Game Review - by James Allen
The Close Combat series has centered on World War II, visiting such scenic areas as the Russian Front, the Battle of the Bulge, and Operation et Garden. The fifth installment, Close Combat: Invasion Normandy, returns to the location of the first Close Combat: the beaches of Normandy. Taking either the American or German forces, fight in battles across the peninsula, securing ground and eliminating the enemy. Visit all the places that you heard about in Saving Private Ryan! Change history! Point and click your way to victory!
Simulating the American invasion of northern France, Close Combat: Saving Private Ryan Edition ™ simulates battles across Normandy, from the preemptive air strikes, to the expulsion of the German forces. You can play single battles, operations (several battles), and campaigns (lots of battles). The specifics of battle can be customized: realism, difficulty, and win conditions. If you start an operation or campaign, you are greeted with the Strategic Level screen. Several times during each day, you can resupply each of your units, add air, mortar, or ship support, and plan your attacks. After all the moves are made, you can designate each specific battle group for your battle.
There are many WW-II era units available for each side, most of which have equal complements on the other side. You can choose between light, medium, and heavy infantry, snipers, engineers, scouts, anti-tank infantry, mortars, machine guns, flamethrowers, anti-tank guns, half-tracks, and a multitude of tanks. After you assign your battalions, it's time for battle!
To expand on the included campaigns, a scenario editor is included. You can assign control of any of the regions in Normandy, place troops and artillery, add support bases, customize weather, and assign dates for certain units to appear. However, none of the maps can be edited, as the user created battles are restricted to the included areas. Consequently, the scenario editor is very easy to use, and a working campaign can be made in minutes. Finally, multiplayer is available on Mplayer, so you can battle people across the world, with each player choosing a side. The features in Close Combat: Invasion Normandy are exactly what you would expect for a World War II simulation.
During battles, the sounds of gunfire, exploding mortars, screaming soldiers, and air raids litter the environment. Each weapon has a specific sound, probably lifted directly from the real-life counterpart. Tanks grumble, soldiers issue orders, and, aside from the strangely out of place menu music, the sounds of war come through loud and clear.
Close Combat: Invasion Normandy simulates, with good accuracy, the fighting styles of the 1940s. During each battle, you control several groups of soldiers, rather than individuals. You can issue several orders to each group: move, move fast, sneak, fire, deploy smoke, defend, or ambush. Depending on the morale of each individual soldier, the order may or may not be carried out. There are many states that each soldier can be in, including incapacitated, panicked, suppressed, stunned, and berserk. The soldiers on both sides are pretty smart, as they will fire when they spot the enemy, retreat when being fired upon, and just plain ignore you if you issue and order that they think is insane. The AI provided a challenge, especially on higher levels. The battlefields themselves are covered in many kinds of terrain, all of which have a direct effect on the ability and protection of your soldiers. Hills provide a good line of sight, trenches provide protection, forests provide cover, and mine fields should be avoided. Buildings are very interesting, as they provide cover, and can act to surprise your foe as they round the corner.
The purpose of a battle is to secure several victory locations throughout the area, all of which vary in point value depending on their importance. Depending on your settings, a battle can also end after a certain amount of time has passed or the opposing (or your own) force retreats from the map because of low morale. To effectively win each battle, it is paramount to use each individual unit's strength well. For example, snipers generally do not attack tanks, and mortar units are more successful on vehicles. Strategy will usually triumph over the player who just sends their units running into battle. Included in this is smart use of air or mortar support. You can order air strikes (or naval attacks, if near shore) on enemy units, even in areas that you haven't explored. Since each victory location displays which army controls it, you can roll the dice and attack ahead of your advancing troops, laying waste to the enemy troops. If all else fails, you can request a truce between the sides, and exit with your losses. Using the now classic point and click troop movement gameplay, Close Combat: Invasion Normandy provided for a realistic portrayal of the skirmishes in north France.
The game is presented in a top-down manner, from a very God-like perspective. The graphics are slightly dated, and not the 3-D acceleration accent we are used to in this day and age. However, they do look sharp. Various kinds of terrain and buildings are accurately portrayed, and after a period of battle, the war zone is pot ed with mortar explosions and very red bodies. The drawback of the graphics is that there are only two levels of zoom, really far, and sort-of close. Infantry units are hard to spot without highlighting the area, and you can lose them in the heat of battle. Luckily, there is a map view that displays the location of all your units, so you can locate your wayward troops easily. The graphics are not top-notch, but do give an accurate portrayal of France during the Allied invasion.
If you are a fan of this brand of war gaming (Command and Conquer comes to mind), World War II, or just want to be like Tom Hanks, Close Combat: Invasion Normandy is a smart choice. From storming the beaches to securing the inland, each battle is intense, and every one of your actions is important to winning the battle and, eventually, the war. So, I'll see you on the beach!