Chasing tanks in Close Combat: The Bloody First

close combat

The development of Close Combat: The Bloody First has lasted for as long as the war it depicts, but four years after its original intended launch date, Matrix Games’ World War II RTS is due to storm the beaches soon. As well as being the first 3D game in the series, it’s the first that’s been built in publisher Slitherine’s Archon engine, but more interesting is the focus on individual soldiers instead of faceless platoons. I recently tried to get to know them during a brief, whirlwind tour of ‘40s France, Italy and Tunisia.

“It’s the Band of Brothers of Close Combat,” is how it was pitched to me as I sat down to begin my first operation as the 1st US Infantry Division. Every soldier has a name, a biography and a bond with the rest of the platoon. If a mission goes poorly and the platoon takes heavy losses, it will be reinforced by rookies, lowering the platoon’s cohesion and reducing its effectiveness in the next fight.

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Each of the three platoons you can switch between changes from fight to fight as they react to deaths, fatigue and how well supplied they are. If things haven’t been going so well, the platoon might rapidly lose the will to fight during the next engagement, turning around and legging it when the bullets start whizzing past them. So you’ve got to take good care of them like a heavily-armed baby.

It wasn’t bullets or morale that made me quickly raise the white flag in my first scrap, however; it was the colour scheme. I was in Tunisia, where the combination of yellow and yellow and yellow can make for a hell of a headache, especially when you’re trying to plan a slick tactical assault with a bunch of tiny soldiers. I bravely conceded in lieu of mostly ineffective squinting. While the move to 3D has brought with it conveniences like a rotating camera and a topographical view mode, the maps can still be pretty hard to read. I left Tunisia and headed up to Normandy.

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My first French scrap proved to be a little confusing. I started north of a small village, in amongst the hedgerows, while the Germans and their tanks waited below. As I cautiously moved down the road, keeping my fleshy platoons hidden by the treeline, I spotted the first tank. I targeted it with men and mortars, and kept doing so even when enemy reinforcements appeared. A few minutes later they were in retreat. All of them, including the guys I hadn’t even spotted. Obviously my fearsome reputation preceded me.

There were a few guesses as to what had made the mission so easy, but eventually the culprit was revealed to be the cohesion mechanic. In the mission setup screen, you can customise the fight and turn on or off different systems, including cohesion. With cohesion off, I returned to Normandy.

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My second attempt was more of a success, at least in that my enemy didn’t flee at the first sign of trouble. I started cautiously, even more so this time, concerned that my newly-bolstered foe might be particularly eager for revenge. All of my soldiers crawled through the grass on their bellies, undoubtedly ruining their uniforms. They were safe at least, and even managed to ambush the tank guarding the entrance to the village. It didn’t put up much of a fight, but it was also massively outnumbered. When reinforcements arrived, I nudged my mortar teams into action and tossed out a few smoke grenades, using them to cover my soldiers as they pushed into the more heavily-guarded village.

There were more tanks and even more infantry waiting for us inside. A couple of solidiers charged the moment we arrived, but most remained hidden behind walls and buildings. I expected a gruelling battle in the streets, running between smoke and gunfire, trying to find cover and keep as many men alive as possible, but it was more of a clean-up operation. Now standing upright, my troops moved pretty swiftly through the village, sending everyone they encountered packing.

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My Teutonic nemesis rapidly loosened its grip on the village until we’d cleared them out of the main street entirely. The tank that eventually trundled round the corner was a momentary cause for alarm, but it impotently sat out in the open until it became an ex-tank. With that final embarrassment, the rest of the Germans once again fled.

Looking at the list of units in the victory screen, I noticed I’d taken a lot more losses than I’d realised, but none of that seemed to stop my relentless forward momentum. I know from previous experience that I am far from a Close Combat savant; my foe was just pretty lackadaisical when it came to stopping me from liberating the village. There wasn’t any fight in them. My demo neighbour had the opposite problem, however, where the AI was in quite a rush, charging in and quickly capturing victory points.

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Memorable engagements drive Close Combat. The stats, tactics and platoon’s mental state give birth to stories of soldiers going berserk or desperate men resorting to bayonet fighting instead of fleeing when their ammunition runs out. Without an enemy that puts up a fight, however, there aren’t any of those dramatic war-time vignettes. When I still thought there was a threat, though, it felt like a Close Combat game. Crawling through mud and bushes, trying to sneak past tanks, forcing our way into an occupied village – it was all exciting stuff, until the Germans decided they had somewhere better to be.

