Command: Modern Air-Naval Operations – PC Game Review
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.