I put Flashpoint Campaigns: Southern Storm among my three most anticipated games of 2022 — and I was right to do so. For one, I nearly went mad waiting for the review code. But what’s more important is that Flashpoint Campaigns: Southern Storm delivers on its promises and supersedes the previous game in the series in all ways.
It’s July 1989, baby, and on account of me just being born, World War III kicks off. This is a last-ditch effort by the USSR to prop itself back. Countless divisions go west (thanks, Pet Shop Boys), streaming over the German border. NATO scrambles a defense. This is a war that will be decided within days, and you’re about to take command.
Flashpoint Campaigns: Southern Storm is the groggiest World War III game to come out this year — and also the best. Regiments? WARNO? No, this is where it’s really at; commanding platoons and companies as your base units, and struggling against the merciless constraints of time, traversability, visibility, and the OODA loop.
You think this is some sort of game?
That last bit is important, as it is what sets Flashpoint Campaigns: Southern Storm apart from most of the other games. Not only is it turn-based simultaneous resolution (the devs call it “WEGO”), but the turns are asymmetric. You see, the the closest thing the game has for a turn takes a minute in-universe.
But you don’t get to command your units minute after minute. No, it could be 20 minutes between your turns — or 40. Meanwhile, the enemy could be doing its turns every 13 minutes.
That’s because in war, orders are not disseminated, read, understood, and carried out instantly. You don’t get instantaneous returns, either. As a high-level commander, you have to wait for your staff and the commanders below you and their staff to carry out orders. And the more strain is put on the system — by the sheer number of orders, electronic warfare, and HQs getting obliterated — the longer the loop becomes.
Flashpoint Campaigns: Southern Storm doesn’t grant victory to the one who can perform the most actions per minute. It goes to the commander who can the most efficiently lead their assets, coordinate actions, and ensure that a unit doesn’t run out of orders in the middle of turn resolution.
It is so great, and I absolutely love it. The system works beautifully in practice, and is even cooler in multiplayer. Were this game in 3D, it would absolutely be justified for having detailed unit models and animations as you’d actually have the time to zoom in and look at the action. That’s something you can ill-afford in APM-heavy titles like WARNO and even Company of Heroes.
It takes two nuclear superpowers to tango
Plus, it helps further reinforce the differences between late Cold War NATO and Warsaw Pact forces. The West relies on platoons as its smallest tactical units, and has invested heavily into making the OODA loop as tight as possible. Meanwhile, the Soviets throw around companies and are at the mercy of sometimes punishingly long periods of time between orders.
There are many historical reasons for this, but what it means in practice is that the two sides play very differently. And that’s before you get into stuff like sensors and weapon systems. There’s a reason why a US infantry squad equipped with thermal sights is 200% more expensive than the one without.
But in Flashpoint Campaigns: Southern Storm, the variety of the “two sides” has markedly increased. While previously the USSR carried the fight alone, now you have the East Germans and Czechoslovaks joining the fray — the former being well trained, but often relying on worse tech while the latter provide a lot of weird indigenous designs. For NATO, The US, UK, and West Germany are joined by France and Canada.
These armies clash in a series of bespoke scenarios. That’s right, the game has no random skirmish mode. Every time you’ll play, your forces, objectives and start locations will have been pre-set by the scenario designer. The only real downside here is that it seems we don’t get that many scenarios involving France or Canada. East Germans and Czechs fare better, even coming with their own campaigns.
While this means that you can’t just go build your army and take it for a spin, it also means you can get into the action fast. Scenarios have very few settings to tweak and sometimes you can’t even change unit deployment spots. Aside from either choosing a battleplan — or letting the AI opponent do what it wants to achieve objectives — you can only control stuff like enemy visibility. It says something that it’s essentially how the game difficulty level is decided.
I play on Grognard — the hardest difficulty — because I have some weird ideas about how games are “meant” to be played.
Spherical cow will arrive on map at 0600
On the battlefield, Flashpoint Campaigns: Southern Storm will put you on maps 20 km by 15 km in size, split into 500-meter hexagons. Terrain matters a lot, with each hex having its own traversability, height, feature height, cover, and concealment stats. On the more lively side, your units are simulated down to vehicle or individual squad, with stats covering sensors, systems, weapons (down to grenades), and so on.
