You are currently viewing an archival version of GF!

Click here to return to the current GamesFirst! website.


GF! Archival Version Copyright 1995-2004

box.jpg (12640 bytes)
star06.gif (4104 bytes)star06.gif (4104 bytes)star06.gif (4104 bytes)

by SSI

Ups: The latest in the legendary Close Combat series with a few new features 

Downs:  Same old thing, AI still very iffy, landing scenarios sort of ho-hum

System Reqs:
P-200,. 32 MB RAM

FtduRoulh-01.jpg (7590 bytes)My favorite wargames of the last year have been Big Time Software’s revolutionary Combat Mission (which finally brought 3D to World War II tactical gaming) and Talonsoft’s Rising Sun, which revitalized an old engine by moving it to a new setting. Both of these games took some chances. Nobody at Big Time was sure that anyone would be interested in the game (and thus their surprise when their first run sold out in less than a week). Talonsoft also bucked all conventional wisdom (everyone knows that the WWII Pacific Theatre is commercial death) by producing the superb Rising Sun. Thus my disappointment with Close Combat—Invasion: Normandy. I’ve played every one of the Close Combat games, and my attitude towards them has deteriorated as the series has progressed. Though initially revolutionary, the Close Combat series has gradually  lost its edge, and has lately settled for introducing a few new features and tweaks with each new edition. Some of these—the addition of a strategic game, leadership rules, off-board artillery, ambush mode, and improved graphics—have improved gameplay and addressed some of the complaints of the game’s fans. But other problems never quite got resolved—enemy AI, especially vehicle AI--remained problematic, and the game’s top-down 2D view remained less than optimal for determining line of sight. More damning, the Close Combat series insisted upon revisiting pretty much the same territory each time—World War II on the Western Front. The one sally into foreign territory—the East Front, in the series’ problematic third iteration—could have been a great game had it focused on the Stalingrad Rattenkrieg. Instead, it attempted to cover the entire Russian Front and foundered due to lack of focus and an overemphasis on armored combat. Though fans have been asking for a change in locale—say the Pacific Theatre, or even the Western Desert—Invasion Normandy not only revisits the Western Front, it even covers the same campaign as the first game—only from the Utah Beach side. If you want more of the same, it’s here in spades.  

UncleRedh-01.jpg (7904 bytes)That’s not to say there aren’t a few of the usual tweaks to the game engine—it’s just that they seem much fewer and less significant than previous ones. Probably the most important change is the addition of a “force pool.” In the series’ previous strategic games, you were pretty much stuck with whatever troops the scenario gave you. In Invasion: Normandy, you’re given a force pool to draw from. You can use it to reinforce depleted units, replace destroyed ones, or just change your force composition.  The game also includes new terrain, in particular the landing beaches at Utah.

strath-01.jpg (8963 bytes)But oddly enough, the landing scenarios don’t have much of a “Saving Private Ryan” feel to them. It’s true that the Utah landings were not nearly as strongly opposed as those at Omaha, but an opposed amphibious landing is still a different tactical animal than assaulting a village. You’d never know it from playing Invasion: Normandy. It’s much the same with the game’s representation of the airborne landings. In games like Shrapnel’s 101, you got a feel for how lost and desperate the scattered airborne units were during the first days of the campaign.  Not only are the airborne landings themselves not represented in Invasion: Normandy, but when you do take control of airborne units behind enemy lines they’re presented as remarkably coherent groups of light infantry rather than patchwork groups of tough but confused survivors. In other words, the two most dramatic moments of this campaign—the amphibious and airborne landings—are completely drained of personality. It’s depressing.

Even more depressing is the fact that the enemy AI remains stupid. Enemy units are hopeless on the attack, and it seems beyond them to organize an effective defense. Generally, there’s too much of tendency for enemy units to attack and defend piecemeal, and tanks still have a difficult time negotiating a maneuver of any complexity. If you want a tough game, you’ll have to play online—by far the best way to play Invasion: Normandy—or crank the enemy’s strength way up.

mainh-01.jpg (7026 bytes)Look, I’ve been an advocate of this game series for a long time, but I’m over it now.   While Close Combat: Invasion Normandy is by no means a bad game, it’s a game I’ve played one too many times. If you’re a big fan of the series and you can’t get enough of hedgerows, by all means buy the game. But I’m tired of the same old engine covering the same old material. Frankly, while playing Close Combat—Invasion: Normandy all I could think about was how much I’d rather be playing Combat Mission. Which I think I’ll now do.

--Rick Fehrenbacher