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Posted on Nov 15, 2013 in Electronic Games

Command: Modern Air-Naval Operations – PC Game Review

By Patrick Baker

command-modern-air-naval-operations-coverCommand: Modern Air/Naval Operations. PC Game Review.  Publisher: Matrix Games, Inc. Developer: Warfare Sims, LTD. Digital Download: $79.99. Boxed Edition plus download: $94.99.

Passed Inspection: High levels of realism, massive database, good AI, very high replay value.

Failed Basic: Steep learning curve (playing the tutorials is a must), graphics and sound are basic, no human-factors engineering.

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Command: Modern Air/Naval Operations (CMANO) is a sprawling and yet detailed tactical and operational level naval warfare simulation that is totally absorbing and compelling to play. Good games should engage the players’ minds without taxing them. CMANO does this by allowing players to manage (or micro-manage) as many or as few of the simulation’s elements as they wish.

Comparisons of CMANO to the venerable Harpoon series of games (especially the last: Harpoon 3) are inevitable, since they both cover the same areas. Also, according to the Warfare Sims, LTD website, the design team of CMANO had worked on third party content, like databases, battle sets, scenarios etc. for Harpoon. In short, the guys behind CMANO are Harpoon geeks that set out to build an Air and Naval combat simulation at least as good, if not better, than Harpoon 3—and they accomplished that.

The scope of the game is impressive: it literarily (or littoral-ly) covers the whole world, from the post–World War II era to the near future of the 2020s.  The massive, yet easy to use, database covers every ship, boat, plane, helicopter, sensor and weapons system in a more than 75-year time frame. The game (version 1.01) comes with 41 scenarios (including the 3 training scenarios) that range from a straight-up naval gunfight off of Korea in 1950 (Battle of Chumonchin Chan, 1950—North Korea vs. United Nations) to a hypothetical India versus China conflict in 2019 (The Tiger And The Dragon 2019—Indian and Chinese Navy in the South China Sea).  If that isn’t enough play value for you, then the scenario editor lets you accurately and quickly build any number of historical or hypothetical battles you want.  Want to play out a battle from Tom Clancy’s Red Storm Rising?  You can. Want to fight a future battle between China and America in the Pacific? You can do that, too. (Personally, I like scenarios that focus on smaller powers; so right now I’m building a battle between the Dutch and the Venezuelans over the island of Curacao in the Caribbean.)

The game plays in a standard Microsoft Windows user interface (UI). This makes playing the game very easy for experienced Windows users. There are at least two ways to perform any actions and almost everything is a “left-click, then select” or a “right-click” dropdown menu selection, and then close the window to execute the move. Generally, the UI is very clean with only a few things that could be improved.  First, a way to scroll the map by moving the mouse to the edge would be nice and would save a lot of clicking to move around the battle area. Also a strategic map would be good.  An alternate method of selecting units, instead of simple drag-select would be nice, since there are situations where I wanted to select two units that had an intervening unit I did not want to select.

The graphics of the game are Spartan. It uses standard NATO symbols for the units, and weapon hits are shown by a four-point star around the hit unit. Damage assessments are given in the message display.  The only way a player may find out he has destroyed an enemy unit is a message stating that unit is no longer detected. But that is all good, because likely players of this game are not looking for glorious explosions and a lot of flashy animation, but rather for intelligent and involving game play.  The sound is as basic and generic as it can be, and it doesn’t really provide any useful information.

One of CMANO’s most powerful, and to my mind, interesting features is the mission editor. In the mission editor, the player plans various missions for his units. In CMANO, as in real life, failing to plan is planning to fail. If you don’t get your anti-air patrols right, your surface fleets might soon fall prey to flights of vampires (incoming missiles). Smaller battles, involving just a few friendly units, are pretty easy to manage without having to build a lot of missions. However, when the scenario is larger, setting missions and letting the friendly AI manage them is a must. This is where the wonderful tutorials are vital, in three “training scenarios” the player learns how to manage air assets, surface combatants and submarines and how to build and set missions for each type of unit.  Of course, players do not have to use the mission editor—if they wish to control the movements and combat of every single unit they are welcome to do so. They also have the ability to intervene in a mission that has gone astray to get the units back on course.

The player must pay attention to his tactics. He will quickly learn that helicopters don’t survive long against fighters. Also, a ship charging into range of shore batteries is not such a good idea. Further, sending planes flying high on an anti-shipping strike mission is just a recipe for having them blotted out of the sky by anti-aircraft fire.

The friendly AI is more than competent; it follows orders well and has not done any fatally stupid things in games I have played. The enemy AI is also more than competent. It fights smart and, so far, I have not managed to lure it into a fire-sack with any tricks or ploys.

