|My favorite wargames of the last year have
been Big Time Softwares revolutionary Combat
Mission (which finally brought 3D to World War II tactical gaming) and
Talonsofts 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 CombatInvasion: Normandy.
Ive 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 thesethe addition of a strategic game, leadership rules, off-board
artillery, ambush mode, and improved graphicshave improved gameplay and addressed
some of the complaints of the games fans. But other problems never quite got
resolvedenemy AI, especially vehicle AI--remained problematic, and the games
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
timeWorld War II on the Western Front. The one sally into foreign territorythe
East Front, in the series problematic third iterationcould 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 localesay the Pacific Theatre,
or even the Western DesertInvasion Normandy not only revisits the Western Front, it
even covers the same campaign as the first gameonly from the Utah Beach side. If you
want more of the same, its here in spades.
Thats not to say there arent a few of the usual tweaks to the game engineits 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, youre 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.
But oddly enough, the landing scenarios dont have much of a Saving Private Ryan feel to them. Its 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. Youd never know it from playing Invasion: Normandy. Its much the same with the games representation of the airborne landings. In games like Shrapnels 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 theyre 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 campaignthe amphibious and airborne landingsare completely drained of personality. Its 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, theres 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, youll have to play onlineby far the best way to play Invasion: Normandyor crank the enemys strength way up.
Look, Ive been an advocate of this game series for a long time, but Im over it now. While Close Combat: Invasion Normandy is by no means a bad game, its a game Ive played one too many times. If youre a big fan of the series and you cant get enough of hedgerows, by all means buy the game. But Im tired of the same old engine covering the same old material. Frankly, while playing Close CombatInvasion: Normandy all I could think about was how much Id rather be playing Combat Mission. Which I think Ill now do.