Close Combat: First to Fight
2005 IS the year of many things. It's the year to drop the debt. It's the Chinese year of the rooster. It's the year slouch boots make a fabulous comeback. It's the year between 2004 and 2006. It's also, if SWAT 4, Brothers In Arms, Battlefield 2 and, now, Close Combat: First To Fight is any indication, the year that tactical ultra-realism makes a sweeping comeback into the world of initial self-firing games.
In case you're in a hurry (and in this busy modern world of half-cat espresso lattes, instant food burger patties and colonic irrigation in your lunch hour, who amongst us can honestly say they aren't?) I'll condense this preview into a handy bite-size chunk that can easily be digested and flushed out quickly: Full Spectrum Warrior's attitude transferred into a first-person shooter mechanic. Simple, n'est-ce pas?
It's Just A Little Tube
Look how quickly that passed through. Well, let's go deeper then. The basic concept is that First To Fight is very closely based around an actual training tool used by the US Marine Corps, giving you some indication of its realistic ambitions. Adhering strictly to the Ready-Team-Fire-Assist mantra practised by the elite American fighting force (four-man squads, each with a unique role, each complementing each other in the field), you control your squad as you perform various missions in a near-future Beirut invasion scenario.
Your role is to lead the team, while the game's advanced Al routines get on with making sure your squad-mates keep things real. Hence move orders come complete with covering fire, and take natural terrain cover into account. Fire solutions cover all the angles and make best use of your team's various weapons. Even the enemy reacts realistically, thanks to a psychological profile that takes into account how scared they're becoming in the face of your force's overwhelming superiority.
Go To War
If it all sounds rather jingoistic and like some kind of soldier recruitment tool in sheep's clothing, well, Destineer Studios is keen to stress that it's simply a realistic portrayal of life as a Marine. Any contextual interpretations of the game's content is up to you...
It's certainly hectic, something that makes it feel authentic enough, but it's also a little linear and simplistic in its treatment of the 'enemy' in places. But there's still time for the rougher edges to be smoothed over, which is what you'd certainly hope for if this truly is being used to train real-life soldiers.
Download Close Combat: First to Fight
While Some Us senators bleat on about the evils of gaming, their very own armed forces are perfectly happy to plough their cash into furthering the cause of our humble pastime. First they fund the online recruiting tool that is America's Army, and then pay for training software to be developed upon which Full Spectrum Warrior is based (although admittedly we're rather glad about the latter as it's rather splendid). Apparently, neither were good enough for the US Marine Corps though, as they've been throwing their capital and expertise at what is a training tool for them, but Close Combat: First To Fight for us.
Incidentally, it's worth pointing out from the start that the Close Combat tag is a bit of a crafty misnomer, as it has little to do with the top-down strategy games that came before it. Instead, CC:FTF joins the ever growing ranks of squad-based FPS titles vying for your hard-earned cash, albeit with strategy overtones that prevent it from being classed as a straight-out shooter.
The theatre of war is Beirut of 2006, where a winning mix of dictatorships, foreign interference and political instability has given the Americans an excuse (assuming they need one these days) to send in their finest. Your job is to lead a four-man fire-team through the war-torn streets on missions mostly involving getting from A to B and occasionally attempting to capture or kill an enemy leader, with the odd set-piece thrown in for good measure. A few basic squad commands are always available, so you can pretend to know what you're doing as you stumble around the streets, such as getting your guys to follow you or to hold their position. You can also instruct them to take up firing positions by looking at an area and hitting a key. The Al of your squad is mostly quite decent, and you'll often be pleasantly surprised to see them taking up sensible firing positions behind a wrecked car, or lining up by a comer and taking pot-shots at snipers you might otherwise have missed.
The competency of your squad's Al isn't entirely consistent though. Sometimes they blatantly disobey your orders or run off on their own and get caught out in the open, which becomes frustrating when they end up getting shot through no fault of your own. More squad commands are available to you through a context-sensitive menu that's brought up by looking at the area you're interested in, holding down the right mouse-button and selecting an option. These include ordering your men to lay down suppressing fire, or shouting for your enemy to drop their weapons (which they hardly ever do). This interface, which was no doubt designed with the console versions in mind, is poorly implemented and rarely works as well as it should.
CC:FTF is also let down by even more inconsistencies. For example, there's a neat option to order your men to fling a grenade into a room, then rush in afterwards to clear it out (much like in SWAT4). When it works, rushing in with your men and watching AK-wielding militants biting the dust all around you is enormously satisfying. For some reason though, the option to order a room to be cleared is rarely displayed, which only leaves one decidedly less tactical decision - you barging in trying to shoot anything that moves and invariably taking a few slugs in the process.
