Masterclass in Computer Wargaming: Close Combat


This is probably one of my favourite game franchises ever. Games come and go, but the Close Combat series is rather unique in that I regularily return to it despite having a limited attention span. Ever since I first got my grubby mitts on number three I’ve been hooked into what must be the best computer wargame ever. Forget your silly 5 second build bases and countless hordes of guys on horses, this is where the real pipe and slippers are!

The premise is simple. Close Combat is about squad level command. You have your squads, you tell them what to do, and they do it. Or not. That is the awesome thing about it. Your diddy little soldiers actually act like soldiers. Tell them to move and they might move. If they come under fire however, they’ll ignore you and start diving into bushes and stay there until it’s safe enough for them to peek out. If they are especially courageous they might even return fire. If they run out of ammo they’ll start crawling around on the scrounge for more bullets and guns. If they are threatened by an enemy they might even take the initiative and respond. Whether that response is to surrender or start throwing grenades depends entirely upon the unit in question and what is threatening them.

This gives rise to some truly awesome battles with a really good dose of realism. How do you deal with the enemy squad in the building? You have lots of options. Use a sniper team to cooly shoot at them until they withdraw. Use a mortar squad to lay a smoke screen and then use your squad to sneak up on them. My personal favourite is to use one squad to supress the enemy with machine guns, and when they are forced to duck, use another squad to dive in through the windows and doors with knives and brass knuckles to evict the enemy. But you are only the guiding hand. Ultimately it is up to your individual soldiers to do what they can.

A Tiger tank approaches in a snowy field on the eastern front. Your under equipped Russian militia squads starts to withdraw as they lack antitank weapons. The tank opens fire and soon your squads start to surrender. The tank advances towards a ditch. This ditch is filled with a squad of hardened guard combat engineers who you have ordered to set up an ambush. These guys are going nowhere and maintain their concealment until the last moment, when the guy with the flamethrower sets the tank ablaze allowing his mates to jump up, slap demolition charges all over it and stuff grenades in the exhausts. All done by your independantly thinking soldiers and realised in smart little overhead graphics.

The actual editions of the Close Combat series are all pretty similar and mainly set in the second world war. It seems to all be run on the same basic engine with a few tweaks here and there for the more modern versions. The graphics are from an overhead perspective with neat little sprites representing your units and vehicles. Difficulty is user defined, with changable levels of realism. Notable games of the series for me are Close Combat III: The Russian Front and Close Combat V: Invasion Normandy.

The Russian Front is based in the war between Germany and Russia and covers from the start of Barbarossa, through Moscow, Stalingrad, Kursk and finally defeat in Berlin. You can’t change the outcome of the war, but you get to take your teams to the major battles. It has an RPG feel to it as you can keep the same squads and they gradually improve with every fight.

Invasion Normandy is set from D-Day onwards and is notable as having a really good combined arms feel to it. Your tactics in this one will rely heavily on using tanks and infantry together to win victory.

Also of note are the literally hundreds of fan made mods, covering hundreds of conflicts and fictions from the first world war right up to present day. One I particularily found amusing was a mod set in deep south USA, where war has broken out over who is the greatest NASCAR driver of them all. The fans of Richard Petty slug it out with the fans of Dale Earnhardt with shotguns, stolen civil war relics and armoured jalopies to the sounds of the Dukes of Hazzard.

Fortunately, the archaic Close Combat series has recently been given a facelift by Matrix Games, and is once again available! The graphics are the same, the engine is the same but designed with modern computers in mind. The campaigns have been enlarged and sound effects improved, and the enemy AI has been given a new layer of cunning. Multiplayer has been improved to include points values and more than two players. I have started to play Close Combat: The Longest Day and can definitely give it two thumbs up!

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3 thoughts on “Masterclass in Computer Wargaming: Close Combat”

  1. I loved these games as well so damn good, although I found the Russian Front one easy to beat once you figured out that you should just stick to buying AT guns and tanks.

    Such a pity that I cant get any of them to work on Windows XP or Windows 7

    1. If you look at the properties of the shortcut for both XP and Windows 7 there are options to run the executable as if under another OS, might be worth giving that a try and see if it works.

      I have the same problem with Starlancer, love the game but it doesn’t work now we’ve moved on from Windows 98.

  2. You can order the updated versions from Matrix to run on modern computers, although the titles are changed slightly.

    I agree with you Kiwi – The Russian Front was awesome but VERY tank dominated!

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