The physics of the game are highly realistic. Planes must shoot missiles from their front, which means they have to turn to fire at pursuers. Ships slow down when they maneuver, and it takes time for subs to dive or surface.   Unfortunately, the human factors are completely ignored. Take planes and pilots for example: there is no qualitative difference between one F-16 of the same version and another one of the same version. But there are certainly differences between a highly trained pilot of the Royal Netherlands Air Force and the pilots of the Bolivarian National Air Force of Venezuela, but those qualitative differences are not modeled.

Unlike Harpoon, CMANO includes a ground warfare element. Sadly, this part of the game is not as well thought-out as the rest.  For example, I played a scenario where a US Marine company was assaulting an Al-Qaeda base. After expending all their ammo in about 20 minutes of combat, they just sat there and did nothing. Instead of a ground-fighting element, better time would have been spent developing a set of campaigns and perhaps a multiplayer mode.

Warfare Sims, LTD and Matrix provide outstanding customer support and there is already an active community online. The game was just released on October 1, 2013 and already a 1.01 version is available for download and more fixes and corrections are on their way. The online community has also developed a number of scenarios that are available for download.

To sum up: Although the $79.99 dollar price tag might seem a bit much, this game is well worth every cent of it. If you have even a passing interest in the subject matter. then this game is for you. Command: Modern Air/Naval Operations is, without a doubt, a seriously fun, intense, involving simulation of modern naval combat with nearly infinite replay value. It is a more than worthy successor to Harpoon.

Armchair General Score: 95%

Patrick Baker is a former US Army Field Artillery officer, currently a Department of Defense employee. He has degrees in Education, History and Political Science.  He cut his war-gaming teeth on Squad Leader and Victory Games’ Fleet Series. He bought his first PC in 1990, a Wang PC-240, specifically to play SSI’s The Battles of Napoleon (much to the annoyance of his wife).  He has articles forthcoming in Medieval Warfare Magazine and Ancient Warfare Magazine.



  1. Sir, will I respect both your opinion and service to the U.S. I feel that I have to point out. That your extremely positive evaluation of this Sim. Leaves me a little baffled. After wonderful titles like “Harpoon”, ( which you do refer to ), and “Jane’s Fleet Command”. My observation is that this is a pretty pricey Sim, that only offers and upgraded equipment inventory. It does not offer the following – 1) A real world, 3d level of play. You may not find that necessary, but I found it very interesting and satisfying in “Fleet Command” and the superior Armor Sim and trainer, Steel Beasts. 2) Why is it not possible to change from NATO icons, to more easily recognizable icons. “Fleet Command” offered that feature, with no apparent problem.
    Thank you for your detailed review.
    Most sincerely,

  2. Unfortunately one can easily ‘sum-up’ the basic failure and downfall of CMANO. 1. The learning curve is ungodly to say the least. 2. The software was obviously consulted with and or directed by former hardcore military ‘brass-heads’ with little regard to developing a simulation that actually produces income and thus assuring Matrix revenue. CMANO should have been developed in two or three different versions (novice and expert) thus opening a much bigger market share. CMANO as it stands today generally appeals to less than about 1%-2% of the PC military simulation player market. What companies need to understand is that war simulation games have to be fun, entertaining and not agonizing. Eye candy like graphics need also to be present in a big way. Mr. Patrick Baker may be a military expert but surely Matrix cannot survive on just the “Bakers” of this world. Case in point: I just noticed at TARGET where ‘Dangerous Waters’ by Sonalysts games was on sale for $4.99. A simulation 2-disk game also hard to absorb and to play thus never making the cut or producing revenue. I am still today stewing over the almost 400 page Sonalysts full combat manual. But then again I am just a simple GAMER with no real military background like the many thousands of my kind. But we do have the cash to play!

  3. The Good, the Bad, and the Downright Ugly for Modern Naval Operations v1.05

    The Good

    1. Many of the game functions and commands are compatible and synchronized with Harpoon3. H3 veterans will easily grasp the basic game concepts and controls and be playing within an hour.
    2. A physics package makes most units observe the Laws of Physics. This means there are no more instantaneous turns, acceleration, dives, or missiles fired ‘over-the-shoulder’ at a pursuer.
    3. Sensor detection and weapons resolution reports are very detailed resolution through comprehensive messages that show the various modifiers and variables. Control over these messages is excellent so that they can be disabled if they turn out to be too much information.
    4. A Scenario Editor allows for scenario writing meaning that players are not limited to the 39 official scenarios included with the game.
    5. Third-party modifications to images, sounds, and icons are easy to add.
    6. Color-coded messages make for ease of reference by the player. Hostile action reports appear in Red, while other administrative reports appear in white, green, or yellow.

