Hands-On With Armored Brigade: Close Combat’s Secret Successor

There has been a lot of cynicism regarding Matrix Games’ decision to move Close Combat to a 3D engine. Resistance to change is a staple of any videogame fan-base, but at times it can seem oddly acute amongst the wargaming audience.

Sure, there is always an element of “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it”, but computer wargames in general are in a desperate need of a renovation to move us away from never ending digitised counters and bland hex maps. Close Combat‘s newest iteration, The Bloody First, probably won’t be the game that leads the way in this regard as its transition to 3D isn’t as comfortable as, say, Panzer Corps 2 (which is looking awesome). We’ll talk more about those two games in future articles.

There is another wargame though that is proving itself to be a worthy successor to the legacy of the older Close Combat titles. Its’ offering is familiar, yet infinitely varied and more complex. We are of course talking about our favourite rags-to-riches story, Armored Brigade.

Set during the height of the Cold War, this Battalion/Regimental level real-time tactics game posits the oft-tread ‘what if’ WW3 scenario. Modern equipment, technology and tactics are all parsed through a 2D map with some well-drawn 2D units (with animation and weapon effects). You could be playing Close Combat: Modern Tactics if you use some imagination.

But it’s so much more than that: we’ve spoken about the freeware version of the game, which has been in existence for several years. When we’ve been shown this title before behind closed doors, phrases like “CMANO on land” have been bandied about. Armored Brigade is DEEP, y’all.

It starts with the scenario map generation tools – in the build we had access too, they had only created two large maps; one of the Fulda Gap, the other of South-West Finland. From there, you choose where you want to fight: you can define the battle area, and then you place the template anywhere on the map. The battle-space is then generated from the features in that area.

After that, you get to assemble your brigade. You must choose what type of force you’re fielding (Mechanised, Armour etc…), and then there is a points-buy system to choose the companies and platoons you want to take into battle. Much like the Wargame series, different unit types will have different caps depending on your choice.

Aesthetically, you get a lot of Close Combat vibes from looking at the game and parts of the interface. Clicking on a unit, for example, and then clicking on a grid space brings up a list of possible actions that’s reminiscent of the WW2 classics, but the similarities end there.

Armored Brigade requires a lot more thought and careful planning than Close Combat. The technology available means that engagement ranges can be pretty long – you could set yourself up at the back of your section of the map, and then still fire (or be fired upon) on something across the other side. You can give commands to individual units, or the entire company that’s part of their chain of command. You can chain commands, and different ones at that: Advance to this grid, then proceed until contact till this next one, pop smoke at the grid after that and so on. The mouse interface is a bit counter-intuitive and needs tweaking, but it functions well enough. You can set the individual engagement ranges of each unit in your force, and units won’t act straight away – there is a time-delay between issuing an order and it being carried out.

There’s a lot more to this game than what we could digest in the short amount of time we had with it. In the screens you can see a mini-map in the lower right – this can be set to show lots of different modes. Off-map support and aircraft are also a thing, although I wasn’t sure until something fast and airborne did a strafing run on some APCs advancing a long an urban road. They’re there alright. Armored Brigade‘s impressive scale also works against it at times. Zoom in close enough so that you can see the 2D sprites better, and you have zero situational awareness. Beyond a certain zoom level, the sprites are replaced by NATO counters, and the map itself transitions through a few different ‘versions’ depending on your zoom level. Some are definitely better than others, but there are sweet spots that you can comfortably sit in depending on the situation.

If we’re lucky, Matrix will empower a modding community around Armored Brigade which will allow us to get scenarios and ORBATS from other eras (namely WW2). Even without that though, this game offers old-school Close Combat fans a far larger and deeper tactical experience than what they’re used to, packaged in a way that’s comfortable. A way that they feel they’re not getting from The Bloody First. Regardless of which side of the line you fall on though, this is on track to be a great wargame in its own right. Fans of the freeware version should be content in the fact that the project appears to be in good hands, and it’s all shaping up rather nicely.

Armored Brigade is being developed by Veitikka Studios. Current release window unknown.