Flash of inspiration

User Rating: 8 | Flashpoint Germany PC
This is a rare game that delivers more - much more - than initial appearances might suggest. It's definitely not one for those suffering from attention deficit disorder, but is likely to quickly absorb more mature gamers with a taste for realistic strategy in a novel setting.

Flashpoint Germany's Cold War setting is undoubtedly a strong selling point simply because it isn't the Second World War. The fictional "real war" between NATO and the Warsaw Pact makes for a fascinating conflict and, because of the lethality of modern weaponry, strongly influences the gameplay itself.

You, as commander, move battalion or brigade-level forces across clear and attractive maps, divided into 500 metre squares. Events play out Combat Mission-style with an unlimited pause in which to issue orders followed by simultaneous resolution. The 17 prebuilt scenarios, which are playable from either side, are won or lost based on units destroyed and sectors cleared or dominated. Units can be ordered to move, assault, dig in and a host of other options, while air and artillery strikes can be ordered.

So much for the mechanics but what makes this such an enjoyable and absorbing game? Key is the sense of command that infuses the gameplay. Because of the inbuilt delay before orders are carried out, you really do have to come up with a strategy and, within reason, stick to it. And you cannot directly order units (except artillery) to open fire. That can make for some amazingly tense moments as your forces either approach their objective or wait for the attackers. The differences in capabilities between the two sides adds another layer of interest: the Warsaw Pact clearly has the edge in numbers but NATO has the better technology. Evil gamers, meanwhile, can rejoice in the liberal use of minefields, chemical weapons and - best of all - nukes.

The criticisms are minor, particularly with the latest patch installed. Aspects of the interface can be clunky, there are a limited number of maps, and - as if often the case with 2D games - it's not always that easy to work out line of sight or cover. Masochists might grumble that the AI, even on toughest settings, doesn't present quite enough of a challenge.

As indicated earlier, you will likely love the gameplay or hate it. Flashpoint Germany is resolutely 2D, grown up, and has strongly realistic aspirations. There's a great scenario editor, a good manual, and a nice learning curve, especially for a "serious" wargame.