I had some time to kill on an airplane yesterday, and I killed some of it playing Combat Mission: Touch. I wanted to share some of my first impressions of the game here. I've only tried the single-player thus far, multiplayer will have to wait until some of our fine readers get the game and inflict some humiliating defeats on me.
For those of you unfamiliar with Combat Mission, it's a series of games similar in nature to the classic Close Combat games. Players command forces ranging from small platoons up to a battalion, including infantry of various flavors (including rifle squads, machine gun squads, mortar teams, and forward observers who can call in artillery support), as well as tanks and wheeled vehicles. The game has a rhythm that may be unfamiliar to many players: orders are entered a turn at a time, and then both sides execute their orders simultaneously. Each turn runs for 60 seconds, and then the game pauses and you have an opportunity to change your units' orders.
At first glance the game is similar to its desktop cousin, Combat Mission: Battle for Normandy, but is somewhat simplified (or, if you want to put a positive spin on it, streamlined). The most obvious change - apart from somewhat reduced graphical flash - is the abstraction of command and control in the game. In the desktop versions of Combat Mission, you have command teams on the field who exert influence on nearby troops. Troops who are within the command radius of a commander are (slightly) braver and react faster. Squads that are "out of command" are a bit more fragile. I haven't seen a command team in Combat Mission: Touch, yet, so I presume they don't exist. The number of squads involved in any one battle seems overall somewhat smaller as well, but since one of my complaints about Combat Mission desktop is that my tiny simian brain is too easily overwhelmed by trying to manage 120 different squads, this isn't much of a drawback for me.
The core mechanics of giving orders work great, and in fact I prefer it to its desktop relative: touch a troop to bring up a menu with a few options (move, target, hunt for enemies, hit the dirt, and so on). Issue as many orders as you like, tap the "go!" button, and a minute of simulated
mayhem combat commences. The game comes with 7 scenarios - which for $4.99 is a pretty good deal, since it offers quite a bit of replayability - and more will be released soon for in-app purchase.
On the whole, I like it! If you like wargames, for the price of a big Starbucks coffee you're in the game. Everyone should buy it.
There are, however, a couple of things I don't like. None of them ruin the game, but they're worth calling out in the interests of fair play.
The touch integration is functional, but a bit...disconnected. While I don't want to hazard a guess about implementation, this definitely feels to me like a game that is operating under some translation layer rather than being written to native iOS standards. To give two examples: the "pinch" gestures to zoom in and out on the battlefield are the exact reverse from what I'd expect them to be; and the zooming lags behind the gesture noticeably, in a way that iOS apps typically don't. One hopes that this is something they will improve in future patches (and indeed, a 1.1 patch is apparently already on the way, which bodes well). I get the sense that a lot of PC developers that are dipping their toes into the iPad market are, perhaps understandably, hedging their bets and using some sort of intermediate SDK. All I can say to these guys is: you need to play some of the best native games. Play with them, and see how they feel. If your game doesn't feel as good, then ask yourself what you can do to make it better. It's not a problem at all (in my opinion) if developers make games using an intermediate SDK; but it is a problem if they do that and their customers notice.
The game also suffers from the same problem that every other Combat Mission game has: "Here's a list of scenarios. Pick one. Have a nice day!" For me, a little bit of narrative sugar goes a long, long way. To make the obvious comparison with Battle Academy, I've sort of always wanted the Combat Mission games to have some sort of simple campaign that introduces the various troops and operations to me a few at a time, adding in greater complexity and scale over time. Combat Mission Battle for Normandy doesn't have this, and neither does Combat Mission: Touch. So it goes.
The great strength of the game (its free-form camera that lets you zoom around the battlefield looking at anything from any perspective) is also a weakness: there's no real concept of a 'significant event' in the playback. So if I'm staring at a tank during the playback, but halfway across the field my infantry is massacred and destroyed, the only way I can find out about it is to notice that that unit is gone and run the playback again. If I could wave a magic wand and demand a feature - other than smoother panning and zooming - I'd want some sort of "cinematic camera" mode where the game shows me things that it thinks are important.
Combat Mission: Touch by Battlefront. $4.99 and available on the App Store. We live in glorious times.