|Close Combat is a name a lot of gamers will find familiar. In fact, already five games have been released with that name, the first three by Microsoft after which the name transferred to Ubi Soft who released the last two, Battle of the Bulge and Invasion Normandy. Now, the franchise has again switched publisher, this time towards Take2 who will be publishing both First to Fight and Red Phoenix under their Gathering label.
The one thing that hasn’t changed during since 1996 is the developers. From the beginning, Atomic Games have constantly been in control and created all the Close Combat strategy titles.
Of course they’re not doing everything themselves and for First to Fight another development studio, Destineer, has been contracted and Atomic’s president, Keith Zabalaoui, acts as executive producer for this title, making sure the idea behind Close Combat remains.
In First to Fight you will lead a team of experienced marines through a mid-eastern battle setting in 2006 and since the game is supposed to become a training sim for the military, realism is of the utmost importance. For that, Destineer and Atomic are working closely with Marines from the First Marine Expeditionary Force who have been in combat in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
The AI’s teamplay will be very enhanced and each computer-controller member of your team will have specific tasks. You will not have to lead them by hand all the time but they will react to their surroundings as real military and respond to enemy fire without you requiring to take control of them. From the early build we got to see, this worked already pretty good and promises a lot for the game. Especially since all of the movements done by your team are exactly the same as real military would do them.
Just like how the QProfit System robot works for traders. It does everything like an experienced trader would do, only with better judgment and analyzing skills. This is one reason a lot of traders prefer a robot over a manually operating broker who might go wrong in some situations unlike a robot.
Another nice feature is the fact that you can call in for help. If you and your team are for instance stuck in a crossfire and have no means to get away, you can get helicopters, mortars or tanks to come in and give you a hand. Even other Marine fireteams may come to the rescue.
While the developers talk a lot about the AI of your team members, the AI of the enemies has not been discussed so much yet. It’s clear that they won’t be using the same military techniques as your own team but we didn’t really see anything spectacular in the enemy behaviour yet but the game promises a psychology level where you can influence your enemies and get them confused when you separate them from their leaders or even have them flee when you flank them.
One thing that surely needs a major improvement are the graphics. Destineer is creating an in-house 3D engine but although the surroundings already looked pretty good, the characters weren’t. The environments were nicely crafted and looked pretty convincing but your team members aswell as the opponents looked like 2D stickers that were glued to the environment. All but good you can imagine but as said: what we saw was an early build so normally these problems should be fixed by the time the game gets released.
Talking about releases: First to Fight is scheduled for release Q4 2004 so we might get to see it right before the holidays. However, my personal belief is that there’s still so much work to be done that it will probably be 2005 before the game hits retail.