Computer Wargame Review
The scale of combat is geared toward the operational level, but that scale is stretched to accommodate the diminished defending forces on the German side. It is common to see company-level infantry forces, supported by small driblets of armor on the German side. On the Allied side, many of the invasion scenarios see units broken down to the company level, but it is easy (and usually advantageous) to recombine these into battalion-level units after the initial stages of landings. This stretching of the game system and scale works well in most respects, but it does appear to tumble slightly in representing the Germans' ability to delay larger concentrations of Allied forces with small packets of their own. If the option to use the optional manual defensive fire phase resolution is selected, this problem is significantly minimized (which makes it a preferred choice in my play). Why is this the case? Mainly, because the choice of using the individual phases causes the combat and movement portions of the turn to work differently. One example is that using this method means that a unit can't both move and assault in the same turn, which is a key reason why the default has trouble simulating the Germans' ability to slow the Allied advance with much smaller forces. Also, the penalty for being in travel mode during the turn is more serious, as a unit retains that status throughout the turn. The price of using this approach is a bit less fluidity and ease of play - so the gamer will have to weigh the "more realistic versus ease" choice before starting play.
The terrain is very accurately depicted. The 3D map gives the gamer a very good idea of what they are facing, either in trying to attack through the close terrain, or to find where the best defensive positions are. Unfortunately, the same can't be said of the 3D unit icons, which seem somewhat garish in comparison with the more elegant map. I find that it isn't worthwhile to play in this mode, as the 2D gives me a better feel for what is happening with the units. The depictions used on unit informational areas are very good, with the vehicle representations both accurate and detailed.
Playing some of the early scenarios yields additional levels of both complexity and fun, as the airborne units come into play. One small nit-pick I have with using these is the apparent ease of coordination with both the individual air-dropped units and overall with the invasion force. I am not sure that it could really be modeled differently, but the chaotic nature of the airdrop seems a bit too organized. Still, this does not detract from the game as a whole, nor make it much easier for the Allied forces to move off the beach. The landing itself might seem frustrating to those who want total control over their units, as the units land without input from the gamer. However, this approach is one I like, since it resembles the jumbled landings that occurred historically.
A couple of areas that really shine in Normandy '44 are the maps and the order of battle. The full map is huge - perhaps the largest I have seen for an operational-level game. Thoughtfully, there is a way to view and print the entire map, or specific portions of the map broken down by how much of the map a specific scenario covers. These overview maps are .bmp files, so they do not zoom down to the specific terrain, but their inclusion makes planning and tracking much easier. The order of battle is very detailed and offers some unusual units for play. The variety of units available is an aspect that deserves highlighting - there are a slew of varied unit types. I am not an expert on the order of battle for the Normandy invasion, but I was impressed at the variety and depth offered in both sides' orders of battle in Normandy '44.
In terms of sheer scope, it is hard to imagine a larger scenario than the campaign scenario which covers the entire Normandy campaign. It would take a significant portion of game time to even reach a mid-way portion of this campaign, but it is there if a gamer wants the whole enchilada. The variety of offered in the other included scenarios ensures there is something for every taste. Many one- or two-day scenarios cover the individual beach areas and make for short, sharp encounters, many of which can be played in a single session. With the included editor, there are sure to be a variety of player-made scenarios available in the future. In all, 30 basic scenarios are included, but with variations on many of these- there are 57 total scenario choices (this includes the tutorial scenario).
Overall, Normandy '44 is another excellent addition to any wargamer's PC game library. It should be noted that novice gamers would probably enjoy Smolensk '41 more, because of the less complex unit interactions and the more open terrain. Normandy '44 is a treat, but because of the grinding and slogging approach, it remains a more filling addition to those already steeped in the wargaming experience.
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