left unturned for making the new Red Storm. The core of the sequel’s gameplay still remains lined up with the predecessor: a cleverly designed war game experience where command and control play a central role.

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The first thing to notice is that the maps are now based in hexes and not tiles. Each hex is 500 meters wide and represents different types of terrain, cover and mobility. Besides solving some pathing issues for the AI, the new map system has been re-built from scratch to allow for easy map creation, editing and moding by the users. The average map is 20 x 15 km and, contrasting with the meager 4 in the previous game, now we will have twenty or more of these maps already made. The maps are functional and look good for war gaming. The map artwork of the previous edition is gone, which is a good tradeoff for the new functionality and edition capabilities. Perception of height and lines of sight within the map may be a bit hard for the beginner, but with the use of the line of sight tool, the new player gets it after a few turns.

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The minimum unit that can be represented by the engine are individual vehicles and infantry squads, but the most typical unit is the platoon. Two new additions are the possibility of combined units composed of different weapon systems and dismounted infantry. The dismounted infantry is maybe one of the most requested additions to the game, but given the high pace of mechanized combat and the difficulties of command and control, dismounted infantry is quickly lessened to static roles like pickets, observation posts and defensive positions. I was pleasantly surprised with the new and revamped abilities of the scout units to see and remain unseen. In one scenario, despite the chaos elsewhere, my 2 scout Humvees stood hidden some 2.5 km from a whole Soviet tank regiment and I could watch for hours the armor consolidating into a defensive position.

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The player can command NATO (United States, United Kingdom or West Germany) or Warsaw Pact forces. In order to keep a good battlefield effectiveness, the player will have to maintain his maneuver and support units within the command radius of the headquarters units. A game feature that I found very useful is the dynamic order of battle which allows to subordinate a whole unit to another on the fly, with just a drag and drop mechanic.

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Time is represented in turns, which are resolved simultaneously for both players (WEGO). Turns length (i.e. the span of simulated combat time they represent) depend on the average effectiveness of the whole force, with increased turn lengths for forces suffering a drop in their effectiveness. For example, I’ve seen my force’s effectiveness drop due to numerous battlefield malaises (excessive ammunition expenditure, fatigue or too much distance to a headquarters unit) and get my turn length increased from 20 to a command-wrecking 43 minutes. The mind-blowing thing about this? The other side (Soviets in this case), thanks to their undisputed numerical superiority, suffered less effectiveness degradation and had almost no increase in their turn length. This is called asynchronous, variable length turns: I was able to give orders every 43 minutes of simulated combat time, the Soviets were able to give orders every 25 minutes. John Boyd’s observation, orientation, decision and action (OODA) cycle comes immediately to mind. Are you ready for maneuver warfare?

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Flashpoint Campaigns can be played against a human opponent (PBEM, hotseat and LAN) or against the computer opponent. The AI for the computer opponent has been reworked and it is quite evident from gameplay. At least while commanding the Soviets, the AI would send its recon forces ahead of the main effort, no matter the initial deployment of the whole force (in the previous game, it used to send the closest unit to the FEBA). I have also observed the AI to re-evaluate its approach towards an objective and sending an armor-heavy detachment in a wide flanking maneuver. The AI will not offer an opponent of the quality of a human but it is surprisingly competent and above all things, believable. Combined with an easy to use scenario editor and plenty of maps, there are thousands of hours of game time for the solo player.

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Last but not least, the game includes two campaigns in which the player command his forces along a series of chained scenarios. The outcome of each of these battles determines the course of the campaign. There is no additional layer above the grand/tactical battles played in the campaign. The preview beta had two campaigns included, which I ungenerously saved for my own enjoyment just after writing this preview.

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In closing, this one of the most innovative war game designs in recent times. The fidelity of tactical combat, the flexibility and easiness of access to the capabilities of the game engine alone are worth the price of admission. The turn resolution mechanics, so original and meaningful for a wholesome command & control experience, will definitively be noticed by hobbyist wargamers and war simulation professionals alike.