Close Combat: The Bloody First is due out this year.

31 Comments

  1. Hyena Grin says:

    I can only imagine it must have taken extraordinary self-control to not compare this game to Company of Heroes, a game which came out a jazillion years ago, to the day.

    Every time a WW2 RTS comes out, I find myself asking if there’s some reason I should play it instead of just going back to CoH. The answer is almost always… no. Company of Heroes looks better and is generally more fun than any WW2 RTS that has come out since (including, arguably, its own successor). Men of War at least played with a bunch of concepts that CoH doesn’t, so it has some value. The same is true of Steel Division. Both games are operating at different scales, in one fashion or another.

    Close Combat seems to be trying to add in battle-to-battle continuity, and maybe a personal touch to the soldiers? I’m skeptical that’s enough, but I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt for the moment. In every other regard though, it’s hard to see how it competes favorably against CoH or Steel Division. It looks pretty meh, and it doesn’t sound like it’s playing really well right now.

    We’ll see, I suppose.

    • Vinraith says:

      It’s funny, because when Company of Heroes came out my exact response after playing the demo was “why would I play this when I could play Close Combat?”

      The reality is that they’re fundamentally different games. CoH is an RTS, complete with base building and other genre-specific abstractions. Close Combat is a war game, and is generally trying to simulate something at least approaching the reality of the situation. I’ve no idea whether this new CC will live up to the originals, but my fingers are certainly crossed.

      • Hyena Grin says:

        I absolutely get that a wargame is trying to satisfy a different set of criteria, but it’s still doing so within the bounds of the RTS formula. CoH, Steel Division, and Men of War- they are all trying to deliver on very different gameplay goals. But they are also all fundamentally real-time strategy games.

        I can’t blame you though. If I were trying to defend Steel Division or Men of War from someone like me, saying ‘what is the point when CoH exists?!’ I’d probably also claim they are very different games.

        So I hear you loud and clear. I’ll keep an eye on it, since I’m always up for more WW2 strategy. Like a sucker.

        • Mobetta says:

          I don’t think you get it. The first Close Combat game came out in the late 80’s. COH was much much later. COH is an RTS. CC is not.

          • Hyena Grin says:

            I am aware that it came out before CoH. I don’t know why you think I didn’t grasp that when it was explicitly stated by someone?

            As for ‘it’s not an RTS’

            … I would disagree with that. It is in real-time, it is a strategy game in which you give multiple units discreet orders to achieve some battlefield goal. It is a real-time strategy game. I feel like trying to claim that it isn’t an RTS is disingenuous.

            Though I’ll happily entertain whatever excuse for why it doesn’t belong in the RTS genre, I would also happily counter that literally every game which conforms to the basic outline above is an RTS. Which, from the videos I have seen, it does. That doesn’t say anything about what makes it different from CoH, however. It honestly seems like kind of a waste of your time and mine, to argue about genre definitions.

          • Mobetta says:

            The system doesn’t seem to allow me to reply directly to the thread, but here it goes.

            I didn’t mean to come across so gruff, but I believe you are equating CC to RTS games like COH just because of the decisions in real time for the units. That’s the only similiarity to RTS’s. The RTS genre appeared about 10 years after CC was introduced. I don’t equate CC to RTS because you don’t make manufacturing hubs and choose what you build. The units available for battle were limited to historic availability and adjusted based on your ability to satisfy all the objectives stated at the start of the battle. If you did worse than average you would have less units available in the pool to choose from, or they would adjust the order of battle to make them available later than historically present. Not even close to traditional RTS style games.
            This sentence at the beginning of your first post is what made me think that you thought that CC was new and just copying COH:

            “I can only imagine it must have taken extraordinary self-control to not compare this game to Company of Heroes, a game which came out a jazillion years ago, to the day.”

            In comparison to CC, COH did not come out a jazillion years ago. CC had mostly died off because Microprose quit publishing it, and there were dozens of new types of titles available from other sources.
            I do apologize for coming off so abrupt, my post was late at nite after dealing with child like trolls on another dead game, Wargamings World of Warplanes.

