The year is 1943, and I’m crawling through knee-deep mud. Over a small hill I can barely make out the outline of my first victim. His grey helmet gives out a flicker of shine which reflects from the afternoon sun. I signal the remainder of my squad to stop and take cover. I raise my gun quietly and stare down the barrel as I aim towards his upper torso. A few deep breaths in, then BANG! The nazi scum drops. But before I can celebrate, another squad member catches sight of a fleeing enemy. But instead of firing at the enemy, my squad simply freezes and refuses to pull the trigger. Now we’re surrounded and in big trouble. And this is just the start of the multitude of problems that seem to plague what could have been one of the best tactical/strategy games ever made.
In Close Combat: The Bloody First, you take command of a squadron through a one grand campaign in this over the top view of one of gaming’s most iconic series. The game has you diving deep behind enemy lines in Tunisia, Sicily, all the way to Normandy. You take command of infantry and heavy weapons teams of varying ranks and statistical abilities. But be very cautious of the soldiers you take because they must survive through the whole thing. Thankfully, a nifty ‘save’ feature lets you restart the game whenever you get pegged in any of the tough situations.
Objectives are introduced through detailed briefings that range from attacking fortified positions to defending key locations. Stellar music and sound effects give the game epic form and a dynamic pace that lets you pour your heart into every battle. The inclusion of the moral system (fight or flight) makes every battlefield encounter upfront and personal. Units can be carried over from each scenario with their experience points intact which adds another layer of replayability.
The biggest change, however, is in the graphics. I use to watch my dad play the original back in the day and I often wondered how the game would look with updated graphics. Well, now I know. CC:TBF is finally in 3D and it looks pretty good. The 3D engine isn’t the most advanced on the block and gets somewhat pixelated up close, but the characters look way cool as does the terrain as it forms up and down revealing landmark valleys and hills. The missions are well designed and each scenario can be approached from several different tactical perspectives.
Despite my initial praise, where the game suffers the most is in its questionable AI and control scheme. First off, the free-floating camera tends to turn on its own axis instead of the area you want to focus on. Selecting a group of soldiers can also be a bit of a challenge because of the way move orders are given. Instead of being able to select your squad to give them an order, the game has you right-clicking first to give orders. This is highly cumbersome and inefficient.
Soldiers also go into an idle mode when enemies are directly within their line of sight causing unnecessary casualties to your squadron because your troops refused to fight back. When they are fighting, they oftentimes don’t follow additional orders with nary a reason why. The tooltips and clunky interface can benefit from polish as well.
Yet despite its shortcomings, Close Combat: The Bloody First’s brilliant level design and faithful gameplay made me want to stick with it to the end…although I was cursing all the way. It’s another game in the growing list of enticing, remastered sequels that may not convert new gamers to the genre, but will definitely give older wargaming vets a dose of nostalgia.
– Updated 3D graphics
– A lot of depth and open-ended battle scenarios
– Questionable AI
– Grainy graphics and weak explosions
– Random game crashes
Stays true to the Close Combat legacy, but the AI, bugs, and random crashes take away from the intricate gameplay.