More and more military-based games these days are either developed from real training tools used by soldiers and/or enlist the help of real life soldiers to consult the developers into creating the most realistic combat experience around. Close Combat: First to Fight has used both of these techniques as it was created from a real training tool used by the US Marine Corps, and also with the help of over 40 US Marines fresh out of the Middle East. With such help, you'd think that this action title would provide not only an enjoyable experience, but one of the most realistic takes on military combat. Unfortunately that's not the case here, as Close Combat: First to Fight suffers from a number of different problems.
The story of First to Fight revolves around a fictional event in the Lebanese city of Beirut. A rebellion has erupted and neighboring Arab nations have sent in their own forces which complicates the situation even further. To respond to this matter, the United States sends in their own Marine unit to put things to rest. This is where you take over as a Marine lance corporal in charge of a four-man fire team sent in to the area to complete missions in and around the city. The game's six missions take roughly 10 hours to beat and are split up into certain events, each with their own separate objectives.
Each mission starts with a debriefing and a list of specific objectives that need to be completed. The objectives can range from simple hostage rescues to eliminating top ranking officers with the enemy forces. The story advances further between the missions via live news broadcasts that tell the events of the conflict.
Despite what you may think, this new Close Combat title is nothing like the old Close Combat strategy games. Instead, it's a tactical action shooter that tries to display the real techniques used by US Marines. Except the whole "tactical" part seems to have gotten lost in the dust of the Middle East somewhere. Due to First to Fight's straightforward level design, there is little motivation for any type of strategy or tactics use. The maps seem far too linear to offer up the type of squad-based combat that this title is supposed to provide. Since the levels are just so linear, there's not much strategy or tactics involved, which gives it a low replay value. The game does make some nice transitions between indoor and outdoor environments, but even the outdoor areas feel just as claustrophobic with little room to move around.
Of course Close Combat: First to Fight does include a number of different command options which serve as the core gameplay for this title. However, as was previously mentioned this feature feels very limited due to the linear levels, but the way the commands work makes it feel even more limited. There aren't a great deal of commands that can be given out, and only certain ones can be given at a certain time. The command screen acts much like the same in SWAT 4 . Simply right-click the mouse and a small menu comes up allowing you to choose the command you want. Depending on where you are aiming, the choices may be different. The more useful commands include telling your squad to move to a certain position, suppress an enemy, follow you, or to breach a door. When breaching a door, your fellow soldiers line up by it and await your command. Upon telling them to enter, they will try to find the nearest cover while firing on the enemy all at the same time. It's most effective for quickly clearing out a room, but for some odd reason it can't be used on some rooms.
Some other useful commands are reserved for outdoor situations. One such command allows you to call in sniper support. This can only be done in some select areas, but doing so will get a sniper over to your position right away to attempt to take care of your targets. Other commands include calling in artillery support and Cobra gunships to handle your larger targets such as bunkers or armored vehicles. Your squad can also be split up so that you can command each member separately. In some situations, this is the most effective decision to quickly eliminate your targets. You just need to make sure that someone is there watching their back, or they can easily be caught off guard. Fortunately you can carry with you a number of med packs which can not only be distributed to you but your team-mates as well. When one of your men becomes incapacitated you can stabilize him by giving him a med pack, and then you must call in the corpsman to extract him. If two of your men are killed the mission will automatically end. Throughout the game the fighting is intense and you're usually fighting against a large number of enemies all at once. But still the problem of limited command options grows, and you'll soon find yourself just mindlessly telling your guys to enter one room after another, over and over again.
First to Fight also includes a variety of real world weaponry which is all at your disposal. At any given time you can carry a primary weapon, secondary weapon, frag grenades, and smoke grenades. You can also pick up any enemy weapons, which are then placed in your secondary weapon position. Some of the weapons found within the game include the M16A4, M203 Grenade Launcher, M249 SAW, M590 Shotgun, AK-47, and the RPG-7 among others. Each member of your squad is equipped with different weapons for different situations. You always carry the M16, but the M249 SAW is vital for laying down some cover fire in tense situations. So if your squad member carrying the M249 SAW gets shot down, it's a good idea to pick that weapon up and carry it yourself as it will come in handy later on.
First to Fight's 10 hour single-player campaign does offer a few enjoyable battles, but it's main strength lies in the multiplayer portion of the game, which is actually more fun than the single-player mode. The game's multiplayer includes three different types of gameplay modes. The most traditional mode would be the Fire Team Arena which takes place on specially made arena maps. This is a team deathmatch type of game, with two teams of four people. The mode that is the most fun to play would have to be the Cooperative. With this mode you can play all of the single-player missions with your friends. Each player takes the position of one of the four squad members, much like in the single-player game. It's actually more fun than the single-player game since you are working with human players instead of the clumsy AI, and it's also more challenging as it's harder and more realistic to try and work together. The third multiplayer mode is a Modified Cooperative mode. This is more-or-less the same as the regular Cooperative mode, but now you can choose your weapon instead of using the regular weapons of each team member. The only really big problem with multiplayer is the fact that it has no voice support. This makes it even harder to coordinate moves with your squad.
First to Fight's AI is both intelligent and completely brainless all at the same time. The AI is fairly smart considering the fact that your allies will usually take effective cover and normally know what they are doing. The same thing goes with the enemy AI, as they will also take cover when being fired upon, and they actually seem a little smarter than your own men. However, the AI does have its dumb moments. There have been many times where my fellow Marines hesitated way too long to fire at an enemy that was only about 10 feet away and was a clear shot. Sometimes the enemy would actually run right by us practically touching us and my men still wouldn't fire. Also, they would occasionally stand out in the open without looking for some cover to hide behind. That's definitely the type of situation that gets everyone killed right away. And considering that this game uses a checkpoint system for saving games, it can become easy to get angry at your teammate's frequent deaths.
The graphics, while not being the absolute best out there, do look pretty good. Some textures may seem a little low-resolution, but seeing as how this was co-developed for the XBOX, that's to be expected. The overall effect of the visuals does look very smooth, and the lighting and shadow effects are accurately displayed here. The ragdoll is also fun to watch as bodies fly in the air from an explosion, but they generally disappear shortly after.
The audio from the weapons seems to be detailed and well presented. However, the music during combat is quite pathetic and becomes annoying as it's triggered by such moments as breaching open a door and storming a room. The voiceovers are also very weak, with the commander sounding more like a little child than a strong leader who can effectively command his squad during intense combat.
It's hard to recommend Close Combat: First to Fight as it really doesn't deliver on what it promises. Sure, it does follow the realistic maneuvers of the US Marines, but it does so in an environment that really doesn't support the use of such tactics and strategy. In the end, it just turns itself into another short-lived linear FPS. It may possibly be worth playing through at least one time, and it's multiplayer certainly provides for some guaranteed enjoyment, but all of the other flaws within the game are very hard to overlook.