Peter Robbins, 20 November 2022
In this article I am going to jump right into Southern Storm’s first scenario, and see how much I can accomplish just by having played the previous version of this game series, Flashpoint Campaigns: Red Storm.
I am in no way an “expert” in that previous edition, in fact I do quite horribly in it now and again, but I’d played it enough to have a solid idea of what may be improved in this new version. Oh, and I happen to think its one of the best modern WEGO-formatted grand tactical scale / operational wargames of its time. Red Storm won at least one wargame of the year award, and I think rightfully so. So I’m a tiny bit biased in reviewing Southern Storm, in the fact that the previous version is one of my favorite wargames of the last decade; even though I’m not particularly good at it! The game takes patience, and skill in understanding its depicted nuances of command and in particular, recon & intel.
The varying time scales amidst the WEGO planning system is utterly brilliant. Its one of the only game series I’ve played where I feel like command is appropriately fogged at varying (non-static) degrees based upon the current tactical situation. The only games that come close to it in this regards are Grand Tactician: American Civil War and Command Ops 2 (and those scratch very particular other itches as far as time period and the scope and scale involved).
The way that the Flashpoint Campaigns game series handle the flow of command, control, and timed execution of orders just feels like a naturally progressing grand tactical combat command simuation, with emphasis on command; and …
“My overall First Impression of Southern Storm is, Red Storm, only way better, and that means its pretty damn good.” (Another Gratuitous Self Quote for 2022, Peter Robbins)
If it ain’t broke, don’t futz with the formula. The developers seem to have just pulled it apart, put it back together again with the goal of providing a much more intuitive interface and better layout; and again, at face value of firing it up and just blasting through its first scenario, I think they have something special brewing in this newly revised addition to the family that is Flashpoint Campaigns.
Bravo. Let’s take it for a quick spin. We’ll follow this up with a full blown review after I get a solid 10 hours into gameplay with it or more.
For starters, the manual and its accompanying What’s New docs, are very nicely done. I normally would not include these in a quick first impression, but they were so nice, I felt compelled to.
click images to enlarge
The layout, level of detail, and overall clarity of the manual is astounding. A marked improvement over the previous version. And that version’s manual was good to start with. It is just that much more easy on the eyes now and better laid out and thorough.
Now let’s dive directly into the first mission.
Above, I’ve unchecked the most common settings that are recommended to turn off. In fact, the previous version’s quick start even recommended that. But I did like how they basically set it by default to easier mode; and then tell you how to Un-Easy mode it. The above sets the enemies to only be shown if fully spotted. And then once spotted, you should only get identifying information within identifying ranges. Using the LOS button near bottom left is a good idea to turn on and off often, to get a good idea of what the focused unit can see.
One of the first things to notice is a much-tidier and easier-on-the-eyes log in the bottom left of the above picture. This is a lot easier to read overall than the previous version of the game series.
Above, I just wanted to show you the overall visual upgrade to the whole map of the operational area. You get much more of a sense of looking down on an actual operational area map along with other HQ droogs looking over your shoulder. Just some nice subtle visual upgrades there.
The overlays are absolutely wonderful in this new version of the series. As you can see above, just really easy to read and interpret. The above is still during the deployment phase.
This shot is also still in the deployment phase, you’ll notice the large foggy coloring. That is this particular unit’s deployment zone. In the above I think I’ve also got the SOP button pushed to show the limitations of its operating weaponry (its “effective ranges”) based upon that units “Standard Operating Procedures” settings. That SOP is set by way of a small edit link at the bottom right of a given unit detail dialog (when you double-click the unit).
In the above shot, I’m showing what you see after double-clicking a unit. You get great details for its current state, its current orders, the subunits that compose the unit overall. A running log for the unit, all at the click of a button on its tabs. This is a lot easier on the eyes than the previous version. Just the overall UI coloring is just a lot easier on my older aging eyes in general – nice palette throughout.
Here, I’m showing the details you will see from mousing over a unit. You get the unit composition, and then if you hold it there slightly longer, you get the terrain information as well, which includes information about elevation, cover, concealment and mobility. Just an incredible amount of information available in an inuitive presentation.
