I have to admit to being a dyed-in-the-wool "Close Combat" fan, and that is the yardstick against which I measure all WWII RTS combat sims. "Close Combat" was a 2D, top-down, reinforced-company level series of games which, through the efforts of a loyal modding community, was modded to cover just about every theatre of WWII, even branching out to WWI, Spanish Civil War, Vietnam.....and of course, the ever-present "Star-Wars Mod". Eric Young's Squad Assault tried manfully to take CC into 3D without great success. I had high hopes that this game, developed over at least 4 years by 3A Games and produced by the Moscow based Game Factory Interactive company, would be the next great leap forward. I must admit to being a little disappointed at this point. But it's still early days, the game is being polished and published here in the US by Matrix whose reputation for strategy games is first-class. If anyone can hatch this one, they can!
So how does it play? Pretty well. The cover shows a German, Russian and American officer, leading me to hope that, as Unterleutnant Meyer, I could spank the French at Sedan....Nope, what you get is a series of 6 campaigns starting on Omaha beach and progressing through to the Rhine in which you take control of US forces on a 10 square mile map.... You start as a Warrant officer with 4 squads of infantry coming off the landing craft and are rewarded for success with reinforcements of infantry, recon, tanks and artillery until I had over 100 units spread across the map, all needing orders and sending contact reports...things got pretty hectic at times. But the pause key helped restore order to Hun-induced chaos. Messages pop up from time to time with intel reports of objectives to be captured and resources available. As you progress your infantry units can capture and use enemy equipment...The best artillery in the game I found was four captured German Nebelwerfers (rocket launchers) which would pulverize any enemy in view of nearby recon units in huge pyrotechnic deluges. The Panthers and King Tigers we captured were also star performers. There are commands to call in off-map artillery strikes, bomber strikes, observation flights and fighters, as well as paratrooper drops and reinforcements when available.
The game has a supply function which enables you to balance food, ammunition, and fuel between the primary bases as you capture them, supposedly, to keep your troops supplied and fighting, However, I ran out of food fairly early on and saw no ill effects on my troops' performance apart from the occasional dogface complaining that he was hungry on the audio track. Perhaps it's best feature is the graphics, the 3D map is beautifully rendered with trees which crash to earth when pushed over by tanks, buildings which crumble under shellfire and fields that get shredded by tank and wheel tracks while being pock-marked by artillery strikes....What no mortars? The weather and light changes as the days progress, night falls, dawn arrives and the sun comes up, all very immersive. The interface takes a little getting used to, using the central mouse button to swing and elevate the camera, but this soon becomes second nature. The soundtrack is to the same quality, with good audio, battle sounds and suitably stirring music. Someone had a sense of humour when they dubbed the audio track, the engineers sound ...well, like engineers! And the slow, short-bus tones of the heavy tankers..."Heavies moving" raised a smile. It did offend my grognard sensibilities a little to hear "Sherman on the move" when I ordered Cromwells and Churchills forward though.
On the downside I was disappointed that my US 105mm M2A1 guns could only fire over open sights like anti-tank guns, and would not barrage fire the way my impressive nebelwerfers would. Most artillery pieces can be hooked to trucks for transport, but not the captured 35mm anti-aircraft guns, which are, incidentally, excellent infantry-shredders, and could, in reality, be towed by a jeep! There seems to be no morale system, even with empty columns next to the heart icon my troops would kamikazi into certain death scenarios. The AI seems weak, sending German and British units on suicidal forlorn hope charges to nowhere in penny packets, though it did mount a few larger counter-attacks too. My US infantry seemed underpowered and died in droves, whereas the Wehrmacht infantry could take out Sherman tanks with their bare hands. Multiplayer is possible via LAN or direct IP link with up to eight players, perhaps Steam who are offering downloads of the game, or Gamespy will provide "chatrooms" to facilitate finding opponents.
This is no contender for "Close Combat's" laurels ....yet. With any luck Matrix will fix some of these more glaring issues before US launch, or at least soon after in a patch. I saw none of the crashes or freezes that German gamers reported from their launch a month or so ago. The game played very well and promises many hours more fun on my way to the Rhine. The initial press releases of this game under the name "Kombat" promised 1939 invasion of Poland action and German against Russians on the Finnish border. There are Polish maps in the database and many more troops and vehicles in the files that will not feature in the US drive to the Rhine, so this is probably the tip of the iceberg. I hope to see many future developments for this game, and excellent mods as the tools become available and the community grows.