If you try to learn everything about your forces, you will rapidly go insane — leave that task to the game engine. Instead, you should focus on useful abstractions: ATGMs will ruin your day at awful ranges, artillery is good to drop on anything, even hexes that merely look suspicious, infantry doesn’t want to get caught in the open, and so on. Leave to the Flashpoint Campaigns: Southern Storm engine to worry about the minute differences between the Stadia coincidence rangefinder and a laser rangefinder. Such details are beneath a commander of your rank.
Plus, unlike in, say, Graviteam Tactics, where you can be immediately overwhelmed by the options when it comes to ordering units, in this game you mostly give fairly abstract movement orders. Move Deliberate, Move Hasty, and Assault will be your bread and butter. Just what quite those orders mean you’ll have to uncover in the manual (the tutorials are also PDF-dependent), but the point is that most of the time you won’t need to go into the nitty gritty.
You absolutely can, however. The newly introduced SOP (standard operating procedure) feature lets you determine fairly granularly how a unit would act in a certain situation (how tolerable casualties are, when to retreat, what range to shoot at, etc.), but you don’t necessarily need to. The one bit of criticism here is that you can’t name and save SOP templates to reuse in other scenarios.
That minor bit of criticism aside, it works, and I love the game. Flashpoint Campaigns: Southern Storm is much better and more approachable than Flashpoint Campaigns: Red Storm ever was. The game is overflowing with helpful map filters, pop-ups aim to tell you all you need to know about what you’re looking at (though they still don’t explain the interface buttons), and even the mechanics are better suited for new people.
The game even includes engineering assets as actual units on the table. It replaces the heavily unsatisfactory previous system that had just abstracted them away, which led to your tank units spending half an hour standing in front of a mine hex and exploding.
It is all in the military-technological details
But if you turn to scenario (and campaign) editors, you’ll see that the developer abstracts very little. Scenario generation involves setting stuff from the weather (based on real weather data) to minefield locations and force names. And while Flashpoint Campaigns: Southern Storm is set during a few brief days of July 1989, the unit databases go back at least to 1980. You can absolutely set your scenario — and thus unit availability — in 1985, back when the USSR wasn’t hilariously out-teched by the West.
You can also take a really deep dive into force construction, adding anything from entire brigades to single platoons to your OOB. You can even draw inspiration from the first game and create scenarios where small special forces units are assaulting border outposts. It’s helped by the fact that databases include a lot of stuff, from tactical ballistic missiles to Spetsnaz saboteurs in civilian vehicles.
Scenario balancing is aided by the fact that each subunit (so, a single tank in a 13-tank company) has assigned victory point value for its destruction. So it’s like building an army in a tabletop miniature wargame or Combat Mission (though much more friendly and intuitive than anything in the latter).
I built a scenario specifically to check out how effective nuclear and chemical weapons are in this game.
All together now
Another thing that sets Flashpoint Campaigns: Southern Storm apart from its groggy peers is absolutely user friendliness. The 300-page manual is neat and cool, but the game itself features plenty of pop-up windows, explanations, warnings, and so on. The scenario builder comes with features like automatically generating briefings, threat assessments, and a naming system that can automatically change the name of the formation and apply it logically to supporting units.
Flashpoint Campaigns: Southern Storm is also beautiful. Flashpoint Campaigns: Red Storm was basically a bunch of system windows straight from Windows Visual Basic. But the new title has improved both their design and color. Maps are more vibrant and colorful, and the design for unit range depiction is much improved. Flashpoint Campaigns: Southern Storm is the most gorgeous hex-and-chit wargame on the market.
The audio is also not bad. Its main menu theme already elicits a Pavlovian reaction. On the battlefield, the music is absent, but you don’t really need it. You’ll be listening to the sounds of movement, combat and artillery strikes, and that will be enough.
What’s even better is that the game comes packaged with an FAQ aimed straight at various grogs who’d ask annoying questions (does the game support Windows 7? Why no 32-bit?) on Yahoo groups and TMP. It just so happens to include a roadmap filled with promises of DLC, so we can look forward to the game getting expanded with Scandinavian factions (and scenarios), as well as the Mediterranean theater.
Game very good
Flashpoint Campaigns: Southern Storm is a game I can recommend immediately and without any shame. It does everything better than the previous game of the series, it demands real tactical skill to play, and it knows that a deep simulation doesn’t necessarily need the player to understand every last bit of action. Play it now.