UAVs aside, recent military action has been pretty low tech. Small units attack terrorist positions with flashbangs and small arms; conventional artillery and armor grind away at Mosul. No country has used all those exotic weapons they’ve been spending trillions on. Game developers need to create simulations using them or gamers may not be around to see how they work in games? How many computers will survive an EMP exchange? Postwar games probably won’t have much of a market waiting. The never-tiring team at Warfaresims has gotten a jump on Armageddon with the latest standalone expansion of Command Modern Air and Naval Operations (CMANO),COMMAND: Chains of War. Will another level of lethal tech finally make players to cry “Uncle”?

The Pacific Boils Over (Apologies to Richard Rogers)

All the detailed weapons and mechanics overshadow a fine feature of the CMANO franchise: terrain graphics. Different levels of elevation and depths of water, plains, foothills and beaches. Colored rings denote radar, sonar, visibility and weapon ranges. The scene in this game goes from Korea to Okinawa and Taiwan down to the Seychelles over to Vietnam. China and Japan are displayed almost in their entirety. Units are shown with NTDS symbols although an alternative symbol pack is available from the developers’ website.  Animated units and missiles fly across the landscape while hits are marked with star-shaped outlines. Patch 1.21 introduces the function of zooming in on the cursor instead of the camera center, a most gratifying improvement. Action sounds are satisfactory and a speech and ambient sound mod is available. Manual addenda and patch notes are in the program folder, and all documentation changes can be found here.

The terrain of the western Korean coast is shown splendidly.

Along with small fixes and improvements, Chains of War introduces several new features that also meld into the CMANO base game when the new standalone is purchased.

  • Cargo – This is a step toward the long-awaited ground action. Transport ships and planes can be loaded with men and material and sent to distant fields. Like anything in CMANO, choosing both transports and cargo requires planning. The range of planes is a function of cargo weight. Hence, a C-17 with only paratroopers can fly further than one with a M1A1. Assault ships require double loading: material is first loaded in ports and, when near a destination, put in landing craft to hit the beach. The craft then make round trips until the ship is empty. All of these procedures take time to prepare and execute. 
  • Communication Disruption – Loss of satellites and other electronics due to cyber and anti-satellite attacks can knock out a side’s electronic capabilities. Such events are especially bad for airborne craft. Their radars no longer work and they can no longer receive navigational guidance with only their last position shown. Players can switch to unit mode and manually guide planes but, with several squadrons up, many jets will just wander around like geese during hunting season.
  • Aircraft Damage – The armor on aircraft is more detailed. In previous versions, a hit on a plane sent it down. The new system judges where damage occurred and which components are affected. Hence, engines may be crippled, electronics rendered useless or weapons off-line. If the craft makes it back to base, severe damage takes longer to repair.
  • Rail Guns and Electromagnetic Pulses (EMP) – These sci-fi nightmares have become reality.  Rail guns allow targets at extremely long range and in space to be hit with great precision so even ballistic strategic missiles are vulnerable to them. EMPs are particularly nasty as they are triggered by high-altitude nuclear explosions. Anti-ballistic missile systems are a favorite target. Fortunately, these weapons’ high cost and tremendous power demands make them few and far between.

The cargo function has its own mission while the exotic weapons can be accessed via the “Special Actions” in the drop-down game menu. Use of these actions cost points. Other improvements include editor updates and 2x/5x time compressions.

Assault ships such as this one moves cargo to hot spots.

From A Small Spark

The twelve scenario campaign can be played either linked or as distinct scenarios. The campaign can only be played to the end if players gain at least minor victories in each scenario. The first scenario is a South Korean (ROK) massive surprise attack on the North Korea artillery and missile batteries threatening the ROK island garrisons while depleting  the North Korean (DPRK) air force and navy. The DPRK response is a weak ground attack.

China sees this rather unprovoked but devastating attack on its ally to clean up all the adversaries blocking its agenda. First on the list is neutralizing the always irritating Vietnamese. The US and its regional allies respond to the worse Chinese threats but can’t get a decisive advantage. China then blunts Allied command and control abilities and gain local superiority. Having done that, China overruns Okinawa and Taiwan. The US finally goes into high gear. A ground campaign is fought in Korea where Chinese and North Korean air power take heavy blows. Following stalled peace talks, the US sends in three carrier battle groups and enlists Australian aid. A series of huge air and sea melees ensue.

Moving the Ike in proves your seriousness.

The scenarios switch back and forth from the Allied and Chinese point of view. This asymmetrical approach is a very good way to discover each side’s weapon platforms, locations and organization.  To win a scenario, players should carefully peruse their order of battle and scenario weapons, often drilling two or three layers down to see the capability of a specific missile or bomb. Use of the range and bearing tool is a must for the all-important first strike. After the scenario runs for a few seconds, enemy facilities will appear with priority targets labeled as such. Players then should set their missions for defensive patrols, suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD) and strikes. These missions must be timed carefully for optimum results; SEAD won’t work without air cover and strikes will fail if they go in before SEAD does its job.

For those of us who remember a simpler if not kinder time, Chains of War provides four bonus scenarios. The situation for some of the clashes assume the superpowers have worn themselves out in a conventional war in Europe, giving China a chance to bully a weakened US in the Pacific. Others take us back to the Quemoy problem of the 1950s and the ongoing strife over the Taiwan Strait. These lashes are enjoyable rides back to yesteryear.

Understanding a weapon’s parameters is crucial.

The usual caveats about the complexities of the CMANO system apply; beginners should test the waters of the smaller scenarios before jumping in to the grueling campaign. A fully updated manual is called for and a couple of tutorials about the new weapons would be nice. Cargo tutorials are already on and a few walkthroughs are appearing on YouTube.

That said, COMMAND: Chains of War marks an apex in simulating modern conditions on the Pacific Rim. Its scenarios are very believable and the detail of weapon platforms and facilities are the best this side of the Pentagon. The improvements and new features show that the team remains devoted to making an already extraordinary game even better.

Command: Chains of War is a stand-alone experience that doesn’t require the base release to run. It will integrate with any existing Command products, such as the base game or Northern Inferno.