Close Combat: First to Fight Impressions

We take a first look at this realistic squad-based action game being codeveloped by the United States Marine Corps.


Over the past few years, we've seen the military--primarily the United States Army--become more and more involved in games development. The powerful nature of today's PCs and consoles means that the military can develop sophisticated games that can serve as recruiting tools, like America's Army, or as training aids for soldiers, like Full Spectrum Warrior. Now, the United States Marine Corps is looking to get into the action with Close Combat: First to Fight, a project it is working on with Destineer, a company formed by several ex-Bungie employees.

Every marine is a rifleman, including you, in First to Fight.
Every marine is a rifleman, including you, in First to Fight.

You may remember that Close Combat was originally a series of World War II-based real-time tactical wargames designed by Atomic Games in the mid- to late-'90s. Close Combat: First to Fight represents an entirely new direction for the brand, because it will be a modern-day, realistic, squad-based first-person shooter that will come out for the PC and Xbox. You'll command a four-man fireteam of marines engaged in intense urban combat in a yet-to-be-named city in the Middle East. It may sound a lot like Full Spectrum Warrior, and in many ways, First to Fight is reminiscent of that recently released game. But there's a huge difference between First to Fight and Full Spectrum Warrior. Instead of commanding the fireteam from third person, you'll actually play in first person as the fireteam leader. So you'll be there right along with them, engaging targets and dodging enemy fire.

The Marine Corps is deeply involved in the development of the game--to the point of dispatching as many as 30 to 40 decorated active-duty combat veterans (fresh from Iraq and Afghanistan) to work with the development team to capture the gritty details and nuances of urban combat. The Corps plans to use an adapted version of First to Fight as a training aid for marines in the barracks, and it sees the civilian version as a means to present the Corps' values of honor, duty, commitment, teamwork, and professionalism to the public. What we'll be getting will be very similar to what the Marine Corps will get, because the Marine and civilian versions will share about 90-percent commonality. The main differences rely on the fact that the Marine version will feature some specialized enhancements requested by various groups within the Corps for training purposes.

First to Fight will incorporate the Marine Corps system of formations, movement, and tactics for urban combat, otherwise known as Ready-Team-Fire-Assist. This name refers to the role of each marine in a four-man fireteam. The "Ready" man is a rifleman who stands next to the "Team" leader. Across from them is the "Fire" position, manned by a marine armed with the Squad Automatic Weapon. And behind him there's the "Assist" man, who serves as assistant gunner and is also responsible for covering the team's rear. In the game, your squad will use RTFA tactics to ensure that your marines maneuver and fight like real marines. For example, when you come up to an intersection, the Ready and Fire marines will automatically hug the corners to provide cover.

You'll have support from marine tanks and helicopters, among others.
You'll have support from marine tanks and helicopters, among others.

As team leader, your job will be to make decisions to accomplish the mission and to keep your guys alive. You can issue orders to each marine through a simple radial menu, which includes suppress, cover, grenade, smoke, and flank options. Once you issue an order, your fireteam members will carry it out using RTFA tactics. During a demonstration of First to Fight, Destineer showed us a fireteam clearing out a subway tunnel system and engaging hostiles in one of the subway stations. Using a command to "take down" the area, the marines quickly entered and moved to positions to seize control of the room quickly. Your marines will understand cover, and they'll know how to use it, so they'll look for places where they can get a superior position to fire upon the enemy.

Four Dimensions of Combat

First to Fight will also take into account that the Marine Corps considers urban combat to be a four-dimensional environment, where enemies can appear from all around you. Enemies can also use tunnels and sewers to maneuver below you, and they can barricade themselves in upper stories of buildings to gain height advantages. The fourth dimension, though, is one of the trickiest: Civilians and the media add to the marines' worries, because marines have to minimize innocent causalities and deal with the fact that anything they do has the potential to be broadcast to the world live.

Urban warfare is a harrowing environment.
Urban warfare is a harrowing environment.

Since marines don't fight alone, you'll have the capabilities of the Marine Air Ground Task Force at your disposal. You may encounter other fireteams during a battle, and you can call in support from tanks, armored assault vehicles, mortars, and Cobra helicopters. In one instance during our demonstration, the fireteam ran across a heavily defended bunker, so the marines called in air support to take it out. In another instance, the fireteam encountered a heavily defended building and called in mortar fire to soften it up.

The game will feature a sophisticated artificial intelligence system so that your fireteam will behave realistically. Destineer is currently working hand in hand with Atomic Games, which developed the original Close Combat games. In particular, Destineer is drawing on Atomic's sophisticated psychological model to ensure that all the computer-controlled characters in the game behave like real-life human beings. The game models morale and discipline, and if you can break the will of your opponents, it will cause confusion among their ranks. As a result, they'll flee. That's important to the Corps, because one of the Marine Corps' beliefs is that the driving force in battle is the human will. Simply put, marines believe that those with superior wills will win. It'll be important for you to keep your marines alive, because as they gain experience, their psychological models will improve, thus making them less likely to break.

Destineer built the game's graphics engine with the aim of delivering realistic graphics, lighting and shadow effects, and more. The engine really captures the grittiness of the urban levels. It also renders your marines in startling detail. You can see distinct facial expressions, such as the furrowing of brows, and each of your marines will have a unique personality and voice, so you can really get attached to them.

The Corps and Destineer are keeping a few details mum for now. For one, we don't know the name of the real Middle Eastern city that is the setting for the game, though we're told that it won't be set in Iraq or Afghanistan. The levels will be accurate--but not so accurate as to cause worry in the Middle Eastern nation in question. First to Fight will also feature multiplayer support for the PC and Xbox Live, though details are scarce for now. Furthermore, the developers are still deciding whether it will support split-screen multiplayer on the Xbox.

Your marines will use proper tactics, and they'll act like real human beings.
Your marines will use proper tactics, and they'll act like real human beings.

At this point, First to Fight looks like it will be an impressive entry into the realistic first-person shooter market, and its mix of features are tantalizing. First to Fight promises to take the Full Spectrum Warrior formula further by allowing you to actually participate in combat directly and make you feel like you're out there leading marines in combat. From all appearances, the Marine Corps is getting serious about gaming. Make sure to check back with us, because we'll keep you up-to-date on First to Fight as it winds its way through development for a scheduled fall release.

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