    The Bad

    7. No multiple player capability whatsoever exists. The only opponent is the AI, which can be easily tricked once it is understood.
    8. The Event Engine produces strange results from teleportation (yes, you there is “teleportation” in this wargame about naval warfare) of units instead of the more recognized deployment from aircraft or ships.
    9. The crude Formation Editor feature means that the solitary map is unnecessarily cluttered with icons and symbols. Confusion is quick to ensue when aircraft assigned to protect the carrier group cannot easily be distinguished from those assigned to expeditionary missions. Most other games have independent window displays to control formations so that units can function as organized groups.

    The Downright Ugly

    10. No database editing capability exists. The database is locked. The current items, equipment, and systems can be shuffled, re-arranged, or re-combined, but nothing new can be added nor can the performance of any current system be modified. Players are forced to accept false perceptions of reality when the majority of aircraft are arbitrarily and artificially limited to 950 knots on afterburner even though these same aircraft exceed 1200 knots in real life.
    11. The UI is severely overloaded, cluttered, and user-unfriendly. The dependence upon a single map to display all the units and functions means that the number of icons and other data displayed is extreme. Coupled with the inability to turn off some information, this means that the player is easily overwhelmed by the data, much of which he probably did not want to see in the first place.
    12. Direct player control is difficult to exercise due primarily to the single map display. The inability to differentiate between units at a distance or high altitude means that the user must constantly zoom in and out to locate units for his orders and targets. This awkwardness triples the time and effort necessary for the most simple and basic orders and truly makes the game a chore to play instead of a pleasure.

    In Conclusion

    This game is theoretically functional, but could easily have used twelve additional months for optimization and polish. As it currently stands, MNO is a hodge-podge of ideas haphazardly thrown together. It is good that MNO replicates many functions from NWAC and Harpoon3. It is too bad that many bad ones are also duplicated while helpful ones were forgotten. Features such as the Formation Editor and Event Engine are prime examples of good ideas for functions that were poorly implemented and badly integrated. The awkwardness of the UI makes the game a chore to play instead of a pleasure. A thorough re-examination of the overall design phase might be prudent, especially considering how some features generally considered “standard” within the naval wargame genre are conspicuously missing.

    This is version 1.05 and, hopefully, improvements will come in the form of game Patches instead of “paid patches” (a.k.a. download content or DLC). Should this game be meaningfully patched in an expeditious manner, an update of this review is certainly possible. does not permit external URLs. Additional detail can be found on “The Blue Pill” YouTube channel.

    Modern Naval Ops Review (Steam v1.05)

  4. [NOTE: This review was posted on Steam on Posted: 7 Oct, 2014. I now tweaked it a bit, but the gist of it remains, basically, the same]

    “Command: Modern Air / Naval Operations” is a strange beast. Its good features could make for a gem of a game. However, its bad features deeply mar it. And, unfortunately, the bad features outweigh the positives BY FAR, even after a number of patches. I bought it from Matrix store one year and half ago and I followed its evolution up to the current patch. Unfortunately I do not have good news.

    The game is fairly functional, but the interface is crude and cumbersome with tremendous clutter in the single map that cannot be disabled. The dearth of hotkeys is also noticeable as the player is forced to chase back and forth across the map with his mouse to accomplish the most basic and simple functions. The lack of a database editor for this game is quite significant especially in this day and age where the most successful games such as “ArmA” or “Crusader Kings 2” (not to mention “Harpoon” itself) actively encourage their user communities to create additional content and, more importantly, to tweak the existing one. “Command” users are limited to only those things that are already within the database since no new planes, ships, or submarines can be created nor can any pre-existing information be modified. You can mount American SSMs Tomahawks on a Soviet Kirov class cruiser, but players who like to tinker with known units (or experiment with hypothetical planes and weapons) are out of luck.

    There is no multi-player option available at this time so players are limited to the AI opponent. The game is, in fact, primarily designed for players to issue general orders even for the friendly AI assistant to interpret and implement. Unfortunately, the AI is so weak that the users have to constantly follow what’s going on if they want to hope for success. This means that the player is virtually compelled to micro-manage every single aspect of his battle. Instead of the role of battle group commander, he is relegated more to that of supply clerk or bean counter as he almost has to fire each bullet or drop individual bombs from his aircraft.

    If a daunting UI and awkward game functions do not scare you, then moving into surrealism maybe will. The “depth of research” and “the value of the database alone!” are the other items which are touted as “crown jewels” for this game. Then you discover that almost all planes’ speed is topped at 950kts. Planes capable of reaching MACH 2 on afterburner (about 1300kts) are out of luck. That these planes were designed for speed above anything else doesn’t seem to bother the “hard researching developers”. True, some planes, like the MiG-25 or its “heir”, the MiG-31 can exceed this “roof” and act as interceptors. But try to check an F-14, an F-15, an Eurofighter 2000 or even a Tu-22 “Backfire” (naval bomber, top speed 1,250kts): every single of them will have a top speed of 950kts.