          • absolutmauser says:

            @Mobetta

            RTS games pre-date Close Combat by about four years and did not become a genre “ten years after Close Combat.” Dune II came out in 1992. Warcraft came out in 1994. Command and Conquer came out in 1995. Red Alert and Warcraft II came out in 1996, the same year as the first Close Combat. Total Annihilation came out in 1997 and then StarCraft in 1998.

            That said, I agree. Close Combat is not an RTS game. It’s a wargame and an RTT game. =)

          • Mobetta says:

            I stand corrected at that, I was sure I had the first close combat on the Amiga in 1989, but I may be miss-remembering.

    • shauneyboy68 says:

      Close Combat is as to Company of Heroes as War in the East is to Hearts of Iron. In both cases, the former are for the niche wargamer audience and lack the budgets, accessibility, and mass appeal of the latter. If you’re looking for an RTS game in a world war 2 skin, you can’t do too much better than Company of Heroes. If you’re looking for a conflict simulation, you’re going to have to go elsewhere.

      I personally enjoyed the heck out of Close Comabt 1 & 2, and while this latest iteration looks interesting, I’m a bit turned off by the relationship/psychology aspect (not sure they can truly be modeled in a game).

      I’m still waiting for a new Steel Panthers with HD graphics and awesome AFV models.

      • g948ng says:

        I have nothing of worth to add, except: Steel Panthers, WaW!
        I do not even need or want new mechanics. Just make it playable and include the grand campaigns.

    • Rich says:

      CoH is to Close Combat, what Medieval Total War is to Crusader Kings.

      • shauneyboy68 says:

        That’s a good analogy.

        • zabieru says:

          If you’re comparing the strategic layers? Yeah, sounds about right. (And I like both games, so there’s no beef!)

          But since we’re talking wargames here, somebody’s gonna think you mean the battle layers, and obviously MTW has one while CK2 kinda doesn’t.

          • GepardenK says:

            This new Close Combat does not have a strategic layer. Just like the old classic Close Combats it has a linear campaign with persistent supplies.

            The ‘MTW vs CKII’ analogy is about complexity and pace, not battle scope vs territory.

      • Hyena Grin says:

        So two real-time strategy games about WW2 with somewhat different scopes, have the same relationship as a realtime/TBS strategy game and a… grand strategy game? Which share almost no comparable gameplay features beyond the existence of characters?

        … okay, tell you what, I will accept this comment as a piece of hyperbole meant to drive home a point. ;P

        I am skeptical that they are any less comparable than CoH/Steel Division, or CoH/Men of War. But hey, I’ll keep an open mind.

        • Rich says:

          You don’t appear to be keeping an open mind. Granted Crusader Kings doesn’t necessarily have to involve combat, unlike MTW, but in terms of strategic depth I mean what I said. CoH is a great, action packed RTS. CC is a tactical combat simulation.

          • Hyena Grin says:

            Why, because I define genres more broadly than you?

            I dunno what you want me to say here in order to have ‘an open mind’ other than to accept your genre definitions at face value, apparently.

            Look, we don’t have to agree on what an RTS is, in order to come to some kind of understanding about how two games differ from one another.

            But let me lay my definition out for you so that you know where I’m coming from; an RTS is a ‘strategy’ played on a battlefield in ‘real-time’ in which distinct units are controlled by the player by giving them discreet orders to achieve a goal. Whatever mechanics you lay upon that may fuzzily subdivide the game into different subgenres of RTS, but it’s still an RTS. The core gameplay of Total War is RTS, with a relatively in-depth turn-based campaign laid on top (relative to the genre), such that people sometimes call it an RTS/TBS, which, fine, okay. CoH is what I’d call a ‘classic RTS’ with bells and whistles that just happens to be very good.

            They are very different games, but because they share the same broad foundational gameplay principles, they both live in the same house. Just like there’s an enormous amount of variation under the ‘First Person Shooter’ umbrella of games.

            ‘Tactical combat simulation’ could mean a lot of things. A game by that definition could easily be turn-based, for example. And then it would fall under ‘turn-based strategy.’ Or it could be a first person shooter, in which case it’d be.. well, Arma. Do you see where I’m going here? It’s a ‘tactical combat simulation’ in the ‘real-time strategy’ genre.

            You don’t have to agree with that. But I don’t know why it matters so much that you’d rather talk about that than what actually makes the game interesting.

