Close Combat 2: A Bridge Too Far
Close Combat 2: A Bridge Too Far lets you replay one of the most critical battles in World War II, Operation Market-Garden, where the Germans and Allies fought for control of five strategic bridges across the rivers Rhine, Waal, and Maas. Historically, this battle cost the allies twice as many casualties as D-Day and failed to be the finishing strike to the war that the Allies hoped it would be.
Although Microsoft is billing CC2 as "a real-time, historically accurate World War II strategy game," readers should be cautioned not to compare this title to real-time strategy games like Command and Conquer or Warcraft II. Instead, CC2 uses a mixture of real-time and traditional hex-based warfare elements that makes for a very different type of gaming experience, one that fans of either genre might not be ready for.
In Close Combat 2, you will select to play as the Allies or Germans in the various battles and campaigns that took place during Operation Market-Garden. As the Allies, it is your mission to take control of five bridges critical to the war effort; as the Germans, you will fight to protect these bridges (or demolish them if the Allies get too close for comfort). Your troops are grouped according to their unit type, and you give orders to the groups of units instead of to individual soldiers. This was the first element that rubbed me the wrong way when playing CC2. In case you're unfamiliar with the Close Combat games, your troops respond to battle in very "human" ways, which means that they may refuse to fight if they get scared enough. This presents a problem when one of your unit groups comes under heavy fire or individual soldiers within the platoon become injured. This effectively means that you lose the whole group, because unless all units in a group will follow your order, none will. And in CC2, just like in the original, you play the hand you're dealt. You cannot "build" new units. For that reason alone, I would not recommend CC2 to any but the most experienced wargamers ... novices are likely to become annoyed by the fact that one false move can mean instant, irrevocable defeat. While this may make the game more interesting to fans of wargame realism, it doesn't necessarily make it fun for the rest of us.
Orders to groups are given with a right-click on the group. Certain orders, such as Fire, will present you with a line with which you can gauge the potential success of the order (e.g. a green circle means you can hit a target, while a black circle means you're too far away). I found the repeated right-clicking to get order menus in the heat of battle a little cumbersome and frustrating at times. Especially in a game where the most innocent of misjudgments can cost you a battle, that kind of interface is just too unwieldy.
On the plus side, the multiplayer options are much improved from the original Close Combat. Players can play on a LAN, via modem, or on Microsoft's Internet Gaming Zone. The CC2 Battlemaker is a nice addition, letting players customize their fighting force and positions before a battle begins. I found, though, that head-to-head battles tend to be very short (for the inexperienced, almost painfully so), usually lasting between 15 and 30 minutes. Before playing on the Zone, you need to have the game interface down cold and know what your strategy will be in a certain kind of battle, or on a certain type of terrain, etc.
In a general way, the graphics in CC2 were quite nice, and certainly improved from those in the original Close Combat. The terrain, buildings, and landscapes were well-rendered and easy on the eye during long campaigns. However, I thought that the units were way too small too see (also a problem in the original game). True, there's a zoom feature that gives you a closer look at your troops, but unfortunately, units become too pixelated and vague when zoomed in upon to make this a useful feature. I thought the action graphics (shots being fired, dying units, etc.) were a bit on the cheesy side. For instance, there was way too much blood on the ground after units died. Even if a mortar shell hit you dead-on, you wouldn't bleed that much. In most games, I wouldn't mention something like that, but CC2 sets out to be ultra-realistic in so many ways that it positions itself for such nitpicking.
This is one area where the game truly excelled. Although the music was pretty much non-existent, the sound effects, particularly the cries of the men as their emotions changed, were very real and very entertaining.
The manual that comes with the game is very nicely produced and contains not only all the relevant game control and feature descriptions, but also gives you a thorough background on Operation Market-Garden itself and explains the role it played in World War II.
Required: Multimedia PC or compatible with Pentium 90 or higher processor,
Microsoft Windows 95 or NT 4.0 with Service Pack 3 operating system, 16 MB RAM, 45 MB
available hard disk space, 4X CD-ROM drive, SVGA video card supporting 800x600 high
color (16-bit) resolution, Microsoft mouse or compatible device, Windows
95-compatible sound board, headphones or speakers (recommended). 28.8 baud or higher modem
for head-to-head play
Close Combat 2 can't seem to make up its mind as to what genre it wants to be. It is promoted as a real-time strategy but acts more like a hex/turn-based strategy. I would recommend this one only for fans of the original. While there are many improvements, the overall game still has too many problems to make it fun for most fans of real-time strategy. At the same time, I think that fans of traditional turn-based wargames would be turned off by the lack of order customization and feature depth. For Close Combat 2, the bridge between real-time and turn-based strategy is still too far.
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