Close Combat: First to Fight Hands-On - Multiplayer

We picked up our virtual M16s and checked out the multiplayer modes in this much-anticipated shooter.

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Close Combat: First to Fight may turn out to be one of the more intriguing action games of the year. This realistic squad-based first-person shooter is being developed in cooperation with the United States Marine Corps. While Marines will use the game as a training aid, you'll get a taste of the challenges of urban combat in a Middle Eastern city. However, since the game was announced last year, developer Destineer has been quiet about the game's multiplayer component. That is, until now. Destineer and publisher Global Star recently announced the multiplayer details. What's more, we've actually had a chance to play the multiplayer, and have some hands-on impressions for you. Read on.

No matter what team you play on in multiplayer, you'll always play from the perspective of a US Marine.
No matter what team you play on in multiplayer, you'll always play from the perspective of a US Marine.

In the single-player component of First to Fight, you'll command a four-man fireteam of Marines as you battle it out in the streets of Beirut, Lebanon, in the near future. Due to the nature of the game's fireteam combat, the multiplayer won't be a large-scale game with dozens of players. Instead, the game will support up to eight players on both the Xbox and the PC. The multiplayer modes include deathmatch and team deathmatch, as well as a cooperative mode that lets you play the campaign with four players. Naturally, the Xbox version has full support for Xbox Live, but you can also system-link Xboxes together. There's also support for four-way split-screen on a single Xbox.

You can set up matches in what's called the fireteam arena. Here, you can restrict weapons, opt for a random weapon selection (you won't know what you have until you start the game), and so on. This is also where you'll also decide on a team leader, who has the ability to issue orders and commands in the game. Depending on the server, team leaders can be selected randomly, be assigned by the host, or be assigned on a first-come basis. Once you're in the game, Close Combat takes a page from America's Army, the US Army's multiplayer shooter. Basically, no matter which team that you play on, you will always play from the perspective of a US Marine, and your opponents will always appear as insurgents. That way, no one will ever be the "bad guy" in this game.

The combat in Close Combat is realistically fast-paced.
The combat in Close Combat is realistically fast-paced.

We had a chance to play in several games, including a cooperative mission and a number of team deathmatch battles. The cooperative mission can be quite challenging, even though it's against computer-controlled opponents. But the ability to work and talk together like a fireteam certainly adds to the realistic feel of the game. When you're playing as part of a fireteam in multiplayer, the fireteam leader has the ability to issue orders, using the same interface from the single-player game. If you're playing as another member of the fireteam and you receive an order to say, suppress the enemy, an icon will appear indicating what your team leader wants you to do. In one sequence, we battled through a sewer system, and it took a whole lot of teamwork to get through alive. Not only were there enemies inside the sewers, but the sewer grates opened up onto the street, allowing us to fire on enemies above and vice versa.

If you're hit, your character will sustain damage, but thankfully you can bandage yourself up to restore some of your health bar. You begin with an extremely limited number of bandages, but you can restore your supply if you spot a first-aid kit hanging on a wall. Since it's also being developed as a training aid for the Marine Corps, the game will feature an ultrarealistic setting that the Marines will use. And yes, this setting is about as hard as the real thing. Basically, it's much like the early Rainbow Six games, where one round can easily take you down. With that level of realism and the game's cluttered environments, you often won't see the guy who punches your ticket on this setting. In one instance, our team was wiped out by a guy firing through the gaps in a fence. The key to surviving and succeeding is to take things slow and follow proven fireteam tactics to the letter. Unfortunately, it's safe to say that most civilians don't have the luxury of knowing what those are. Still, if you're looking for a challenge, the ultrarealistic setting is it.

As you can tell, the Xbox version will support four-player split-screen.
As you can tell, the Xbox version will support four-player split-screen.

Just as important as the cooperative missions are the competitive missions, which allow you to battle against fellow human beings online. The game will ship with about eight multiplayer-only levels, and you can customize games a number of ways, from opting for random weapons to giving everyone a specific weapon, such as a sniper rifle. The environments are a bit small to accommodate the number of players, but they're highly detailed, with plenty of places to find cover and shoot from. We battled it out in a small plaza ringed with markets and shops, which provided plenty of room to maneuver. Then we fought it out in a huge courtyard with an upper balcony that gave snipers the chance to pick people off in the open. The combat itself is very fast-paced, and it can be tense as you hunt down your opponent. You can also pick up and retrieve weapons from fallen combatants, which is useful if you spot a Squad Automatic Weapon that someone dropped.

At this point, the multiplayer in Close Combat looks very good, and it should provide the combination of realism and action that shooter fans crave. The game itself is in the final stages of development, and we should see it ship sometime in March.

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