In the above shot I’m just showing that I’m dragging each unit into a new position for deployment sake. Its nice and easy to get them out and forward as recon units for example. Also of note is the order of battle window middle right, and as you move units during redeployment; check that and double-click on the unit to check that its details do not denote it to be out of command. Its really easy to see all this, and the game highlights important notices in red throughout. Really intuitive game all around. Easy to get into, difficult to master.
In the above I’m just showing how time is phased. You do planning in a WEGO format, but then the execution time varies a bit depending upon your intel and how things are progressing. I’ll get more into these particulars in a full review of the game soon.
This screenshot is showing you that unit types are unknown until you are withing spotting ranges, and then their exact unit #’s etc are not know until you are even closer and successful at identifying them more fully.
In the above shot I’m just showing you again the level of detail of information in the unit double-click modal. Its just an outstanding amount of useful data.
In this one I’m sowing the level of detail now included in unit logged in the unit and subunit detail dialog box. This is a good bit more information than was provided in earlier versions of the game series.
As seen above, the Unit Log in particular is very useful to see how long it will normally take for your orders to be followed through with. Just easy to read, easy to understand in laymans terms, nicely done.
Extreme detail, with clarity, is how I describe all of the logging that is available. See above.
In the above screenshot I’m just showing how terribly I’m doing in this, my first full scenario with the game 😀. You know, par for course for me. I didn’t say I was good at the game, I just know how to show it off!
Above is an example of the running notices you get during scenario playthru – in this case reinforcements arriving.
Yay! Some air support arriving as well in this screenshot.
In the above I’m highlighting what it looks like when you use the [Paths] button near bottom of the interface. This is a great way to know when you shouldn’t mess around with a unit. In some cases, execution of your orders takes place over multiple phases of planning the operation. Dont mess around with the planning of a unit unless you have new intel to make it imperative to futz with them.
In this screenshot you can see the UPDATE map overlay. This is absolutely brilliant information and is really nice for anyone wanting to do a running after action report. This is updated each execution phase. Its pretty and its useful.
Above I’m yet again showing you how poorly I’m doing in this scenario.
In the above screenshot I’m showing how the SOP button overlay shows the effective range of the units weaponry ; this I believe is also adjusted for the “stance” you have chosen for the unit in general.
In the above, I’m just showing you that you will end up getting slightly varying execution length of orders, based upon the overall operational situation. More on the innards of that AI decision making as I delve further into the manual ahead of a full fledge review. We also plan to interview the development team as a fast follow-up with the full review.
In this screenshot, just showing my tank unit putting down some SABOT rounds on the enemy in front of it. To very little avail, as the Soviets are absolutely barreling down on me through the center of the operational area.
In the above, I’m showing the detailed overlays you will see as the execution of the phase unfolds.
And voila, the nearly end results of this terribly executed plan on the part of the NATO units under my command in this scenario.
Quick Summary and First Impressions
This is an absolutely fantastic addition to an already stellar series of wargames. Even though this is just a First Impression, I say, get it! If you have absolutely any inkling of love for grand tactical / operational level wargaming, this is a masterpiece of it. It keeps getting better with each rendition of the core engine involved. The developers quite literally took it apart and made every single piece much better than its previous iteration, and melded it all together into an easy to understand and use interface as a whole. Just extremely well done. It doesn’t just feel like a re-paint, its a full re-model.
YET, it does still feel like home. You still feel like you are playing the next game in the same series. Its just a good core game model, you wouldn’t want to rock the boat too much otherwise you’ll not keep everyone happy that liked everything that came before it.
I will get into more details on the changes in functionality involved in the overall game engine as I complete a full review in the coming weeks. I also intend to directly quiz the developers on what has changed under the hood.
To me, overall, this is Red Storm, fully and brilliantly re-skinned, but in a manner that also reorganizes all of the information you previously got in the series, while also adding some key logging elements that just heightens an already fantastic game engine.
BRAVO. GREAT GAME!
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