Have You Played… Close Combat?

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.

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21 Comments

  1. wodin says:

    CC2 was my favourite..also after 2 Inf survivability got more and more toned down. Something I hope they reverse with the new CC in development.

    • klops says:

      CC2 was the best one in my mind. The campaign worked well and had challenge. CC3 was ridiculous tank fest in a game that does the tanks really, really badly (and has done so without much change since the first game…). From the many that followed I tried Battle of the Bulge CC, D-Day CC and Caen CC, if I remember correctly. Too easy, too same, tanks sucking for decades.

  2. Freud says:

    I don’t remember it looking that bad. Nostalgia and a hazy memory is the best anti-aliasing.

    • klops says:

      That’s zoomed in. The normal distance was further away, I’d remember.

  3. Stargazer86 says:

    The issue I have with the Close Combat games is that they never seemed to change from iteration to iteration. I had Close Combat: Normandy way back in the day. Came out in 2000. I recently bought Close Combat: Gateway to Caen, one of the newer titles from a few years back, 2014 or so, and it looks exactly the same. It has the same dated graphics. It plays the same. They hadn’t even updated the sound effects. They’re identical to those from 16 years ago. I mean, I know people expect a sequels to stick close to the original but that’s just a little nuts.

    • Vedharta says:

      Close Combat started out as a computer version of the infamous Advanced Squad Leader hex and counter wargame, but somehow the license fell through or some such.

      Never ever changing seems to be appropriate for that

    • Dowly says:

      You are quite incorrect. Caen updated graphics from 16bit to 32bit, which is vrey noticeable, if you compare it to the previous games. Virtually all sounds were also changed, so they definitely don’t sound “identical” to Close Combat IV: Invasion Normandy.

      The only big change the game needs is fixing the AI, no need to go changing things just for the sake of changing it.

  4. SuicideKing says:

    Any news on the upcoming CC?

    “Last Stand Arnhem”
    Arnhem is quite close to me, now :D

  5. vorador says:

    I played a demo back in the day, but coming from Command & Conquer it was too hard and slow.

    It’s nuts that wargames as a genre have barely evolved at all since then.

    • Hagleboz says:

      I’m sorry but that statement is completely inaccurate. Combat Mission arrived soon after and revolutionized the tactical genre. Graviteam has pushed things along further with Operation Star and Mius Front. Other games like the Command Ops series from Panther Games did a lot with simulating realistic real time combat in totally new ways. Even turn based hex games have evolved since that time with interesting new ideas, i.e. Decisive Campaigns: Barbarossa.

      • Thurgret says:

        Every time someone as much as mentions Command Ops, I want to go play it, but have to accept that my next four hours will probably vanish as a consequence. A very accessible wargame despite that it’s just unit counters on a map.

        Gateway to Caen and Panthers in the Fog just look like cash-grabs when put up against the likes of Combat Mission and Graviteam Tactics.

        • Hagleboz says:

          Seriously, the level of detail, realism and immersion that Combat Mission and Graviteam Tactics brings to the table have left me scratching my head as to why people still throw money at this dated and woefully underwhelming series.

          And I have to admit that I’ve never given Command Ops the time that it deserves. Maybe I should look at rectifying that before their new game comes out.

  6. Someoldguy says:

    Never played the original but I had many weekends lost to CC 3-5. It looks like I’ve missed a few of the lesser known successors Tim mentions.

  7. Stugle says:

    I had Close Combat III and I played that one to death. I particularly enjoyed playing battles until I had essentially won and then hitting the truce button, so that I’d get to replay the same map with all the burnt-out Russian tanks still on it.

    • nzgunner says:

      Yeah, CC3 was the introductory game for me too.

      Even though the campaign was linear, the more open strategic maps in CC4 & CC5 (haven’t bothered with the more recent games) added a cool dimension but just seemed to lead to the same battles in the same areas over and over again. I also liked the campaign aspect of CC3 that let you storm the Kremlin or win you unit’s action at Kursk, but ultimately the war progressed independently of your success along mostly historical lines.

      I’ve tried many WW2 tactical games since, but none made the same impact on me as CC3.

      The Combat Mission series was initially a cool diversion with its we-go turn based system, but its crude 3D maps were inferior to the hand drawn CC ones – even the latest iterations of CM still have terrible maps based on a grid that forces linear features.

      Panzer Command: Ostfront was a better game for me than CM – the terrain graphics were crude but the layout of maps was so much more natural.

      I’ve tried Operation Star a few times but never really been able to get into it for some reason.

  8. SlimShanks says:

    I have had quite a lot of fun with various Close Combat games, but I find that every one seems to have some sort of critical flaw that annoys me. For example, PiTF had absurdly tough Tigers and Panthers that ruined many campaigns. GtC gave the Germans brutal mortar capabilities that again ruined many campaigns.
    So basically once a I find a CC game that’s well balanced I’ll be properly chuffed.
    Also, I think Tim forgot Close Combat: Hellcats in the Hedgerow and Close Combat: Stuarts in the Street.

  9. TT says:

    Played a lot of CC5 an some CC3. Best tactical game ever.
    Mods made it shine. As far as I know Close Combat Series: link to closecombatseries.net
    Is the last place to all things Close Combat. Unfortunately nothing major happened after CC5, a lot of re-releases, same engine.

  10. jinglin_geordie says:

    I remember borrowing a Windows 95 laptop from work for the weekend just so I could play the CC2 demo from a magazine CD over and over and over again. The full release wasn’t a let down as the campaign mechanics of dwindling forcepools were perfect for the Arnhem subject matter, and none of the subsequent games captured the same feel for me.

    Combat Mission would be my favourite game if it had even 50% of Graviteam’s AI instead of the dreaded AI “plans”.

  11. jozinho says:

    One of the things I loved was the psychological simulation of morale, stability, restedness. It was great feedback for someone getting to grips with tactics for the first time. Can the distinguished experts of RPS inform, do the other games mentioned here do that? Combat Mission, Graviteam Tactics, Men of War, etc.?

  12. Scott Kevill says:

    Almost every single one of those Close Combat titles is supported on GameRanger for online multiplayer, by the way. :)

    I thought I had them all, but it looks like they’ve snuck out a couple of new ones in the last few years. Wasn’t aware of Panthers in the Fog and Gateway to Caen.

  13. Eightball says:

    Besides some demos I only ever played CC2, and while I was never much good at it I would consider it one of the formative strategy games of my youth.

    One of the best parts of it was a quirk of computer hardware I had at the time. Attacks on tanks seemed to lag out the game for 2-5 seconds. So as my Sherman lined up a shot on a rapidly turning Panther, my computer unintentionally added to the drama.

    If it was my tank in the crosshairs it exploded, but if it was an enemy tank it was a miss. :P

    I remember I tended to play ze Germans because of how allergic Allied armor was to panzerfausts, and how every German unit seemed to have them in spades.