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Strategy First

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Pentium II 500, 256 MB RAM, 32 MB video card, 200 MB hard drive, Windows 98/2000/XP

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G.I. Combat (Preview)

Game Review - by James Allen
One of the most famous and most successful strategy series is Close Combat. This set of games covered World War II, featuring elements such as accurate soldier morale and historically accurate weapons and units from an overhead, 2-D perspective. Since the rest of the world is moving into a more accurate 3-D world, the developers behind Close Combat have taken their series and adapted it to a 3-D world in G.I. Combat. We'll take an early look at the game and see what we can expect from this Strategy First title.

In gameplay options that are strangely familiar to those accustomed with the Close Combat series, players can engage in single battles, operations (several battles), and campaigns (a bunch of battles). G.I. Combat centers on the Allied landing at Normandy, the same setting for the last Close Combat game, Invasion Normandy (the 5th in the series). These battles will take place in the French countryside in locations lifted straight from the history books. For those beginners, a basic training mode can be played to familiarize the player with the game controls. There is also multiplayer action over the Internet, and a complete scenario editor for those who wish to create their own battlefields. You can tailor the realism options for the battles in the scenario selection: you can change individual unit ability and team morale, for example. You can also assemble your troops from any available forces. G.I. Combat promises to features a majority of every unit used by the Americans and Germans during 1944, covering tanks, bazookas, rifles, snipers, mortars, grenades, and much, much more. The Close Combat series prided itself on having a complete representation of the forces involved in French World War II, and we can expect G.I. Combat to follow along the same lines. With a scenario editor and historically based battles and scenarios, G.I. Combat should feature a multitude of gaming options.

Sound FX:
The sound in G.I. Combat seems ported straight over from Close Combat: Invasion Normandy. I recognize a lot of the same effects from that earlier title, and as it stands right now, G.I. Combat can't hold a candle to other World War II games such as Return to Castle Wolfenstein or Medal of Honor: Allied Assault. This may seem like an unfair comparison, but all of these games do compete in the same etplace. They don't sound too bad, though, as they appear to be lifted straight from the actual weapons, and commands are voiced in a semi-believable manner. At least the German is really spoken in German. We'll see if the final version of the sound can capture the chaotic nature of war in a convincing manner.

Gameplay in G.I. Combat is very similar to that found in the Close Combat series. Before each battle begins, you can arrange your troops around in your controlled territory, and then begin the match. The objectives of the maps are all the same: capture all of the control points to eliminate the enemy presence in the area. This is done by giving your units orders, which can be one of the following: assault, march, caution, defend, lay smoke, and fire at enemy units. Each unit has a line of sight to enemy units (and other objects), which determines whether they can see and fire on the enemy. You can use surveillance techniques to attack hostile forces: for example, you can use a sniper unit to spy on targets for mortar units, which may be in a concealed area but can fire over large distances. Each unit has three attributes: strength, morale, and psychological state. Strength is simply a measure of health (either good, hurt, critical, or dead). Morale is one of the most important aspects of G.I. Combat, as it determines the readiness of your troops to respond to your orders. Soldiers can stop obeying orders, make a run for it, or just go plum crazy. This is tied in to the psychological state of the unit: squads can be fanatic, heroic, normal, hindered, pinned, cowered, or panicked. If you find that you are losing badly in the game, you can surrender your forces and take your losses. Any of your units that are within line of sight of enemy troops are lost, which is a neat idea: they don't surrender if the enemy can't see them. Like in Close Combat, you can order air, artillery, and naval strikes against specific areas, to give you an extra edge in a battle. Soldiers receive experience and promotions due to their activity on the battlefield, and can be carried over to the next mission, infusing some RPG elements into the game. The gameplay in G.I. Combat, if pulled off successfully, could be an entertaining aspect of the game, albeit a little too similar to Close Combat.

One thing that is hard to gauge in a preview version of a game is how complete certain elements of the game are, and graphics are one of the hardest. I apparently have a very early version of the game in my possession, and I can say that I am not at all impressed with the graphics. I'm assuming that they will improve before the game's release; at least I'm hoping (for the game's sake) they will. As they stand right now, the graphics in G.I. Combat are easily several years behind (at least) the competition in any field that uses 3-D in their game. It seems to me that, for a press demo, you'd want to show off your graphics at the best possible quality, or as close to the finished condition as possible, and I wish that this isn't the best G.I. Combat has to offer. The individual units don't look bad, as there are several good details on the troops (like their equipment, and that they raise the gun to shoot) and the tanks have slight above average textures. However, the environments that the battles take place in are adventures in low-resolution horror. The smoke effects are unimpressive (as are the explosions) and the ground has pixilated details that look like they are from a console. The graphics in G.I. Combat would have been good during the switch over to 3-D, but those found in this preview version pale in comparison to those found in other titles. They are about on par with, say, World War II Online's graphics when it was released a year ago. That's not a good thing. In addition to this, one of the most important things in a 3-D game is having an easy to use camera system, and I struggled mightily with the one used in G.I. Combat. If you select a friendly unit to locate it and issue it orders, the game does not use the same camera angle, and snaps down to an inconveniently close position behind the unit of choice where you can't get much of anything done. As of right now, the right mouse button isn't used for camera control, which is slightly surprising. Let's hope the graphics and camera controls improve before next month.

The best way to describe G.I. Combat is a 3-D version of the Close Combat series. From what I have seen, most of the same game elements that were present in those games are intact in this newer iteration. Based on the past level of quality possessed by the Close Combat series, this could only mean improvement with the addition of another axis. It may be too similar to Close Combat, but only time will tell whether more differences have been added by the time G.I. Combat gets released in early July 2002.

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