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Close Combat: First to Fight

The Us Marines are clearly worried about their image. I can't imagine why, especially now that whole Abu Ghraib thing has blown over, not to mention Camp X-Ray and the Massacre at Mazar and all those other so-called 'Geneva violations'. Besides, we've all seen Black Hawk Down, right? We know they're good guys really.

Just in case though, the Marine Corps has been commissioning a few videogames lately, to help hoist the flag and remind us all why we're proud to be American. Er, allies. A couple of months back we were treated to the well-decent Full Spectrum Warrior, and next on the agenda is Close Combat: First To Fight, a tactical FPS based on the actual operating practices of the US Marines (apart from the ones involving testicles and car batteries, of course).

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Like FSW, First To Fight puts you in command of a small, four-man unit of US troops in a hostile urban environment (Beirut, Lebanon to be precise). Like FSW, the game mimics the 'Ready-Team-Fire-Assist' (RTFA) tactics employed by the Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan, and like FSW, a modified version of the game is to be used as a training tool by the Marines themselves.

However, in stark contrast to that game, First To Fight also features proper first-person shooting, putting you in the midst of the fray as a fire team leader in an imaginary near-future conflict.

Annoying patriotic bluster aside, First To Fight also looks pretty darn good. We recently had a chance to play the game, and though it bears a strong resemblance to Full Spectrum, Raven Shield and others, it also manages to extract a slightly different dynamic from the squad-based military formula.

Independence Day
For a start, the level of autonomy granted to your team-mates is a real step forward. Rather than having to babysit your Marines and hold their hand at every turn as in Raven Shield, you can pretty much just get on with the job and let them get on with theirs.

Indeed, the friendly AI is one of the most impressive parts of the game. The developers have put a great deal of effort into imbuing your squad-mates with a grasp of real military formations and tactics, and it seems to work extremely well. Walk down a narrow street and your lads will automatically assume a 'double column' formation, two to a side. Approach an intersection and they'll automatically take up multiple angles of fire to keep each branch covered. It's almost too easy.

During the first two levels in fact, we found cause to give specific orders only twice. Once was to order a 'room takedown', in which your squad bursts into a room and kills anything with dubious facial hair, and the other was to order the heavy weapons guy (the 'Fire' in your RTFA sandwich) to lay down some suppressing fire on a particularly troublesome intersection. OK, that's not strictly true. There was a third time, when we ordered a hail of frag grenades to be lobbed into a building that turned out to be a factory full of innocent workers, but that's an incident that's probably best forgotten.

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Flower Power
When you do have to issue commands, it's a straightforward affair. Point your reticule at a location, click the command button and your men will go there. Squeeze the formation button and they'll come back. More complex commands such as door breaches and suppression orders are handled with a simple right-click over the target, which brings up a radial-style menu nicked wholesale from Raven Shield.

Overall it's a remarkably uncomplicated system. The interface is smooth and unobtrusive, making for a fast-moving and exciting game that sits comfortably at the arcade end of the spectrum. Missions seem a lot more linear and straightforward than the likes of Full Spectrum Warrior, and enemies, unlike your own squad-mates, display little in the way of tactical know-how.

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