RangerX3X said...

The last update I had seen on pricing was “somewhere between "War Between the States" and "Harpoon Ultimate Edition-ish"”. Hopefully they won’t be overblown with this one as I really enjoyed the first game. The change from tile to hex is a huge change for the series and I hope it comes off well executed so that the scenarios are truly re-playable. This one will definitely be on my Christmas list.

JC said...

Hi Ranger,
Shouldn't you be resting a bit? :)

The maps are bigger and the computer opponent is totally non-scripted. Lots of replayability is likely!

Get well, man.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like a very interesting game. However, they should really make some tweaks to the graphics. I mean seriously, how much effort would that take? The rivers look horrendous.

Anonymous said...

Rivers, actually a lot of work. The map art was done and redone about four times in order for our auto-map value program to be able to generate the data for a given map. With 5000 or so data points per map and around 30 maps an automated means was needed. A number of folks in the matrix forum and in beta did not like the look. Those that played didn't even care about the rivers once they got going and most reversed there stance on the color. Now if you really don't like it or any other feature on the map you can load it up in a paint program and edit it.

Very nice review. Thanks!

Jim Snyder

Chris said...

Looks really good. Can't wait to purchase.

Anonymous said...

Game is great but yes, for me his main weak point is graphics... map graphics are very poor... but allways are modders.

Price... well, Matrix is losing north to fast and even a price between 39-63 euros... remember that the price doesnt include taxes and i think that here all have taxes at least at 20% and we talk about download with no printed manual, lets see 50 euros + 10 euros in taxes for a dowload.

Anonymous said...

That map looks like it is tile-based, or could as well have been. Wonder why they did not just use a hex tile-map editor (an existing one or a simple in-house, or just adapt a vector drawing application to do the job) rather than writing an application to extract terrain info from the map. The latter sounds like more work and obviously has some bad side-effects like making it difficult to repaint the rivers.

Anonymous said...

Well - taxes are a governments fault - not matrix. The price is the price - for me, given the amount of effort something like this takes and the risks with time and effort these guys put in to get this stuff to us its small change.

Anonymous said...

Graphics look horrendous, and maps are downright ugly and cluttered.

Remember, graphics add immersion to games.

JC said...

Thanks for your comments, gents.

Jim, the countdown has already started! Good luck!

Anonymous said...

I am wondering: do you have to give orders to every unit, i. e. counter on the map, or is the HQ AI capable of processing orders for subunits similar to Command Ops?

JC said...


You have to give orders to every single unit. But, in an interesting twist, the player who plans beforehand and gives less and more general orders has the upper hand. More on this sometime this week.


Anonymous said...

So by the sound of it, the game is a combination of Combat Mission Shock Force and John Tiller Modern Campaigns in terms of scale and game mechanics.

I read in the Matrix forums that it will be released tomorrow and I think I'll by it right away. The historical period and variable asynchronous WeGo play style sounds very promising to me.
Although I have to agree that the graphics look a bit strange - why not use NATO symbols consistently for the counters instead of this weird mix of silhouettes and NATO symbols.

Dimitris said...

My credit card is screaming to me for this: "BUY! BUUUUUUUUUUYYYYYYYYY!!!"

Knock it out of the park today guys. We're with you!

Anonymous said...

It's ready for download.

Doug Miller said...

Bought, downloaded, and tutorial played tonight. This game is a ton of FUN. Very enjoyable and plays very smoothly. Now that I'm playing I've found that I really like the map art work, which I wasn't entirely sure about from screenshots.

Definitely a winner!

Olav said...

JC, PBEM dude... come on now, you know you want some.. I gots the game!

Jerry said...

JC, check out this map mod that someone is already working on for FPC:RS

bobk said...

Well it`s great that someone is making something other than the 10 billionth WW2 game. That being said, where`s the demo?
The tiniest quirk could make a game unplayable for me, I have piles of poor choices to prove that statement true.
I guess my motto is, no demo, no sale...