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Close Combat

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by Microsoft
Close Combat
is a strategy based game where you can play the Germans or the American squads (and sometimes tanks, half tracks and anti-tank guns). You fight your way across the beaches, bocage, and villages of the Normandy campaign. The game is real-time and very tactical - most of the units under you will contain from three to ten men. So morale and tactics are at a premium.

Forget about those Panzer General type grand flanking manauvers. In Close Combat you'll slug it out from house to house, from bush to bush, and from trench to trench. In this game, one Panther tank can make the difference between winning and losing. As a matter of fact, one Panther tank can destroy your command (and it often did for Rick). The way the game handles morale is perhaps its most revolutionary aspect - soldiers under your command don't always behave like John Wayne, often choosing to cower behind the safety of a wall rather than charging into the teeth of machine gun fire. The fans of Avalon Hill's Squad Leader series will feel right at home here, while gamers who have been until now intimidated by the daunting complexity of your average tactical wargame will find that Close Combat delivers bigtime gaming thrills and an authentic feel without the hassles.

The Review:
In this review, Rick and I (Zap) will both critique the game - Rick is standard print and I (Zap) am writting in italics; so if this review is a little bit informal please excuse us. Now I think I speak for both of us when saying that Close Combat is one great game. I have never played any game that matches it in both tactical value and pure entertainment (including Steel Panthers).

Zap's right about one thing - the game engine (real-time, fast-moving, with smart AI and realistic morale effects) is terrific. However, Steel Panthers has some things Close Combat doesn't have yet - but which Zap and I hope will soon materialize - airplanes, elevation, a wide variety of troop types and vehicles, many different armies, off board artillery, and engineers.

I agree, Rick, I think that including these would have increased the game's fullness, but I was more than satisfied with what Atomic and Microsoft provided. I was disappointed by not seeing any engineers (the manual said they were there and could help your tanks over hedges and walls) and I would like to have seen the use of aircraft. From my reading, WWII aircraft played a major role in the Normady Campaign. In addition, they didn't incorporate the off board artillery from nearby naval ships.

The troops in Close Combat were a little generic as well; especially among the Germans in Normandy, the troop quality varied wildly - everything from old men in static divisions to SS vets fresh from the Eastern Front. But I'm carping here; what the game does have makes it one of the most original, and undoubtedly the most fun WWII game I've ever played. So from now on I promise to accentuate the positive.

The one thing that I think they incorporated with extreme accuracy was the Germans' Anti-Armor capabilities. During Rick and my campaign he realized that you don't use your tanks to spearhead your advance. It took only one or two games but soon we both realized that even the greenest German infantry can take out the Americans' Tanks.

Yeah, he's talking about me there. I admit I got a little careless with my tanks in the first couple of networked-up games we played, and Zap made me pay - I no sooner got my mortars registered than both my tanks were burning hulks. But that's just part of the game's realism. If you put something out in the open on the WWII battlefield, it's a burner; however, surprisingly few games reflect this unsavory fact of life. Not so with Close Combat. One of the surprising things about the game is how much time you'll spend hiding; every little bit of hedgerow or wall is a lifesaver, and crossing open ground is tantamount to suicide. And sometimes your troops will refuse to do it just to spite you.

Yea! That's one point in the game that I really enjoyed. Microsoft was correct in laying the advertising down on this part of the game. When you tell your troops to cross that hedgerow to get a better field of fire, they will jump up and head that way, but if they take any fire they will drop and go straight for cover. The differing experience levels of your troops makes a big difference when it comes to this point. A crack squad will rush into moderate machine-gun fire and get into hand-to-hand combat with unfaltering morale. However, you try that with a squad of greeny privates and they may not even poke their heads over the fence. Another part of this is your squad's ability to assess the threat rating of their situation. If they are in a building on the left flank with no visual support and coming under heavy fire, they will leave.

That's for sure. Many times I'd go looking for one of my squads, only to find that they had run way back to the rear. Frustrating, but realistic. So, Zap, what did you think of the interface? I liked it. Scaling back and forth between maps was smooth even on my machine (P 75), and controlling troops was mostly a matter of simple click and drag. Microsoft did wonders here making this compatible with their Win 95; give the devil his due.

I was also really happy with the interface. It was at least as good as Command & Conquer's or Warcraft's. However, I have one (and only one) gripe about the interface. Once you have selected an order for a squad - but not given the order - you cannot unselect that command with any ease. It was a pain because 50% of the time I would see something that would change my mind and it was almost impossible (okay, not impossible - just more difficult than it should have been) to change those orders.

See, you're being negative. I, on the other hand, would like to congratulate Microsoft for the excellent Game Reference Manual they put together. One of my pet peeves is the lousy documentation most game companies try to get by with nowadays; Close Combat has an excellent manual. It not only tells you everything you need to play the game, but also gives you a lot of information on tactics, weapons, biographies of the commanding generals, and a history of the campaign itself (and even a short history of WWII, just in case you've been living under a rock.) It's well-written and friendly as well. Now you say something nice.

Okay, positive this time. The sound. I am a real buff on having high quality sound (part of the reason I own a Gravis Ultrasound Max soundcard) and I was duly impressed by the sound quality. There will never be a more gratifying sound than the shell hitting metal when one of the American tanks was destroyed. Of course it was equaled by hearing Rick's screams coming from the nearby computer - "You (expletive deleted). That was my tank!" I was also impressed by the soundtrack; however, I wish that they didn't constantly play the same track over and over and over and over....

I'm not really as much of a sound guy as Zap, probably because the most prominent sound during our games is that of my Shermans blowing up. However, I did like the graphics. Mostly. The troops are pretty tiny on the screen, and it's easy to lose them. This is especially a problem for the Americans, since their uniforms blend in uncannily well with the game's bright green ground color. Terrific camo, but it sometimes interfered with my otherwise lightning-fast responses to Zap's attempts at what he calls "tactics."

At this point, we all know that not being able to see the American soliders was the only thing that kept Rick's Infantry alive. I didn't have as much of a problem with finding your troops, but was not impressed with the zoom feature. They just show you a larger picture of what you already see. When I zoom in I want to see a better picture, not just a bigger one. I don't want to see the glare off of the canteens on their belts, just something that isn't a pixelated version of what I see in unzoom.

I stand by my opening statement. Close Combat is one of the best World War II tactical simualations. Yes, it is not as good as it could be, but it does outweigh any other game I have ever played of its type. I enjoyed playing it for hours and would recommend it to anyone for a purchase. It is so much a sure-fire purchase, that you would even be safe buying it as a gift for someone - even if they don't play tactical games. Both Rick and I are looking forward to seeing Microsoft release different campaigns and better units. Maybe we will see a Close Combat II in our future...

--Rick Fehrenbacher & Zap Reicken