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SS squad leader Alfred Rigsdorf, remembering the fighting at the Arnhem bridge during the night of September 17/18 1944
Two years ago, Atomic Games scored a mixed success in the real-time gaming market with the release of Close Combat. Critics praised the sophisticated artificial intelligence but were disappointed by the interface and mainly by the poor graphics. Taking these drawbacks into accounts, the designers improved the interface and revamped the graphics to such an extent that the sequel, Close Combat: A Bridge Too Far (CC2) proves to be an exciting and addictive gaming experience.
In September 1944, field Marshal Montgomery devised an audacious plan to bring the war on the western front to an earlier end: the Operation Market Garden. By combining a mighty attack by the XXX corps tanks toward Eindhoven with a massive airdrop of American, English and Polish paratroopers along 60 miles in the Eindhoven to Arnhem corridor, its purpose was the capture of five major bridges over the Rhine. After seizing the bridges, allied forces could outflank the western wall and freely race to Berlin. However, Market Garden proved to be a disaster since the British paratroopers failed to hold the 5th bridge in Arnhem. Eventually, the thin supply corridor collapsed under strong attacks of allied German troops. The doom outcome for the allies could be explained by a chain of varied events. From the onset, Germans luckily seized the whole operation plan in a briefcase on a downed glider. Allied headquarters then dismissed the information supplied by their own intelligence and by the highly efficient Dutch underground mouvement, warning of the presence of SS troops around Arnhem for supplies and to rest. Lastly, communication failures and bad weather prevented air support, supplies and reinforcements.
Besides 30 scenarios, gamers can play related battles in operations or campaigns in which they have to manage supplies and replacements. The result of each battle set the stage for the next one, and surviving troops improve their experience and increase their fighting potential. Although playing with CC2 is very intuitive, a well designed built-in tutorial (boot camp) will help you to implement your first moves. After deploying your troops, the order phase begins. A simple click on a unit unveils a series of potential actions such as move, move fast, fire, fire smoke, defend and hide. Clicking also reveals its status resumed by these three elements: morale, remaining ammo and health. The line of fire is revealed by a line whose red or green color suggests the probability of a successful hit. Terrain characteristics are cleverly taken into account (e.g. you won't be able to locate enemies placed on the opposite side of a hill).
Reflecting history, playing the allies is quite challenging. Tank supported German troops prove to be worthy opponents for your forces whose anti-tank abilities are rather limited (bazookas, few AT guns and mortars, vulnerable M4 Sherman tanks). Fans of Command and Conquer, beware, while the difficulty level can be customized, the AI acts very aptly in a realistic way. If you try simple frontal assaults, you will certainly be defeated! Therefore, sending forward recon units is necessary to avoid deadly ambushes. Careful deployement, planning and cunning are needed to win a battle. Before seizing an objective, you have to soften it up with heavy fire such as some mortar shells, surround it with smoke and attack it by flank. CC2 proved to be frightenly addictive. Often enough, late at night, I found myself restarting a scenario, trying once more to destroy these cursed German tanks which just blasted my sherman after a tense hide and seek duel behind ruined houses. The horror of war was displayed at its peak when seeing and hearing soldiers burned alive by flame throwers.
Gorgeous SVGA top view graphics with a definition of 800x600, zoom-in and out functions, still add more depth to the CC2 gaming experience. Your units, always well conspicuous, come alive and are quite fascinating to see in close fighting. Houses are well represented, the designers even took the number of stories into account. Sounds are varied and entertaining from bird chirping to soldiers moaning when hit, also included in both languages are beggings to be spared (nicht schiessen!).
Without a doubt, Close Combat: A Bridge Too Far is today the best realistic real-time tactical game devoted to World War 2. Furthermore, scenario designing and two players game options will enhance the game's longevity. Drawbacks are few and not of paramount importance: lack of `what if' options such as the availability of tank busting planes (e.g. hawker tempest or P47 thunderbolt) or presence of minefields, and prisoners always follow troops closely in the battlefield and are never hit. Despite these minor glitches, let's hope that Atomic Games is busy planning some other battlegrounds such as Stalingrad, Berlin or Pacific battles.
Written by Daniel Roth
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