Flashpoint Campaigns: Red Storm
Passed Inspection: Innovative game play, high replay value, excellent AI.
Failed Basic: Austere graphics, somewhat clunky interface.
Flashpoint Campaigns: Red Storm (henceforth Red Storm) is a tactical-level (individual vehicle up to battalion-sized units) game set during a hypothetical war between NATO and the Warsaw Pact in Europe in the 1980s. The game has a ground-breaking “asynchronous turn structure” that replicates the Observe, Orient, Decide, Act (OODA) strategy process loop. So instead of fighting grinding battles of attrition with the numerically inferior, but qualitatively superior, NATO forces against the numerically superior but lower quality Soviet forces, the players fight battles of maneuver where the goal is not to destroy the enemy forces but rather to dislocate them and seize key terrain.
For some forty years the Soviet Union and it satellite nations, sometimes called the Eastern Bloc, contended with the Western Bloc, led by America, in “a long twilight struggle” known as the Cold War. Both sides competed against each other in every type of human endeavor; sports, science, economics and, of course, militarily. Fortunately, the military struggle was conducted mainly through surrogates and never directly involved the main forces of the East fighting the armies of the West. However, both sides saw that a massive war in Central Europe was possible, if not likely. To that end, for four decades the inner–German border was one of the most highly militarized places in the world. Millions of men and thousands of tanks, other armored vehicles, helicopters and warplanes sat and eyed each other suspiciously, wondering if or when the Cold War was going to go hot.
In Red Storm the player may fight either as a NATO (British, West German or American) commander or as a Soviet (Russian) commander. The game emphasizes command and control with its unique turn system. Basically, the players issue orders to their units which are then played out simultaneously in the game; a basic turn-based WE-GO system. But the length of time between the orders phases is not fixed; instead, it depends on several factors such as unit fatigue, distance to a headquarters unit, ammunition expenditure, casualties, and so on.
So, for example, an American battalion is fighting a Soviet brigade. At the start both sides have about 20 minutes “game time” between orders phases. But as the game progresses things happen; a company HQ is wiped out, the tanks burn through their ammo without resupply and some units have advanced beyond the zone of control of their higher HQs. Now the “game time” between order phases in 40 minutes. Meanwhile, the enemy’s “game time” between order phases is still about 20 minutes. This shorter time allows the player to perform the OODA cycle much more rapidly than his slower opponent, thereby getting “inside” the opponent’s decision loop.
Red Storm has accurately modeled some of the most advanced weapon systems ever. The West has American M1 Abrams and German Leopard A2 tanks, the American Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV), and the British Warrior IFV to name just a few. The Soviet arsenal includes such things as the T-80 tank and the Mil Mi-24 “Hind” attack helicopter. Besides modeling these advanced weapons, the game has also modeled various munitions, including “special weapons” such chemical and nuclear arms.
Red Storm plays in a standard Windows interface, with all orders given through a set of right-click, drop-down menu selections. The player can issue orders from an Order of Battle pane to the right of the map. Lots of good information is also available in the right hand pane, like unit strengths and chain of command information. Sadly, moving around the battle map is more than a bit clunky; the player must hold the cursor slightly in from the map edge to move it in that direction. Also, counter-intuitively, moving the mouse wheel forward moves your view out; rolling the mouse wheel back moves your view closer to the map.
The unit markers are blue for NATO and Red (actually more a burgundy) for the Warsaw Pact. The units use a mix of standard NATO symbols and silhouettes. Mechanized and motorized units have vehicle silhouettes; dismounted infantry use the standard NATO symbol for infantry. I would have much preferred good old NATO symbols for every unit, since I had difficulty, at times, picking out my tanks from my infantry fighting vehicles.
The graphics are austere. The map (sized 15 X 20 kilometers for a battlefield of 300 square kilometers) is divided into hexes (500 meters across) to control movement and combat. Each hex has only one kind of terrain, and the map colors are basic: blue, browns, and greens. The maps look flat—elevation is represented by different shades of green that are not always easily differentiated, which makes finding a unit’s Line of Sight (LOS) difficult without using the LOS tool. When in combat a line reaches out from the attacker to the attacked unit; the line then flashes, indicating a hit. It is clear enough as to what is happening, but it is somewhat bland. Dead units and destroyed vehicles are indicated by crosses on the map.
The maps are large enough that actual flanking maneuvers may be performed. This leads me to the AIs, both friendly and enemy. The friendly AI is excellent and acts in a logical manner. For example, your scout unit is spotted and attacked by the enemy; it will do the “bug-out boogey” without being told. The enemy AI is equally excellent. In games I have played I have observed the enemy AI, when it ran into my stout defenses, pullback, regroup and go for a flanking move instead of merely trying to bulldoze me with superior numbers. Also, if the enemy AI is not enough challenge for a player, Red Storm also has Play by E-Mail (PBEM), hot seat and LAN play options as well.
The game comes with 20 scenarios (including a tutorial scenario) all of which may be played from either side. Also there are two campaigns, one played from the NATO side and one from the Soviet side. It also has a robust editing function for building your own battles and campaigns for a high replay value.
The bottom line on Flashpoint Campaigns: Red Storm is that it is a very good tactical-level wargame. The asynchronous turn structure and excellent AI will provide a challenge to a wide spectrum of gamers, from the beginner to the hard-core grognard. Also, at only $49.99, the game is a great value.
Armchair General Score: 91%
About the Author
Patrick Baker is a former US Army Field Artillery officer, currently a Department of Defense employee. He cut his wargaming 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 degrees in Education, History and Political Science. He has article forthcoming Medieval Warfare Magazine and Ancient Warfare Magazine.