Combat Elite: WWII Paratroopers Hands-On Impressions

Dungeon crawling meets World War II in this unique action game from BattleBorne Entertainment.

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If you like the World War II setting or dungeon-crawling action RPGs in the Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance vein--or especially if you like both--then Combat Elite: WWII Paratroopers, from Acclaim and developer BattleBorne Entertainment, will have something to offer you. For the most part, games of this type have tenaciously stuck to the fantasy hack-and-slash theme, but based on our playtime so far with a work-in-progress PS2 version of the game, this unusual union of setting and gameplay seems to have yielded a pretty playable and entertaining game. Combat Elite even uses the Snowblind Studios-developed engine that's powered many genre hits like Dark Alliance and Champions of Norrath, so the visuals and control ought to be familiar to fans of those games.

"World War II, meet the dungeon crawl. Dungeon crawl, World War II."

The single-player campaign in Combat Elite lets you choose one of three hardened soldiers: Pvt. Patrick Harper, who hails from Texas; Pvt. John Howe, from Georgia; and Pvt. Stephen Frost, from England. Each man has a set of innate strengths--Harper is best with rifles and pistols, while Howe prefers submachine guns and heavy machine guns, and Frost specializes in pistols and hand-to-hand combat. After you pick a character, you'll start the story mode with the D-Day invasion of Normandy and progress from there toward victory.

Regardless of whom you choose, you'll be able to boost your skills in a number of categories using skill points you'll accrue as you play. Raising your grenade skill, for instance, will give the grenade a wider blast radius and grant you an indicator showing where the throw will land. Upping your "combat sense" will give you enhanced targeting abilities, showing you which direction you're being attacked from and that sort of thing. You'll also find a wide assortment of weapons as you play, from the trusty M1 Garand and Thompson submachine gun to grenades and a bazooka. Fans of shooting shouldn't have a shortage of toys to play with here.

You might think it odd that BattleBorne has mixed the traditionally melee-focused gameplay of dungeon-crawling games with the World War II setting (which naturally involves long-range projectile weapons), but the mixture actually works pretty well. Your main mode of combat involves holding down the L1 button to enable a controllable target that will snap to enemies when you move it near them. While you're holding L1, you'll strafe left and right, and you can rotate yourself with the right analog stick. This setup works pretty well for taking out enemies before they can draw a bead on you. However, since your foes will have range on their side, you'll often have to duck behind and under cover (by pressing down on the left analog stick) during intense firefights. The ease of being able to hide from enemy fire gives Combat Elite a quickly paced, action-game-like feel that's fun to get the hang of.

The graphics in the game seem to be shaping up nicely, as befits a game using the tried-and-true Snowblind engine. Veterans of previous games will feel right at home here with the overhead perspective and realistic environments they've seen in the past. Although many ambient graphical effects (such as animated background elements and destructible objects) haven't been implemented yet, the game's backgrounds already have a cohesive underlying design, from nice-looking natural areas to bombed-out cityscapes. Further improvements to the graphics are said to be in the works, so the game should have no problem hanging with its brethren in the visual department.

Combat Elite has a whopping 45 missions in its single-player campaign. What's more, these missions have varying objectives that will be revealed to you as you play. These goals can range from stealthy infiltration to targeted demolitions, so there ought to be a lot of variety as you go along. As you'd expect from a game powered by the Snowblind engine, you can play through with two players for double the firepower. Combat Elite: WWII Paratroopers is due out in June, and we'll bring you more on the game leading up to its release.

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