by Jim "Bismarck" Cobb
Article Type: Review
Article Date: October 31, 2001
Product Name: Decisive Action
Developer: Colonel James Lunsford
Publisher: HPS Simulations
Release Date: Released
Min. Spec: P 200 MHz, Win2000 / XP / VISTA / 7 / 8/NT/2000, 32 MB RAM, 40 MB HD Space, CDROM, Sound Card, Modem for PBEM
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Just When You Think You've Seen It All
During my time as a reviewer, I have had the honor of writing about two wargames I consider to be groundbreaking advances in the genre, The Operational Art of War and Combat Mission. Both products combined scope and accuracy with gameplay innovations that moved the hobby beyond its boardgame beginnings. Aging and jaded, I believed I would never experience another eye-opener. Jim Lunsford and HPS Simulations have ripped me from my complacency. Decisive Action elevates the topic of modern ground combat from a mere game to a serious simulation. Serious gamers looking past 1945 will see most of their dreams answered in a most professional manner.
Although units can be as small as squads, Decisive Action requires the player to take on the responsibilities of a division or corps commander. This larger scope distinguishes Lunsford’s game from the other two fine modern wargames, TacOps and Brigade Combat Team. With a two-hour time scale and a one-kilometer per square scale for movement, this game obviously is not tactical but includes many elements rarely seen in operational games. This comprehensiveness is what could be expected of a commercial version of a U.S. Army Command and General Staff College training tool.
Had the game stopped with supplying the twenty-four unit types, it would have made its mark as a game. What these unit icons represent, however, changes the way gamers think about the relationship between icons and maps. Each icon has a “footprint”, representing the area the unit affects. The size of the “footprint” is dependent not only on force size, shrinking as casualties are taken, but also on which of the five postures a unit assumes. For instance, a unit performing security duty projects a line of three “footprints” while a unit going over to the offensive has a compact “footprint”. “Footprints” dictate actions. An enemy unit within a “footprint” causes combat and becoming tangent with another friendly unit’s “footprint” creates “friction”, slowing movement. With this one concept, Lunsford demolishes the old, zone-of-control and replaces it with a realistic, dynamic depiction of the frontage and depth of a military organization.
“With this one concept ["footprints"], Lunsford demolishes the old, zone-of-control and replaces it with a realistic, dynamic depiction of the frontage and depth of a military organization.”Each unit has factors for strength, morale, fatigue, suppression, command control and nuclear/biological/chemical preparedness status. Perhaps the most important factor is logistics. A line of communication must be traced back to a HQ and line-of-communication unit in order to be re-supplied, either automatically or manually by the handful of players who aren’t busy enough with regular work. The commander who ignores any of these details is the losing commander.
Assuming a posture automatically gives a set of orders. A unit on security will give ground much faster than one in a deliberate defensive position. Air units will have two priority types of targets. Artillery has three basic sets of orders. Engineering, electronic warfare and psychological warfare units have unique special abilities. All of these concepts must be managed for a well-planned attack and planning is the key to success in Decisive Action.
This crucial planning is added by another innovation, called “graphics”. By this we don’t mean neat little animations and big explosions but a module that allows the player to actually draw on the maps. Formation boundary lines and various phase lines can be drawn using a sixteen-color palette. Such lines are necessary to minimize the confusion of combat and to optimize the use of force. Named Areas of Interest (NAI) and Targeted Areas of Interest (TAI) are placed to enhance intelligence and support fire respectively. At the beginning of each game, fortifications, bridges and minefields can be placed using the graphics module.
The maps on which these things are drawn are what will separate hardcore
gamers from those addicted to eye candy. The maps are actual military
topological maps complete with elevation lines and universal map symbols. Three
different modes highlight restrictiveness of terrain. Maps with version 1.02
cover the National Training Center in Kansas, parts of California, Central
Germany, Anzio, Iraq and Kuwait as well as Mindoro in the Philippines. Colors
give the well-read player a feel for “being there” in an actual HQ. Those
players used to being spoon-fed cute greens and neat little houses will be
brought down to earth—literally. Scrolling around the map to the NATO-symboled
units is done with the keyboard's arrows, clicking on a mini-map or using the
“next/last” unit button of the toolbar. Meteorological information such as
precipitation and wind speed direction is updated continuously on a bar above
Pressing the “Next Turn” button starts the simultaneous move (WEGO)
system. The map comes alive with air units zipping across the landscape as
ground units crawl toward phase lines. Combat reports flash across the screen
stating combat results in percent losses and suppression levels. In contrast to
the Spartan graphics, the sound effects in Decisive Action grab the ear
with exciting roars, explosions and growls. Most importantly, enemy units appear
as a result of the recon units.
Of course, ground combat decides the outcome. Troops protected with air
defense units slug it out with supply convoys streaming to the front. Tanks bash
positions softened by artillery and air strikes, starved by interdiction and
depressed by psychological warfare units. Engineers clear obstacles and
minefields. Mech infantry hold against counterattacks while cav units sweep into
the rears. These actions, exciting slashes at a reeling enemy, provides the
player the reward for meticulous thought and planning. However, the AI is one of
the strongest in computer games. Without planning, players’ rewards will be
tastes of ashes.
The excitement doesn’t end with the scenarios that come with the game. An
extremely powerful editor allows modifying existing scenarios, including
changing the order of battle and every other aspect of the game. Creativity is
encouraged by a map import application. If a player can turn a map into a BMP
file, he can fight on that area. The unit builder provides a solid array of US
and foreign units. Fruits of this are already appearing at the HPS Simulations
site. Even more skilled opponents can be engaged in hotseat mode or PBEM.
Worth the Effort