    Still in the realm of surrealism is the weather model, which allows the player, via the scenario editor, to choose the weather for the whole world. A “true WWIII scenario!”, another possibility touted by the developers as the Second Coming or such (“Harpoon 3”, BTW, already manages thousands of units just fine) will see Russian ICBMs depart from their silos in a rainy Siberia, overfly a rainy North Pole (!) descend over the rain that pours over Canada from Montreal to Vancouver, follow the soaked Western Coast and hit a San Diego chilled by the low, rainy clouds. As a consolation, the people of San Diego can be assured that, in the meanwhile it is raining in Italy, Mumbai, Tasmania and the Marshall Islands.

    I had high hopes for fun from this game and excitedly followed its development and eagerly awaited its release one year ago from Matrix; but, even after the patches Command is, currently, too much of a chore to play. It really is work to accomplish the simplest tasks. Scenarios that might take 1 hour to play in similar games like Harpoon usually take 2-3 hours in “Command” due to the difficult interface. True, “Harpoon” players (the game “Command” will be most compared to) will be happy to know that many of the ìHarpoon 2/3 functions are replicated within “Command” thereby making it easy for them to quickly jump into the game, as the fundamental mechanisms are the same. However, once in, they are likely to run into a wall of frustration as not all the helpful Harpoon 2/3 functions are available. They soon begin to ask themselves “How do I do <> that I remember was so helpful in Harpoon?” only to find that it isn’t possible with this new game. Why, just to give a simple example, I cannot designate an independent subordinate map for every area and/or group of platforms of interest, when ”Harpoon 2” managed to give us this opportunity in 1994? (!!) The sad truth is that every time I fire “Command” up, I start looking for something else to play within 10 minutes or so because the constant mouse-work required in this click-fest just isn’t fun. The lack of basic game functions such as Multiple Maps and an easily functional or recognisable Formation Editor soon become apparent.

    Command is like a “big box” of “shiny new toys”. A wargame like “Panzer Corps” gives you the whole War in Europe. You can (metaphorically) shake it and exclaim, “Wow! Ships! Airplanes! Land Units! Flame throwing tanks! Look at the beautiful map!” The same happens, for example, with “World in Flames” (yet to be published on Steam): “All the counters from the original war game! An enormous map! Video tutorials!”

    The key question, however, is: “Do they work together to return a cohesive, fluidic, and fun game experience?” “Panzer Corps” does and it is a blast to play. “World in Flames”, after a year and half, is BARELY functional, full of bugs, and lacks basic functions like an AI and multi-player capability.

    Then, a treasure like “Command Ops: Battle of the Bulge” comes along with its masterful use of real time, chain of command, and realistic control over troops in a war zone. A game worth every penny of its price But a lot of people will “shake the box” and say, “It’s just the Battle of the Bulge! Where are the toys? I won’t pay this price for only a Sherman and a Panther!”

    “Command” is a box full of “toys” (“Ships! Airplanes! Sensors!”) which still lack cohesive and functional interaction – not to mention, for many of them, realistic data. It is not “difficult to play” because it is supposedly realistic, but because the basic design still creaks BIG TIME. Ask any Admiral: their job is to fight the enemy, not the interface. And, maybe, the same Admiral will tell you that the sonar model is broken, but no one can do anything about it because the database is locked.

    Don’t be depressed if my comments sound negative! “Command” is delivered by passionate people. I can only see it to improve – hopefully to the point when you both have fun and your biggest challenge is to come up with a winning strategy. But, don’t fall into the trap of, “Lots of toys + I need a degree in naval warfare = Masterpiece!” Games that help you learn while having fun: those are masterpieces worthy of your money. It doesn’t even need to be a computer game.

    One last thing: on Steam “Command” is called “Wargame of the Year” thanks to a score of orgasmic reviews. Many of these reviews were written in the early days of the game, when:

    - “Command” crashed so often that sometimes it crashed while loading.
    - A wing of F/A-18C could attack a Kirov battlegroup by flying 500 feet UNDER the sea surface.
    - An airplane could hover at 0Kts without expending fuel.
    - Airbases could FLY alongside their assigned airplanes, like in Thunderbirds.
    - People asked for refunds.

    Thus, we could say that “Command” acts as a yardstick of the dire quality of current wargaming “journalism”. Useful, but sad.


  1. Armchair General Magazine – We Put YOU in Command!Holiday Shopping Guide 2013 | Armchair General - […] Command: Modern Air-Naval Operations. Publisher: Matrix Games, Inc. Developer: Warfare Sims, LTD. Boxed Edition plus download: $94.99. […]

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