Games Reviews

Review: Command LIVE: The King of the Border

The Command Live series of DLC for Command: Modern Air/Naval Operations (CMANO) is a great idea. CMANO provides a sandbox that allows pretty much any air/naval conflict from the 1950s to the near future to be created in great detail. Coupling CMANO with a keen reading of modern diplomatic and military news could allow really interesting explorations of potential conflicts in hotspots around the world, and some of the series have been fun scenarios to play.

The latest Command Live episode focusses on conflict between Venezuela and Colombia with participation from the USA and Russia. Given that the problems in Venezuela are on the news every night at the moment this is potentially an interesting area to explore. The ‘News report’ that has been produced for the game is well written, informative and interesting and certainly got me excited.

It’s possible to play the game as either the USA or Russia, and the computer plays their respective allies Colombia or Venezuela. The scenario description is well written and suggests that tensions are increasing in the area and that conflict is likely. However the side briefings are much less clear. They appear to have been written by someone whose first language isn’t English and haven’t been proof read. The first thing that grated a bit was being told that the behaviour of the Colombian army intervened(sic) “with the iron pungus”. What the hell is an iron pungus? The rest of the USA briefing was brief(!) but gave a list of available forces. The shock came at the end when the mission was described:

  • Support Colombia, defending facilities and air force – fair enough
  • Destroy the 2 Tu-160 Blackjack nuclear bombers – whoa, are you sure about that Mr. President!
  • Avoid losses from both sides as much as possible – very humanitarian
  • Eliminate any Russian naval forces and the Venezuelan air force – come again?

When you start the game and Russian contacts show up as red it’s pretty obvious the war has already started – shouldn’t somebody have told us about that? The other weird thing is that every ship (on both sides), even the carriers, have their radars switched on and so finding them isn’t a huge problem. This turns the naval battle against the AI into a bit of a one-side affair as the first thing any competent human player is going to do is to turn off the ships’ radars and get some AEW planes up. The problem for the human side is then just delivering the weapons in a way that gets through the AA defences of the opponent’s ships – we know where they are, but they can’t see us.

King Border 1

If you ignore the unlikely political and military premise of the game and pretend that the opposition has some really incompetent admirals then there is some fun to be had. There’s a lot of hardware on both sides, both planes and weapons, and a good variety of naval and land targets to use them against.

As the USA player, taking out the Russian ships shouldn’t represent too much of a challenge as you can easily find them and they aren’t too well defended. After the naval threat is dealt with the USA can focus on taking out the Venezuelan air force and defending Arauca and Cucuta. The USA even has some ground troops and artillery, providing a nice mini-game within the game. The toughest nut the USA will have to crack is the airport on Orchila which is very well defended.

USSRONALDREAGAN

The Russians aren’t so well endowed with naval aviation, but they have around 150 anti-ship missiles, so killing the American ships is definitely possible but perhaps more of a challenge than the USA faces. Defeating the Colombian air force on the other hand should be easier for the Russians as they have land bases close to the conflict zone. The Russians have no troops in the land battle, but do have some SU-25s that can help out the Venezuelans (although the choice of weapons available is a bit restricted).

It’s clear that a fair amount of work has been put into creating the scenario, but it really needed some more time spent in polishing it. I feel that the Command Live series has lost its way a bit with the last two releases (Kuril Sunrise and this). I do appreciate the effort involved in creating and playtesting scenarios and that the costs of these are small, but we are being asked to pay for them. There are many scenarios available now for free that are more believable and better put together.

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