"Surely," we ask Destineer's GM Al Schilling during a hands-on with Close Combat: First To Fight, "you must be worried about comparisons to Rainbow Six [Issue 23, 9.4] and Full Spectrum Warrior [Issue 30, 9.2]?" "Not at all," he smiles. "In fact, we welcome the comparisons. We've got the elements of Rainbow Six only with far better AI, and we've got elements of Full Spectrum Warrior but with the ability to shoot your weapons rather than just give orders. Those two things alone make First To Fight something rather special." He's not wrong.
Set in modern-day Beirut, Close Combat is the latest in a long line of FPS US Marine games, but it's one hell of a superior beast. With every step of development having gone through a filter of Marines, Iraq War vets, military strategists and die-hard gaming fans, this is as close to commanding (and shooting) as you're likely to get on this generation of consoles. And it goes a little deeper than that too.
For the first time in a game like this we'll have to look after a squad's morale as well as their ability to kill. If orders are given that are clearly suicidal, they'll first ask if you're sure, then follow them grudgingly. If one gets shot, morale plunges and you could be left with a team that lacks co-ordination, efficiency and response time. Get it right, however, by motivating your men and pumping them full of rousing words of Uncle Sam, and their morale will sky-rocket. They'll work faster, more efficiently, and start working their way through a campaign like surgeons. They'll even get to a state that enables them to 'break the will' of enemies. This is a tactic used by real Marines and means working with such brutal speed and accuracy that the enemy downs tools and flees. But it won't be easy. Every character - NPC, playable, whatever - will have what Schilling calls a 'psychology tree'. They'll be motivated from sources other than those immediately apparent to the player. For example, behind a bank of men there could be an officer threatening to shoot deserters. You take him out, you might find they were all being kept there against their will.
Of course, it's not all psychological warfare. As well as using the tactics and mindset of the US Marines, you'll be equipped with their tools too. The M16 A4 with 4x scope, smoke grenades, frag grenades, and grenade launcher all come as standard. And, if you find yourself ruthlessly efficient at dealing with insurgents, you can use the Marine's ace, known collectively as MAGTAF (Marine Air Ground Task Force) Assets. This could involve calling in specially trained snipers, heavy arms experts, or the fearful Black Hawk helicopters to literally incinerate the enemy.
Such is the realism and the lengths Destineer has gone to when creating Close Combat, the US Army is interested in the code. Never mind the volumetric shadowing, real-time lighting and all that technical wizardry, when Uncle Sam wants a game to train real-life soldiers, then surely that's a mark of respect. Let's hope Destineer includes a 'waving the white flag' option for that big old Iraq mess, then...