Combat Review

Combat is a decent arcade-style shooter that should at least temporarily please newbies and anyone with an itchy trigger finger.

If you think there's a shortage of gaming creativity these days, you need only look 25 years into the past to realize how good you have it. Back in the early 1970s, Early Video Game Man came home from battling dinosaurs only to find the most simplistic of home gaming systems and the most primitive of games waiting to soothe his frayed nerves. One of the most popular of these early efforts was Atari's Combat, a two-person tank-and-plane-based battle that appeared on the scene almost simultaneously with other two-person tank-based games such as Tank and Armor Battle. Infogrames pays tribute to the former with the unimaginatively titled Combat, a modernized 3D hovertank warfare game that bears little resemblance to the original other than its name and fondness for bullet-spraying armored vehicles. Though it does become repetitive and certainly won't set any new standards, Combat nevertheless is a decent arcade-style shooter that should at least temporarily please newbies and anyone with an itchy trigger finger.

Combat takes place in a bizarre futuristic environment composed of a series of passageways and ramps suspended in the upper atmosphere of some unnamed world. It is your job to maneuver yourself from the predesignated entry point through to the exit point of each segment, a process that wouldn't be quite so difficult if it weren't for the legion of ne'er-do-wells determined to prematurely end your journey. You may feel lonely out there at the beginning of the game, but soon you're besieged by a variety of enemies, including several forms of aircraft and land-based vehicles, a wide range of fixed gun emplacements, and, in classic arcade fashion, one big boss beast at the culmination of each full level. Illinois-based developer Magic Lantern has infused each of Combat's 20 unique villains with distinctive characteristics and armaments to help you identify potential behavior and methodology before they attack, yet throws so many of them at you that you'll rarely feel safe.

It's not just the sheer quantity of opponents that'll bite you. In Combat, your adversaries are relatively intelligent too. Though they have some difficulty seeing you from a distance and chase you only within a given area, there's no question they'll take advantage of any weakness to surround you and mercilessly pound your vehicle with guns, cannons, and often suicidal ship-to-ship collisions. They also have this nasty habit of materializing and respawning from their randomly positioned generators just when you feel you've been pushed to the limit. In fact, the game is designed in such a way that you will often want to slow it down and play a little hide and seek rather than enter a new sector forcefully and with guns blazing.

Yet evil adversaries aren't the only problems you'll face in the Combat world. The unfortunate truth of the matter is that your own ship handles like an ice cube on a frozen lake. Even though it is a hovercraft and as such should float about a bit more than you want it to, it slips and slides so much that merely traveling in a straight line proves to be a cumbersome task. These wayward tendencies negatively impact even basic operations such as navigating toward one of the game's 16 different forms of power-ups, and that just doesn't seem fair. Making matters worse, many of Combat's raised roadways and ramps have no walls or guardrails around their outer perimeter. As a result, you'll often unintentionally shuffle off the edge and plummet into space, losing one of your lives in the process.

At least it looks spectacular when you do die. Although the game certainly won't be confused with a state-of-the-art graphical showpiece, it does feature plenty of convincing explosions. When your own ship or a key enemy vehicle blows up, it does so by breaking into several pieces and serenading the screen with enough fire and brimstone to make you wish you had a replay facility to see it all again. End-level bosses die with an even greater flourish--belching thick black smoke and enduring various flaming conniptions before finally succumbing in a blazing, crumbling inferno. Combat's excellent sound effects, which effectively translate most onscreen and several off-screen events and consistently convey an eerie sense of foreboding, reach their impressive pinnacle during such instances.

Otherwise, Combat looks like the budget title it is. The game doesn't sport a first-person cockpit view or any other perspective beyond its two chase cameras. The ships are not particularly detailed and do not exhibit damage until they meet their fiery end. The environments are generally similar throughout, and the ordnance fired from your own cannon resembles the pretty little ember at the top of a Fourth of July sparkler rather than the fearsome weapon it obviously is.

The most damning aspect of the game undoubtedly is its save routine--or rather lack thereof. In Combat, your position is maintained only when you've advanced through a total of 10 missions to the end of one of its three "chapters." Consequently, you'd better get accustomed to revisiting previously conquered levels and sections over and over and over again if you ever want to reach the conclusion. It doesn't help that your artificially intelligent opponents continually appear in exactly the same location at exactly the same instance every time you play. Granted, they don't always follow the same pattern of movements once they have appeared on the screen, but that doesn't stop the whole affair from becoming somewhat tedious after you've spent a few hours behind the controls.

Fortunately, the single-player game is just part of the Combat package. Multiplayer fans can arrange a two- to eight-player Internet or network contest or log onto GameSpy to meet and wage war with new partners. The news gets even better for old-school gaming veterans, who may want to take a trip down memory lane with the enclosed PC emulation of Atari's stunningly prehistoric but totally authentic original Combat and its sequel. Magic Lantern has also included a full-blown level editor with which truly hard-core players/designers can develop their own unique Combat worlds.

Considering its simplicity, the original Combat was not and never will be a candidate for a true remake. The same could perhaps be said 25 years hence about this Combat, a game with several fast thrills, a few interesting moments, and a cost-conscious $19.99 price tag, but also a sense that we've all been there and done that many times before.

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  • First Released
    released
    • PC
    Combat is a decent arcade-style shooter that should at least temporarily please newbies and anyone with an itchy trigger finger.
    6.6
    Average Rating17 Rating(s)
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    Developed by:
    Magic Lantern
    Published by:
    Atari, Infogrames
    Genre(s):
    Simulation
    Content is generally suitable for all ages. May contain minimal cartoon, fantasy or mild violence and/or infrequent use of mild language.
    Everyone