Flashpoint Campaigns : Red Storm [Review]

Flashpoint Campaigns : Red Storm Review

was developed by On Target Simulations and released by Slitherine Ltd in 2013.

You take on the role of an all seeing Commander for either the NATO forces, or the incoming Warsaw Pact forces. As the game lays it out, the Warsaw Pact has struck while NATO was woefully unprepared. In fact it looked like the Cold War was coming to an end. Game wise it sets the tone for NATO to be the defender, and also scrambling to hold the border.

Flashpoint Campaigns has one very unique mechanic that elevates this game beyond just another hex and NATO counter game. Orders.

2016-01-23_1331 Without this mechanic the game would be pretty bland. In fact a lot of the issues with the game, that I’ll get into later, are overshadow by the cool way that orders are handled. First off, you are usually working in a zone where there is a high level of jamming or radioactive interference. You might have to send runners (simulated by the time) or even have units out of command range do nothing.

You might be an all seeing eye in the sky, but you are not an omnipotent general who can steer units exactly where you want. You can try. And your units will do their damnedest, but if they’re caught in the open, or ambushed in a city, they’ll attempt to deal with the situation as best they can.

The way it starts is you issue orders ranging from Hasty Moves to Assaults along with a bunch of other order types. You can do three waypoints, and then tell the unit to dig in, or screen a certain range from the hostiles. Once you’ve given all your units orders you hit Start. And then the fun begins.

One by one your units move ahead just as the clock ticks down. You’ll likely end up with a traffic jam somewhere, while other units wildly leapfrog ahead. You can see where I’m going here right? All at once it’s exhilarating, exciting, and agonizing. Nothing worse than watching a single unit drive off only to stumble into a huge line of T-80’s.

Whoops.

The game is fast paced. Most scenarios put you in contact with the Soviets on turn one. My biggest issue is overstepping my bounds, I see that perfect terrain, send off my units, and we get caught halfway. NATO forces are rewarded by caution and placement. My recklessness almost always results in my first wave getting curbstomped.

Now when you finally get that placement right you’ll get the satisfaction of watching T-80’s pile up like an old junkyard. You’ll come to love the sound of a dying T-80. And, at the same moment, cringe when you see a puff of flame on top of your Abrams tanks.

I recently played a scenario called Rhino. In this one you have British forces, not the usual American Abrams. So we see come Challenger tanks and a slightly different flavor of Bradley’s. We’re to hold the city of Melle from the incoming Warsaw Pact forces. 2016-01-23_1332

Sounds easy enough right? Except the Soviets have total air superiority along with perfect jamming. Not to mention half of my units are an hour away. Bummer.

The blue spaces are where I can manually drag my units. After that I give orders and send them off into the wild.

A word on the interface. It’s kind of, well, clunky. There’s no other way to put it. The zoom isn’t terribly smooth, nor is the menu structure laid out that well. It feels like a UI designed by a Visual Basic programmer, not by a UI designer. Things that feel like you should be able to right click, instead you have to hover and wait. This is particularly painful on big maps with high unit counts.

And that’s my other big issue. The game can be big. Like divisions worth of armor. And you, the poor commander, have to tell every single platoon exactly what to do. This kind of ruins the immersion on big maps. I’d rather give an order at the Company level and watch the AI take the units into battle. Otherwise it’s just too much to handle. If you had omnipotent control it might work differently, but realizing that you missing two platoons orders because they halted the previous orders is frustrating.2016-01-23_1348

I stick to the small and medium sized maps. As you can see to the right, all of the lines of orders are sending my units into town. I’ve got one small contingent of recon heading to the Northeast. Now I’ve yet to see the AI try and do a really far off flanking maneuver. But I could see a human player really getting tricky.

2016-01-23_1350Oh, and the HIND-D helicopters… flying demons. My AA lobbed SAM after SAM with only a single HIND kill. From what I can see there isn’t any MANPAD’s either. My AFV’s send rounds out, but those HINDs just chew us up. And then my first wave that was raging into town is stopped by a brickwall of helicopters.

Eventually we drive back those HINDs but not without some heavy losses. But worst of all my original goal for defensive positions are now firmly in the hands of the hands of the Soviets. So I’m scrambling, with a less aggressive plan, and barely making headway.

This part of the game feels pretty good. It’s exciting and interesting to see the counters to what could have been a boring defensive battle. Now I’m trying to maneuver and barely hold territory while praying for my reinforcements.

And they do show up, at fairly regular intervals. A table shows exactly when. The scenarios play out pretty great on the first try. Even if you lose. But on the second try you’ve got an idea of how to maneuver without getting stomped out of the gate.

This is where the AI falls apart. It’s inventive and interesting, but not enough to shock you. On this map the Soviets could have gone way south and hit me on my soft underbelly or plowed in to the North. There’s no wicked feints. Each time plays a bit different, but usually because you’ve learned how not to fail from last time. Many of the scenarios feel rushed where a slightly slower pace could offer some nuance.

Eventually we run into that Soviet armor. My units are trying to get into position, we might not have enough time to really dig in. 2016-01-23_1404

As the scenario moves on I hit that wall of Soviet armor. It’s now a game of catch up while I throw my reinforcements into barely hold-able positions. By the end of the game there’s wrecks scattered near all the bridgeheads and I managed to end it with a hair above a draw.

There wasn’t any nuclear weapons available in this scenario but in some scenarios they are available. Though if used you suffer victory point penalties.

By having that almost immediate contact the game allows you to realize immediate mistakes. If it waited five turns you might be set up totally wrong and have zero chance of recovering. This could be altered by extending the recon sweep, or allowing some forward units, but I think it works well as it is.

But is it a game, or a puzzle? Will one particular strategy and positioning always win a battle? Unity of Command, a WW2 themed strategy game, is a puzzle. Once you determine the proper layout, the round is done. No need for a second chance.

Flashpoint Campaigns is not a puzzle, but a poorly designed scenario could very well walk into that situation. Already by learning a scenario after a few plays it loses some of it luster. The game might try to make up for that with a high unit count in some scenarios, but in others there are only so many ways the forces can come in. It’s enjoyable to swap and play the Soviets for a game, now you can try some of those crazy tactics against the AI.

One thing people argue about this game is price. Matrix Games has a pretty terrible reputation for overpriced games. Overpriced games that might lack polish and finish, but games that fill a very unique niche. All of that is an argument for a different post.

Right now it goes for $49.99, but regularly drops down in price to $29.99. The lower price I feel is pretty fair for what we’ve got here.

So what about multiplayer? How many people are out there that play? All of these charts come from Steambdb.info.

From Steamdb.info

From Steamdb.info

About half a dozen people playing at any one time with a big spike when Germany Reforged came out.

2016-01-23_1602_001

And this is the interesting one. Right now there are 3.438 people who own the game. Average players in the last two weeks is 373 people. That’s a pretty respectable number really for a niche game. If you’re looking to find an opponent you can check Matrix Games forums or Grogheads.

Flashpoint Campaigns : Red Storm is a solid game with a few issues. If you’re into a game with hexes, overall command, and some unique control styles give it a try. But like Command Ops, it’s not perfect, and will alienate some players who aren’t used to the genre (and price). Pick it up on a Steam Sale, or the Matrix Holiday sale, for $30 and you’ll definitely get your moneys worth.

7/10

 

Gamer, Author, Engineer, Dad.

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