Some commands are fairly useful, such as the ability to call in an air-strike. Sadly, much of the fun and challenge is removed by virtually signposting where and when these options can be taken. When you encounter a large square full of OPFORS (or bad guys to us mere civilians), you know that the option to call in sniper support will have appeared in the context-menu. You see some heavy artillery trundling in and. sure enough, the mortar strike option appears.
The narrative is handled by INN' news stories presented by Americans with chucklesome names like Rennett Urban, summing up what results your previous mission yielded on the war effort and reporting on the situation you're heading into next. Other than supporting M's observation in GoldenEye that the US government gleans most of its intelligence from CNN, the stones do little to help draw you into the game.
Although the environments see you handling a good mixture of indoor and outdoor combat encounters, the muddy and slightly blocky look to the environments do little to distinguish each level, and the linear objectives are compounded by the claustrophobic map design. The most serious deficiencies in the game, other than the botched interface, lie in the unconvincing enemy Al and the wishy-washy handling of the weapons which reminds us of other unsatisfying shooters like Shadow Ops: Red Mercury.
While not a universally terrible effort, the tense stand-offs and tight urban combat is let down by the weak interface and poor consistency in your squad's Al. Although lowering the difficulty setting will add a more Republic Commando-style arcade slant to the missions and lower your reliance on your squad, this pretty much defeats the object of buying what's purported to be a squad-based strategic shooter in the first place.
If the Americans were using this to learn how to fight, they'd be going around making questionable tactical decisions, shouting cheesy soundbites and shooting at each other all the time. Hang on...
Game Over Man, Game Over
The Art Of Applying First Aid
Being in charge of a four-man fire-team makes their safety your responsibility. You carry a quantity of first aid kits around with you that can give you a quick health boost, but if any of your guys are flagging (most likely down to their occasional spells of monumental stupidity and not doing what they're told), you can apply a first aid kit to them using the context menu.
If one of your guys goes down though, you have a limited time in which to get the immediate surroundings secured so you can call in a corpsman. This military magician appears from nowhere, no matter where you are, and evacuates your wounded soldier to safety (again, as if by magic). Lose more than one man or get wasted yourself though, and the plug is pulled on the mission, promptly sending you back to the last checkpoint
When I start thinking about military tactical games, America's Army comes to mind first and for good reason. It's one of the best solider simulations I've played with accurate representation of real world missions and it's free. Another one that comes to mind is Rainbow Six, which focuses more on team tactics then a solider simulation but pulls off an incredible experience. Close Combat: First to Fight takes pieces of each of these games and attempts to put together a realistic solider tactics simulator. The result isn't by any means the combination of the best aspects from the games above, but still pulls off a decent experience.
Close Combat: First to Fight focuses in on a Marine team of four called ready, team, fire, assist. The theory is that if each member of the squad executes their position correctly, the adversary will never get the drop on them. In other words they have each others back completely. I was actually impressed with the AI's ability to pull this off as the squad members filled their roles correctly most of the time. It did allow me to rely on them generally and focus on my position.
It was missing however that polished interface and feel of Rainbow Six and also didn't have the in-depth tactical abilities. It was also missing the real battle action that America's Army offers such as the reality of taking a bullet or be too close to a grenade. That being said, Close Combat: First to Fight still offers plenty of solid gameplay to keep most fans satisfied.
The audio and graphics also need improving in order to compete head on with other military shooters, but again there's enough here to keep the game from appearing bland or out-dated. The environments are soft, and your team could use more natural movements but nothing that fans of this genre will be bent out of shape over.
Basically, Close Combat: First to Fight puts forth a good effort and redeems itself some with its multiplayer options. It's definitely worth a rental and fans, especially those who will play online may seriously consider owning it.
Snapshots and Media
- Arma 2
- Battlefield 2: Euro Force
- Battlefield Heroes
- Battlestations Pacific
- Code of Honor: The French Foreign Legion
- Line of Sight: Vietnam
- Medal of Honor: Allied Assault - Breakthrough
- Medal of Honor: Allied Assault - Spearhead
- ArmA: Queen's Gambit
- Battlefield 2142: Northern Strike
- Conflict: Vietnam
- Hour Of Victory
- Soldner: Marine Corps
- The Mark
- War Rock