What feels right and what doesn’t?
I complained recently about the way close artillery support seems unrealistically ineffective in The Operational Art of War and Squad Battles. This is not an observation based on data – it’s just a gut feeling. In fact, it would surprise me if the these wargames, which have been around for so many decades, were really all that far off.
On the other hand, Radio Commander does feel good in my gut. If you’re facing a close fight and you call in some air or artillery support, it almost immediately shifts the balance. Fire support comes quickly and is generally on target. Again, no hard data to back this up, but the in-game experience seems to be consistent with the reading of after-action reports.
Contrast that with the realism of the missions that make up the campaign. The next mission in the sequence (pictured above) is escorting an ARVN resupply convoy on its way to a besieged ARVN camp. So far, so good. Recall that the standard setup for this game has you in command of two airmobile infantry platoons plus supporting forces. The same applies here. Now, I can’t say this would never have been done but escorting trucks with foot-bound infantry seems like a pretty inefficient method of protecting a convoy.
What I do have in support is a unit of armor (M113s) plus artillery and air support. Like the artillery, the M113s seem to better conform to their performance in line with what I’ve read. In Squad Battles and in Steel Panthers, these vehicles seem extremely brittle when compared with the literature. In Radio Commander, in contrast, these are very effective units.
Hopefully not to ruin it for you, but this mission introduces certain story elements relative to the political difficulties in Vietnam. The scenario begins with some anti-Vietnamese banter from the attached unit while we are also operating with an ARVN unit – an event that feeds into the conversation tree. That same ARVN unit witnesses and reacts to a napalm strike on an enemy-held village that resulted in significant civilian casualties. I’ve yet to see if it is an integral part of the story or scoring or just included for color, but it seems to be building that Vietnam experience.
So does Radio Commander feel right? Once again, it is a question of expectations. Is this an RTS with realistic combat elements? If it is, the campaign is structured very much like the typical RTS or even the similarly-constructed Men of Valor. You’ve got some core people that you husband through some key historical landmarks, without necessarily trying to reconstruct any particular battle or operation. If this is your ruler, Radio Commander is doing a better job than most. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for a tactical wargame similar to Squad Battles, then we’re still in the realm of those introductory/tutorial missions that help you get the feel of the game and UI without explicitly trying reproduce historical combat. By this measure (and I’ll compare to the Squad Battles campaign game), it has its pros and its cons. We’ll say the jury is still out.