Review: Close Combat
MacOS 7.5 onwards
12MB RAM, 20MB Hard Disk space
Modem or TCP/IP for network play
For many years I had been waiting for computers to do for wargaming what they have done for accounting, CAD, and video games. Finally, my waiting is over. Close Combat was released and won PC Gamer’s Best Wargame of the year (yes, it’s both Mac and PC).
Close Combat is an animated, real-time World War II simulation. You play a US commander who’s taking troops to the French town of Saint-Lo after landing on the beach at Normandy. An historic set of battles that solidified Allied beachheads in occupied France. Alternatively, you could play the part of the German defender, trying to stop the relentless southward drive of the US forces.
Close Combat is inspired by Squad Leader[TM], an Avalon Hill board game (although Atomic stresses that Close Combat is not a translation of this game to computer, nor is it sanctioned by Avalon Hill). Computer games break free of the restrictions inherent to board games and offer so much more. Computers can simulate the “Fog of War.” This means you don’t necessarily know what your opponent is doing until you would actually see it if you were in a real conflict.
Combat can be set to automatic, so you can concentrate on being a commander without having to direct every soldier’s aim. All this happens in real time, so you must make quick decisions as battle progresses, even changing your strategy in mid-game as opportunities arise or disaster strikes.
Your command encompasses infantry, tanks, tank destroyers, anti-tank guns, and armoured personnel carriers. Your attacks can be screened from your opponent (computer or human) by the use of mortars or smoke fired from guns. Machine guns or mortars can fire at suspected enemy locations to keep your enemy’s head down while your attack proceeds. All of this is animated, with men firing, crawling forward, and bleeding when wounded. Tank’s fire and exploding shells leave holes in the ground. Enemy fire is shown by red lines while friendly fire is blue, allowing you to see how much shooting is going on and where.
Your view of a battlefield is an aerial view of all the terrain and the locations that need to be taken (or held). Buildings have no roofs, so you can see interiors when your troops are inside. There are no multi-story buildings on the map. Indeed, the entire playing area is flat. Only houses, trees, forests, hedges and boccage break up the view from one end of the map to the other.
The philosophy of the game offers the player a limited number oforders: Move, Run, Smoke, Defend, and Hide. This keeps you fromhaving to deal with minutia that would bog the game down anddampen your excitement. The menu of five commands gives you what you need to run the whole battle. Close Combat does not expecta player to remember obscure rules, in contrast to many boardgames, so as you can concentrate on achieving your goal while thecomputer handles the details. For this reason, Close Combat willappeal to people who might be bored with the typical board game.It’s all action and no paperwork. To issue a command, merely click on a particular unit, hold the mouse button down until a pop-up menu presents the commands, and choose. Depending on the command, you may then need to click in a location.
In some ways, the game may look similar to games such as Command and Conquer, but there are some important differences. In Close Combat, you don’t get to build reinforcements, and the troops behave far more realistically. For example, they can refuse to fight, run out of ammunition, or move to attack the enemy on their own. When you give them orders, they will decide the best way to acheive their objective. If they are attacked on the way, they can decide to press on or to move into cover and return fire.
An enlargened view of the map appears in the bottom right of your screen. Wherever you move the cursor, the enlarged view merely shows a scaled view; you won’t see any more detail than you would from the map. Each man only is about 8 pixels by 8 pixels at maximum, so the enlarged view is quite pixellated.
Each bullet is tracked and each miss is calculated. Your men’s mental state is constantly calculated to determine whether he is going to panic and run away or go beserk and attempt to madly engage the enemy in hand-to-hand combat. You get status reports when men are injured. By clicking on them you will be taken to their location on the map. Every squad has a rosette which tells you if a squad is under fire and from which direction. As men are injured or killed, they are so marked in the squad status.
Battles can be played individually, but the best experience comes from playing the “campaign” game where the goal is to take the town of Saint-Lo in less time than the actual, historical event without suffering too many casualties. Each battle occurs in a 800 x 800 meter area with lots of varied terrain. Each battle can have one of two goals. One assignment is to capture critical locations. Another is to inflict sufficient damage on the enemy forces so they retreat, without losing too many of your owntroops in the process.
A key indicator to watch during battle is the “Forces Morale” on the right of the status bar, which displays the status of your troops and your enemy’s as coloured bars. If either status bar turns red and starts flashing, or both turn orange and flash, the game will end within two minutes, and your performance will be assessed. Depending on how well both you do, you might move onto a new battleground as you push the enemy back or are pushed back by the enemy. Sometimes you stay on the same map for the next battle, but the front line has moved forward or backward,depending on how well you have done.
Even if the Germans defend every battlefield brilliantly, they are eventually forced backwards from strategic decisions made outside the events taking place on the displayed battleground. The only questions are how long this will take and how many casualties you will sustain during this time. Close
Combat can be played against the computer, another player over a phone, or via TCP/IP across the Internet.
The game has 17 maps on which 42 battles are arranged, but eventually you
might get tired of this set. Although the game was not meant to be expandable, people such as Tony Wunch and others have made variants of the game with new forces, maps and victory conditions. The weapons and vehicle databases are modifiable in a limited way, but there are enough variations to keep you playing for months. <http://www-leland.stanford.edu/~hills/CC/index.html>
The 176 page manual is comprehensive and contains instructions on how to setup and play the game, weapon descriptions, terrain effects, game tips and strategies. One third of the book describes a brief history of the Second World War (for those of us who missed it the first time around).
To win, you need to learn how to combine infantry, tanks and indirect fire during attack and defense, although you can still have a great time without knowing all of this. Game difficulty can be set to different levels to account for various experience and abilities. Atomic has made the game enjoyable for novice and experienced players. You can download a single-battle 6.7MB demo from Atomic’s web site to see if you like it. I highly recommended Close Combat to all those who remember playing with toy soldiers as children.