Close Combat: First to Fight Review

“Created with the help of over 40 active-duty Marines fresh from firefights in the Middle East, First to Fight puts you behind the barrel of an M16-A4 as a Marine fire team leader. Lead your four-man fire team through the perilous streets of Beirut in modern urban combat. Close Combat: First to Fight is an action-oriented, first-person 3D shooter that is being developed under the direction of the US Marine Corps as a training simulation for use by the Marine Corps.”  –  our description of the title in our database.

Is this game truly being used as a training simulation for the Marine Corps? If so, I feel sorry for our Marines.

The graphics of Close Combat are decent, but don’t compare at all to the likes of Halo 2 or Splinter Cell. However, what the game does isn’t so terrible that you want to turn off the game from lack of detail.

For starters, the developers have done a good job contrasting the wide open outdoor areas and the claustrophobic indoor areas. When you’re outdoors, you’ll be looking at the streets of a fictional Beirut as you try to find what cover you can. Snipers and the like will poke out from behind vehicles, stone columns, and various piles of debris. Other terrorists will come riding in on technicals, blazing away with their machine guns and the like in an attempt to gun you down.

Indoors, the open spaces vanish into a multitude of small residences and shopping centers. You’ll also see large numbers of invulnerable cardboard and wooden boxes, all blocking your line of sight to any quantity of hostiles.

The player models are nothing fancy, and at times are completely bugged. Everybody creeps around rather well, but once your team starts to run around, the animations seem off as one’s feet don’t quite affect how they actually move. In addition, shadows have a tendency to clip through doorways and windows. I’ve actually encountered one scene where I was faced with 20 foot tall giant shadows of my team being projected onto the opposite side of the street.

Overall, while the frame rate is maintained at a high level, the visuals you face aren’t pushing the system’s capabilities in the slightest.

The music is about the only good thing in Close Combat. You’ll hear a few pulse-pumping themes occasionally as you play through the game, and any time you set your team up to breach a doorway, you’ll hear this heroic ditty that makes you feel like it’s a good thing to be in the military. It gets annoying after a while, but it works.

The voices though are another matter entirely. For starters, your team is comprised of office workers just saying their voices into a microphone. They’re utterly generic sounding and have absolutely no life in them, and as thus you don’t care for your team whether they’re getting shot at or even killed.

The worst part is whenever you call in an airstrike. During the course of the minute long conversation, you’ll hear your character talk to yourself (which is supposed to be somebody back at base), then to some sleepy grunt ‘flying’ or directing an artillery strike, then yourself again, and then finally your character.

The attack of the clones and lack of any decent voice acting really hampers your ability to be drawn into this world and ultimately the enjoyment of this title.

When faced with the manual for Close Combat, you’ll stare in confusion at the myriad of controls you’ll need to remember. Once you’ve played with the game for an hour or so, the controls become second nature.

In short, you use the two analog sticks to move and aim, the A button to issue your orders to your team, the B button to change how you want your team to behave with their weapons, the Y button to manage your team’s organization, X to manage your weapons, R to shoot, L to bash with your weapon, and the digital pad to order specific members of your team.

Thankfully you can see the controls at any time while playing. While you can’t change the configuration (short of analog sensitivity), it works very well after playing the game.

“The United States Marine Corps is the tip of America’s military spear. Operating in a perpetual state of readiness, Marines can deploy astonishingly powerful military might almost anywhere in the world in less than 96 hours.” – from the instruction manual.

In a nutshell, you are the leader of a Fire Team of four Marines. Each Marine will follow your orders to the letter and automatically acts upon a series of tactics called Ready-Team-Fire-Assist (RTFA). What does that mean exactly? From the manual once more:

Ready is the rifleman. He is your point man and stands next to the team leader (you).
Team is you, the team leader.
Fire is your SAW (Squad Automatic Weapon) gunner.
Assist is the assistant gunner, who carries extra ammo for the SAW gunner.

Each member of your team will cover your back and sides as you advance down the streets of Beirut. They’ll also quickly move to position to use their firepower where it’s most needed.

Do these tactics and advanced AI processes based upon realistic military procedures make a fantastic game? Not really. But it does keep it from being an otherwise run of the mill shooter.

In single player mode, you’ll take your team and keep them safe as you deal justice against those who are trying to turn Beirut into a war zone. Terrorists will come out of the woodwork in highly scripted scenes (called ‘levels’ by the manual), and you’ll order airstrikes and sniper support when you’re simply outmanned and outgunned.

The AI on both sides performs pretty well, but there are some issues. At times, your team is unable to defend themselves as they’re unable to get into position behind you (or simply follow orders in general) to assist you. At other times, they’re a crack shot, able to take down a hostile you haven’t noticed yet from a hundred yards out.

The hostile AI though is killer. They seem to know where you and your team are at all times, and occasionally you’ll run across an opponent who has more than human reaction times and accuracy. Other times they’ll blindly run into your cross fire as they’re still following their scripted orders to get into position.

Multiplayer however is where all the fun is. You won’t have to deal with the friendly AI issues if you have real humans on your team. You’ll also be able to perform flanking maneuvers as a group far better than you can order your team to do so. With Xbox Live’s voice chat, you can easily keep tabs on what’s going on around you.

Not only does multiplayer allow you to play the single player game cooperatively, but you can also participate in more mundane free for all killing. All modes offer lots of killing and high intensity combat.

As a single player title, Close Combat is one of those games you’ll play once through and not really pick up again. If you have three other friends and are willing to play this game online (or around a very big TV set), you’ll have a lot of fun as this title’s shortcomings are overshadowed by how much fun multiplayer is. No matter if you’re playing the single player missions as a team, or playing one of the varied multiplayer modes, you’ll be having fun with your friends.Close Combat: First to Fight is one of many realistic military shooters to come out in recent months, and unfortunately a few nagging issues keep it from being the best there is. If you do intend to spend some time with it though, make sure you have a few friends who also are willing to join in on the fun.

Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming. Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter. Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 21 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes).
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