OK, BLUF – Bottom Line Up Front. I’m not a World War II guy, primarily because I spent 24 years in the US Army which also had a very strong penchant for the color ‘olive drab’. Games covering the fight against the Axis really just remind me too much of my old job, particularly if staff operations are concerned. So, it goes without saying that Lock n’ Load (LNL) Publishing’s PC video game Command Operations 2 wouldn’t be my first choice of game to play.
Still, color me both surprised and damned impressed, the LNL crew have produced a game so realistic and detailed, yet so easy to actually play (even on low end machines), that it deserves a look even if you are not an enthusiast. No, it doesn’t specifically simulate the G-2 (Intelligence) dropping off a terrain analysis to the G-3 (Operations), but if you want to immerse yourself in all aspects of controlling combat forces on the ground true to life, this game is for you.
Seriously, if you have ever spent time in an M-577 Command Track, you’ll get this. Here’s why.
For Grogs Only
For starters, the base version of this game is free, and the download comes with three scenarios that include Return to St Vith, Manhay Crossroads and Greyhound Dash. In this respect LnL has taken the same approach as the World War I flight simulator Rise of Flight, where they charge for additional expansion modules. These run an average of about $30.00 US / £23 sterling and contain 12 or so new scenarios plus the maps and data to go with them. For example, one module is called Command Ops 2: West Wall and concerns the Allied assault against the German Siegfried Line with such battles as the Peel Marshes, Geilenkirchen, and the Stolberg Corridor.
Be advised, however, this is truly a game for Grogs, maybe even uber Grogs because of the subject matter. Grogs is short for the French word Grognards, which means grumblers, and a nickname applied to perhaps the most celebrated and devoted soldiers in history, Napoleon I’s Old Guard. In the gaming world it refers to gamers who absolutely love detail and will not sacrifice one iota of realism for the sake of easier gameplay. CO2 is definitely a Grog game as the most crucial aspect of play is planning operations in hyper detail, rather than executing them. While you can choose a large unit such as a division, draw a line from its HQ to the objective and then hit “run” to let the AI take over, that is not the way the game is supposed to be played.
There are no numeric values in the game that allow you to measure combat strength against an opponent, and the square grid does not regulate movement, so you can’t avoid traffic jams on the way to the LD (military speak for Line of Departure). Instead the player must examine status charts, then match their data against the Mission, Enemy, Terrain and Time (MET-T, also military – see where this game is going?) thus, triggering well-reasoned decisions to do the job. Except not just your job, but the rest of your staff’s jobs as well because you are them. Thus, you cannot assume resupply, or that your subordinate units will not misunderstand your orders, which BTW involves a default 30 minute delay from issuance to execution.
Fortunately, the game has cleverly managed to fuse all these responsibilities with simple gameplay, in part due to the St Vith scenario being the subject of a YouTube video that serves as the game tutorial. I only wish the designers had explained this a little better as I struggled trying to run a traditional tutorial with instructional dialog boxes. However, once I did figure it out, it worked marvellously, and was certainly better than plowing thru a user’s manual that is just plain YUGE! Instead one of the designers with a very pleasant accent walks you through the scenario per a 53 minute lecture, really a casual conversation with graphics. I must admit this allowed me to learn the proverbial ropes of CO2 a lot faster than with other games.
This game is very easy to play as regards typing and clicking mouse buttons, but very tough on brain power requirements. At the beginning, after you have chosen your scenario, a screen will pop up and allow you to set certain overall properties such as orders delay, historical weather or not, then the same for reinforcements and supply. I would recommend the defaults as they are the most realistic.
Doing so transports you to the game map which is quite attractive and designed similarly to standard 1:50 K military topographical maps, to include those dreaded contour lines. Units represent HQ, infantry and tank companies, combat trains, artillery batteries and other independent formations such as mortar platoons. The unit iconography here is best described as exceptionally functional. Coloring is grey for the Germans and (ugh) olive for the Americans, with NATO symbology as to type, size and designation with a small colored status block. Again, no numbers to indicate exact data. Zooming in will give you more information such as the exact position of the units within, say, a battalion, as well as facing. Even on a low end machine, doing this and other functions was smooth, effortless and very quick with a value mouse. For a guy who has suffered through the opposite, this is not an insignificant thumbs up.
Then you read your mission statement, evaluate the status of your combat units and begin the game’s most important process – planning. Get familiar with the plethora of buttons at the bottom of the screen and the dialog boxes they launch, then pick a battalion and its units by drawing a square around them. Using the mouse cursor, draw a line from the battalion’s current location to its initial objective, then using that as a way point, to its next objective and so on until it reaches its final objective. Then bring up the Task Dialog and select the button for the mission to be performed, whether it be Defend, Attack, Probe or something else.
At this point launch the Task Edit Dialog and choose specific parameters for your battalion, because if you don’t, the AI will determine what is most appropriate and execute accordingly. Be it known that when I moved out for St Vith, I forgot to do so with an infantry battalion and it decided on a Desert Storm flanking movement vice going straight ahead (not funny). Otherwise this dialog box, perhaps the most important of all included, will let you set strict limits and instructions as to what your battalion should do. You can set formation (Double Line, Echelon Right, etc), the type of route (Most Direct, Avoidance, etc), the start and completion times of the operation and the intensity of several factors such as ammunition expenditure, casualties taken, aggressiveness and so on. Artillery units are similar but include Fire and Bombard buttons for targeting purposes. The other dialogs are mostly informational but must be monitored to insure you know the current combat state of your forces, less you allow an infantry company woefully low on ammo to press forward vice resting and waiting for supply. Again, these are mostly colored bar scales and do not show precise numbers.
Now for the Schwerpunkt of all of this, after all units have been so modified. Hit the Run Button in the Controls Dialog and the software will automatically run, in real time (you can accelerate this), your plan as developed above. As such I found it particularly difficult to judge movement across different terrain by different unit types such as a leg infantry battalion, moving slower than expected and thus not on hand to support their armored infantry brothers. I didn’t have hexes and movement rates to guide me. Fortunately, the player can intervene by clicking on a unit down to constituent companies and change things on the fly using the same procedure above. However, while the PC stops the game for you to do this, you will have to contend with the delay of orders parameter you originally set up. Remember, the default is 30 minutes.
In conclusion, the St Vith tutorial is highly recommended for first play, as the opposing sides are close enough together so contact will be immediate with no long wait trucking down a highway. In this case, the US 4th Armored Division is likewise recommended as it is the subject formation on the YouTube video. Victory is determined by receiving points for capturing certain objectives by games end.
After Action Report
As I noted in the beginning, World War II gaming of this sort is not my favorite, but I still have to call Command Ops 2 an excellent game. It approaches a very detailed and complex subject with a system of play that is both easy to learn and smooth as silk to play. Mastering play is not easy, but that’s the hallmark of an exceptional product. Other games, of this subgenre, and others, take note.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to play the Greyhound Dash scenario, but as the Germans. They don’t wear olive so it’s all good.