Close Combat: First to Fight

Those of you who have been taking notes will recall that the Close Combat games have crafted some fine, realistic combat over the years. These were strategy games that boasted attention to detail, tactical splendidness and, according to Tim 'Rommelbuster' Stone, included some of the finest Nazi death-rattles of all time. First to Fight is attached to this series in name only. We're no longer posing heroically in the lanes and meadows of Normandy, but instead getting gritty with the terroriztas in modern-day Beirut. And this time out you're in the thick of it: First to Fight is introducing Close Combat to Mr FP Shooty.

First to Fight puts you in the role of the fireteam leader of a US Marines urban warfare squad. While you'll be familiar with the 'realistic' pace and trajectory of combat, seen many times in the likes of Ravenshield or Delta Force, this time you're playing quite a different tune. These are the Marines, not special forces, and the game reflects that fact with unerring detail. You're fighting alongside three other soldiers, each of whom has a specific role in the fireteam, just like real-world Marine action.

The AI controlling your men is a fine beast, with only minor wobbles to make it ever seem less than sturdy. While the innate responses of your buddies allows you to handle most situations with ease and efficiency, it's also possible to give these chaps orders, such as laying down suppressing fire, or storming a room. The effectiveness with which your team carries out such actions all hinges on Close Combat's familiar concessions to morale. In First to Fight your team will be more accurate and faster to respond to danger if you're issuing sound orders and acting like a hero yourself. Lose a man or allow yourselves to be peppered with Kalashnikov spit and the men start to lose their cool. The same goes for the enemy too, so the more brutal you are in capping their mates, the more likely it is that bads will either leg it, or simply give themselves up for capture.

Sounds good, but the accent on realism underlines the core problem for games like this: they run the risk of being rather dull. The drab streets of Lebanon are unrelenting in First to Fight, and the fact that most of your enemies are all Kalashnikov-toting 'terrorists' could detract from the variety of the final experience. Perhaps the fact that First to Fight is being developed as a training tool for US marines explains why it often feels both divorced from the realms of games-as-entertainment, and also manages to seem awkwardly jingoistic. Come January, we'll discover if they remembered to include any fun in the package.

Close Combat: First to Fight will be released for PC and Xbox in January