"What do you want for nothing . . . rubber biscuit?"
There isn't much today in the world of games that you can get for free. Sure, you can download user-created mods for your favorite games that won't cost a cent. I suppose demos are free, but they are, after all, just demos. Full games for zero cash are a rarity outside of various illegalities. But what to think of that rare game that is, indeed, absolutely free? How about that they probably didn't spend too much money making it.
Chain of Command is the latest release from 2AM Creations, a web-based games company that features such titles as Backgammon, Animated Chess, and "The Invisible Hand" (useful at parties) for multi-player over the Internet. All you have to do is log onto their website, download a small software package, and then use it to play any of the games they offer, including Chain of Command.
Chain of Command is a tactical WW2 game in the vein of the Close Combat series. Teams of four infantry soldiers vie for control of a 2D battlefield. Seen from an isometric perspective, these grunts run, crawl, walk, and attempt to shoot each other dead. The action takes place in real time and as a player you have control over the actions of each of these troops, one of which (you don't know which one) actually is meant to represent you. In essence, Chain of Command is much like a clunky WW2 version of Syndicate Wars.
What puts the 'chain of command' in Chain of Command is the awards and organization structure. Players are grouped into either the American or German sides. The player with the highest rank for each side is the combat commander. As kills are made and objectives are accomplished by any of the players, points go to the combat commander. At the end of the round, the commander dishes out points to his subordinates. Points further the path of promotion. With this basic carrot/stick incentive, players have a reason to follow 'orders' given to them through an IRC-like chat window by their superiors.
This concept, however, is basically the only novel thing about Chain of Command. It is a game that attempts to force players into a regimented social system and make them conform to the rules, much like a real army. When played with avid gamers, the formula can work very well. Naturally, though, problems arise when you're faced with a commander with a thyroid problem. Unfortunately, there is no option to frag the Lieutenant.
Players can also join regiments, which act much like Quake clans and further the command-structure theme of the game, or they can ignore the points system entirely and play no-points matches. These are basically Deathmatch Team games (Americans v. Germans) with all members of each side doing whatever they please.
Beyond the social aspect, Chain of Command has little going for it. The commands are rudimentary and psychological modeling is limited to reduced accuracy of soldiers under fire. There are a few different weapons to choose from and some different scenario objectives (hold the line, recon, etc.), which does help. But as a strategy game, Chain of Command simply pales in comparison to the likes of the Close Combat games, which (coincidentally) cost money.
Graphically, Chain of Command is justifiably modest, being something of a 2 MB download or so. The map is essentially a grainy grass field with a few grainy trees, a few grainy stone walls, a few grainy dead animals, and a few wooden walls meant to stand in for see-through buildings. The players are grayish splotches with barely discernable limbs, guns, and helmets. The soldiers move in a very choppy manner and things only really smooth out during the death animations.
Sound is mostly absent from the game. There are a few screams of pain and gunshots but almost no ambient noise.
Think of this as simply a chat program with some window dressing and you're all right. Think of it as a deep, involving game, and you're shipwrecked. Chain of Command is basically a shell, a lightweight game system that was thrown together to provide a forum for people to live out a few wartime role-playing fantasies. For anyone who cares more about the gameplay, sound, graphics, and fun factor, almost any other WW2 strategy game is preferable to Chain of Command.
Yet as it is a free game, and as Game Revolution grades are primarily given out as buying recommendations, Chain of Command can't really be graded. Aside from having to look at advertisements (usually for the Discovery channel) while playing, it costs you absolutely nothing besides a little bit of your precious time. If sank all your cash into buying a killer gaming rig to run all the games you can no longer afford, then you might take a look at Chain of Command. Otherwise, pass on it. But hey, what do you want for nothing?