    • Hyena Grin says:

      Boy, really opened up a can of worms with this one. =P

      Disclaimer: I have never played the original CC. Until today I wouldn’t say I’ve never heard of it, but I’ve definitely never played it, or looked into it.

      I understand that it is a wargame. I understand that people are (perhaps understandably) defensive about my lackadaisical comparisons with other games in the RTS genre – and no, I don’t want to argue with anyone about whether it belongs in the RTS genre. You live your truth, wargamers, I got no beef.

      My comment is from the perspective of someone who isn’t familiar with the game, and is being introduced to it for the first time. These are the comparisons that are going to get made. The questions was merely whether or not CC is bringing something to the table that isn’t adequately provided elsewhere.

      Maybe it is. I had no idea. I still have no idea.

      • Gothnak says:

        If i helps, i loved COH and i loved CC, but as others say, they are very different beasts.

        In COH you spawn units repeatedly (Obviously based on locations captured) like a standard top down RTS. (Starcraft, Age of Empires, hell even Warrior Kings that i worked on)

        In CC you have a group of soldiers per fight, no backup, no reinforcements. Sometimes you decide that all you have to do is take out a tank and retreat, and live to fight on a later map, other times you have to smash everything as soon as possible.

        I expect that is what people are trying to explain when they say CC is nothing like COH. In CC every man matters, in COH every location held matters, the men don’t as you can replace them 5 mins later.

        But, to your specific point, they are both Real Time Strategy games. Perhaps CC could be classed as a Real Time Wargame?

      • Lord Byte says:

        The big difference that everyone seems to struggle with explaining is that you don’t have the fine perfect tactical control.
        Your men will all have their own way, some are (or seem cowardly), some will go exactly where you told them, some will straggle others will keep their heads down. Your control is imperfect over your men, both their actions and attitude. In COH your control is absolute. Even up to forcing them in the open from cover, or letting them stand to mowed down, instead of find cover until you click the retreat buttton, whether their morale broke or not.
        If you leave troops in the open in CC, when you look back a little later they will have spread out and found whatever cover they can, or even moved back or into a building.

        COH was definitely inspired but they came back mostly from the same “intelligence of the troops”, to give people more sense of control. CC is about what your men do with your orders rather than what you ordered them, which is why it’s so loved, because there’s always some drama.

    • agentghost says:

      Gee, not another COH vs. Close Combat comparison. It’s like comparing Orange and Apple since they are both fruits (i.e. set in WW2 with top down view point). Anyone who play both franchise will automatically tell you that these are 2 different beasts except the know-it-all noobs

  2. GSajer says:

    This has certainly got my attention. I was a map developer for SPWAW for a long time. I could certainly get enthused about this game, and others like it again. I’ll certainly try to keep track of it’s release date.

  3. smellyterror says:

    My problem with the CC series has always been the abysmal AI. Fix that, and I’ll cheerfully play ’em again. I loved Bridge Too Far, but that’s because I was a kid who didn’t know any better. :)

    • klops says:

      I’d say Bridge Too Far is still quite nice. Best of the Close Combats I’ve played. CC3 had too many tanks. The Normandy one was too easy. Caen had too big maps, even though I was pleasantly surprised that the computer could beat me on a few battles.

      I wonder can the tanks still turn properly.

    • shauneyboy68 says:

      It seems like it’s just really hard to program good AI for an RTS game.

    • absolutmauser says:

      This is something that seems to plague most games trying to create real-time Wargames at this small scale. I think it probably comes down to most of these games being made by fairly small teams with limited budgets and the difficulty in getting several virtual platoons of soldiers to behave in an acceptably realistic fashion.

      Combat Mission is my favorite of these types of games and it relies incredibly heavily on scripting to put together a decent battle plan. It has pretty good AI for the behavior of individual soldiers but not for the overall actions of the force in a scenario. It’s pretty impressive for what amounts to a dev team of a couple of people!

  4. Shinan says:

    I played some Gateway to Caen after the Humble Bundle that had it included and the game seemed very close to what I’d like but the interface just didn’t agree with me at all. Even doing the simplest things seemed like it took way too many steps.

    I wonder how this compares in that respect.

  5. BobbyDylan says:

    Been waiting for this game for years. It’s a day 1 purchase for me.

  6. SeanOConnor says:

    Play this game instead:

    Firefight video

    It’s better! :)

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