Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.
The Close Combat series turns twenty next month. Twenty! Doesn’t time fly when you’re waging turnless war on a top-down WW2 battlefield with alarmingly vulnerable Armoured Fighting Vehicles and teams of understandably reluctant infantrymen.
The game that established the bridgehead subsequently expanded by Close Combat II: A Bridge Too Far, Close Combat III: The Russian Front, Close Combat IV: The Battle of the Bulge, Close Combat V: Invasion Normandy, Close Combat: The Road to Baghdad, Close Combat: Cross of Iron, Close Combat: Modern Tactics, Close Combat: Wacht am Rhein, Close Combat: The Longest Day, Close Combat: Panthers in the Fog, Close Combat: Tigers in the Taiga, Close Combat: Shermans in the Shrubbery, Close Combat: Last Stand Arnhem, Close Combat: Cake Stand Kohima, Close Combat: Gateway to Caen, Close Combat: Backdoor to Berlin, Close Combat: Wheelchair Ramp to Stalingrad, and Close Combat: Please Make it Stop, lacked some of the elements that made CC2 and CC3 so popular. Maps were few and short of curves. The campaign was linear, monotone, and a tad unfair.
Atomic recreated the six-week, twenty-mile American advance from Omaha Beach to Saint-Lô using six rather cramped battlefields. With persistent forces and a time limit, as the Allies it was important to take ground quickly and inexpensively. Spectacular success led to leapfrogged battles. Gallingly, thanks to something the devs called ‘dynamic play balancing’, it also led to fewer reinforcements.
Fortunately, the campaign and map flaws didn’t seem all that significant when you were surrounded by the sort of life-and-death human dramas traditional PC wargames neuter with numbers and hexagons. The veteran bazooka team stalking the bogged StuG. The berserk Thompson-clutching sergeant melee-ing his way through an entire 88 crew. The panicking BAR gunner desperately trying to clear his jammed weapon as the crescent of grey sprites closes. A Close Combat engagement was always engaging. Always worth peering at.