Friday, January 20, 2006

Cuban Missile Crisis: The Aftermath Review

Cuban Missile Crisis: The Aftermath, developed by G5 Software and published by Strategy First.
The Good: Interesting premise, four dynamic campaigns with strategic play
The Not So Good: Outdated graphics, no skirmish, difficult
What say you? Essentially a mod for Blitzkrieg, it’s too challenging to be fun: 5/8

George Santayana, or perhaps it was P. Diddy, once said, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” But what if we could change history? The dream of Dr. Sam Beckett, to change the past for the better is an intriguing concept. Of course, the flip side of the equation is to wonder about bad events that could have occurred, such as the full realization of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Taking its cues from this alternate reality is a new game called, coincidentally enough, Cuban Missile Crisis. This game uses Blitzkrieg as a basis for its four scenarios covering possible events of the mid-1960s. Let’s have some fun with nuclear weapons!

Cuban Missile Crisis uses the same graphics and sound of Blitzkrieg, which was released in 2003. Blitzkrieg had outdated graphics for a game released three years ago, so you can imagine how behind the times the graphics are here. Everything is done in 2-D, from the units to the buildings. The developers have not made any improvements from the original game to spice up the graphics (such as adding any new animations); Blitzkrieg 2 features newer 3-D graphics and it was released in late 2005, but Cuban Missile Crisis is stuck with the Blitzkrieg engine. In fact, Cuban Missile Crisis is more of a campaign mod of Blitzkrieg than an original game; usually when a game company uses another game’s graphical engine (such as the Unreal engine, for example), they make some changes so that the game looks and feels different. This is not the case in Cuban Missile Crisis, which both the sound and graphics are carbon copies of a three year old game.

Cuban Missile Crisis features four single player campaigns for the USSR, UK-USA, France-Germany, and China. The difference between these four campaigns is the graphic areas the battles take place in; otherwise they are the same (and even mostly feature the same units). There is also LAN multiplayer (no Internet matchmaking) and no AI skirmish mode to practice the battles in. The single player campaign of Cuban Missile Crisis is divided into two parts: the “strategic level,” using a campaign map to order troops around, and a “tactical level” where combat is conducted. The strategic level is the only original part of Cuban Missile Crisis not carried over from Blitzkrieg, and it works well enough. You play by moving your troops around, capturing strategic buildings in order to produce more troops. There are three resources that go into ordering more troops and armor: ammunition at armories, fuel at fuel storage facilities, and spare parts at spare parts storage facilities. You can also capture buildings that produce a constant supply of fuel or spare parts, instead of the one-time bonus a storage facility provides. Whenever enemies units occupy the same space or you intend to capture enemy buildings, you enter the “tactical level” to duke it out for supremacy. The “tactical level” of Cuban Missile Crisis is very, very similar to Blitzkrieg, using the same user interface and structure the original did. There are some updated units to more appropriately fit the time period of the game (the 1960s instead of the 1940s), but other than that, you won’t be able to tell the difference between Blitzkrieg and Cuban Missile Crisis. In fact, I’d suggest reading my review of Blitzkrieg Anthology, because it’s so similar. Unfortunately, Cuban Missile Crisis has the same problems as Blitzkrieg, mostly severe countering and poor individual unit AI. On top of this, it always seems the enemy outnumbers your troops. Restrictions in the number of units you can buy in the campaign map make completing the missions even more difficult than it was in Blitzkrieg. For some reason, the AI seems to always have the weapons that disable your units with ease, shooting from locations that you can’t reach until you’re already dead. If you don’t have air support to scout from the skies, you might as well give up; the enemy artillery will just rain down on you and disable all of your tanks and make red splotches out of your infantry. Obviously, this is very discouraging and will probably cause most users to hit the quit button.

Cuban Missile Crisis is Blitzkrieg with a later timeline and a campaign map mode. Everything else is the same, namely the overly difficult nature of the combat and the AI that seems to know all too well what kind of units are coming. If you don’t have air support you can forget about winning any of the battles, as AI artillery will just rip you to shreds. Cuban Missile Crisis doesn’t add any skirmish games and actually removes Gamespy support that was present in Blitzkrieg Anthology. If you do like the Blitzkrieg style of play, I’d suggest playing the two-month-older but better-looking Blitzkrieg 2 (although apparently it’s not too terribly great, although I never got to review it). Cuban Missile Crisis’s original element (the dynamic campaign mode) isn’t enough to make it better than the original Blitzkrieg, or make it king of the hill among the current slate of real time strategy titles.