GrogHeads Checks Out Combat Mission: Final Blitzkrieg
Back to the front! ~
Boggit, 13 August 2016
Combat Mission: Final Blitzkrieg is a tactical wargame set on the Western front during the latter part of World War Two. Final Blitzkrieg is mostly about the Ardennes Offensive in December 1944-January 1945, but the game also has scenarios covering the earlier fighting in and around Aachen and the Hürtgenwald.
The game provides the Americans as the Allied opponent, although I guess – from previous releases of Combat Mission games, we will later see a later module covering the Commonwealth forces. The Germans have the usual force types, SS, Heer and Luftwaffe – all the stuff you’d expect for the Ardennes offensive.
I’ve had a lot of fun with this game, although at first I thought I might be a bit disappointed as to any wow factor. I’ve played Combat Mission: Battle for Normandy extensively, so I couldn’t help thinking it was just going to be much the same but with snow. In most respects it is of course very similar – in that it uses the same game engine – although it’s nice to see that you can now have tank riders, which the Normandy game currently doesn’t allow – although maybe it should do, and perhaps is a matter for a future patch?
What pleased me is that Final Blitzkrieg does actually have a very different immersive feeling to the Normandy game. I think it is largely down to the winter/autumn graphics, which make the trees and foliage all look different, and also some of the sounds. If you’re playing a scenario with snow, you can hear a nice crunchy sound as your infantry trudge through the snow. There are also a number of uniform variations, which add to the wintry feel and period immersion.
As well as new graphics, there are a number of new formations, like the Volksgrenadiers, and German troops now seem to be equipped with more automatic weapons than they did in Normandy, which is historically correct. There is a noticeable increase in German troops armed with the StG 44 Assault rifle, which dramatically adds to German squad firepower – and to their ammunition usage. Fire fights with American infantry now seem much more intense with the increase in automatic weapons, especially in wooded or built up terrain where combat is up close.
A number of new vehicles to the Combat Mission series make their debut, like the M24 Chaffee light tank, the Sherman Jumbo, and the Sturmtiger armed with a 380mm mortar. This mortar impacts like an aerial bomb, but fortunately for the Americans is a slow re-loader and carries only ten rounds (which is just as well really!). Although Final Blitzkrieg shares much with Battle for Normandy, the new vehicles do help to distinguish it as more than a Normandy clone with snow.
For this article, I played a variety of scenarios to get a feel for the game, and I found them all a challenge and a lot of fun. And there is variety – from urban operations in Aachen, to night patrols, stumbling about the Hürtgenwald in infantry encounter battles, to tank actions at Dawn. Generally I found the scenarios I played a challenge, and all with some special quirk that made it memorable.
There are a couple of scenarios in particular that I’d like to illustrate to give a feel for the tactical situations. I found the Lanzerath Ridge scenario a nightmare to win as the Germans, even though the Americans have very few men defending. Tactics are absolutely key if you want to have any chance of winning that scenario as the Germans. I include a few shots from one of the early games I played with this scenario just to give the reader an idea of what they are up against. The terrain is an absolute pain for an infantry attack. Even after several attempts the best result I got was a minor victory…
I had more luck with the scenario Die Patrouille, which is a small night scenario I liked for its very atmospheric experience. I couldn’t help thinking it would be a nice future feature for Battlefront to add flares for night actions just to add that further dimension to night fighting. That said, I guess modelling troop behaviour for those caught moving when a flare lights up might involve a fair bit of programming, so whilst it’s a nice thought I’m not sure we’ll see it anytime soon.
Overall, I thought Final Blitzkrieg sufficiently distinctive from the Normandy game to be worth a look from anyone interested in the Combat Mission series of games. It’s a standalone game, so any new player can start playing Combat Mission with this game, especially if they are into the late war battles on the West Front. I wasn’t sure it was something I’d be too excited about because of the likely similarity with the Normandy game. Game engine wise, it is of course very similar but it does have a different ‘feel’ to the gameplay. After playing with it for a while, I grew to really like it and it is a ‘must have’ for my Combat Mission collection… but I openly admit to being a Combat Mission fanboy.