Close Combat: First to Fight Hands-On

We get to play First to Fight for the first time and check out what Destineer and the Marine Corps have been working on.

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As consoles and PCs become more powerful, they're catching the eye of the US military, which recognizes that many of its recruits grew up with video games. As such, the military sees an opportunity to develop video games that serve as training aids. Close Combat: First to Fight is the latest such project. First to Fight is being developed by Destineer in cooperation with the United States Marine Corps. Their aim is to create a gritty, squad-based game that will teach marines tactics while giving civilians a glimpse into the professionalism of today's Marine Corps. We recently got our hands on both the Xbox and PC versions of the game for the first time to see what modern urban combat in First to Fight is like.

A marine and his rifle are one, so go ahead and use it against the enemy in First to Fight.
A marine and his rifle are one, so go ahead and use it against the enemy in First to Fight.

In First to Fight, you'll command a four-man fireteam of marines as you battle in the urban jungle known as Beirut, Lebanon, in a near-future hypothetical conflict. After the Lebanese prime minister leaves the country to seek medical attention overseas, factional fighting erupts again and the Marines, as part of a NATO contingent, are sent in to try and stabilize the situation. The game, which is being developed with the assistance of dozens of active-duty marines fresh from Iraq and Afghanistan, centers on using real-life Marine tactics in order to overcome and destroy the enemy.

The game's controls should feel familiar to anyone who has ever played a first-person shooter on the PC or Xbox. In the PC version, you'll use the familiar WASD keys to move your character on the map while you use the mouse to aim and shoot. Meanwhile, the Xbox controls mimic the system used in Halo, the seminal Xbox first-person shooter.

In the mission that we played, our fireteam started in a garage and we needed to venture out and clear the narrow streets and alleyways of enemy gunmen. Almost immediately, we came under fire from numerous gunmen and snipers; their locations appeared as red dots in the GPS/radar circle located in the bottom right of the screen. In that situation, the three computer-controlled members of your fireteam will automatically seek cover and return fire, using proper Marine tactics. In fact, your artificial intelligence teammates can usually look after themselves, but it's up to you, as the team leader, to direct them to victory.

After battling our way out of the garage, the team maneuvered down the street and encountered a heavily manned roadblock. In a way, each firefight represents a tactical puzzle, and it'll be up to you to solve it. The solution for the roadblock was to direct the fireteam to suppress the gunmen with withering fire by putting your pointer on the enemy and calling up the radial order menu (this is done by hitting the right mouse button or by holding down the A button on the Xbox controller, then selecting "suppress"). While the enemies' heads were down, this gave us the opportunity to sprint toward a car close to the roadblock, which gave us cover and put us close enough to toss a grenade at the gunmen.

During combat, you'll need to be careful of civilians and other noncombatants in the area, such as members of the media. Your pointer will turn red for enemy combatants, yellow for neutrals, and blue for friendlies. It'll also turn blue over objects with which you can interact. For example, you can pick up enemy weapons from the ground and use them, you can climb up ladders, and you can open doors. Speaking of which, when you come upon a closed door, you can issue an order for your team to take down the room, at which time they'll line up in formation then storm in, guns at the ready. You can also have them throw a frag grenade in first, then storm into the room, which is a better plan when you know there are hostiles inside.

There are plenty of gritty, urban street battles in the game.
There are plenty of gritty, urban street battles in the game.

Urban combat tends to be very unforgiving, and you most definitely do not want to play First to Fight like a regular first-person shooter. Even then, your team can take losses, and in situations when a marine goes down, you'll need to call for a corpsman to try to save him. The game will ship with three difficulty levels, but if you want a real challenge, it will also ship with the simulation mode that the Marines themselves will use. In simulation mode, there is no margin for error, as a single bullet can kill. The game will have location-based damage, so obviously a head shot will be lethal, while hits to other parts of the body will be less so.

Both versions of First to Fight look good, and you'll find that your marines and the urban environments are rendered in sharp detail. You'll also have an opportunity to use night vision goggles in some of the darker areas of the game, and these will allow you to fight at night, though at the price of a limited cone of vision. First to Fight is coming together well, and it should appeal to fans of realistic military games. There are still no details regarding the game's multiplayer suite, though those should come soon. The bad news is that we're told the game has slipped and will no longer make it out this year, meaning we'll have to wait for sometime early in 2005 for it. But this should give Destineer the time it needs to finish and polish the game.

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