This strategy game offers a tremendously deep experience unmatched by many in its genre.

User Rating: 9 | Close Combat: A Bridge Too Far PC

This was the first Close Combat game that this reviewer had played. Having had read about this game so many years ago, this reviewer only had the luck to track down a copy a few years after its debut. Despite it being an already old game by then, it was very much what this reviewer had expected (& wanted): a game that rewards the careful and patient.

That said, it has to be stated that none of the Close Combat games made thus far had been intended for those who are brash of mind and hasty of thinking. Like its siblings, A Bridge Too Far will swiftly punish rushed decisions, with the player at fault having to watch the competent AI rolling over the map in play until the screen declaring defeat eventually pops up.

The player is advised to partake in the tutorial, which is plenty adequate. It does not completely provide all the solutions for every imaginable situation, but the tutorial is satisfactory in teaching the fundamentals of the game, of which there are plenty to consider, ranging from terrain to unit speed to troop morale and their ammunition reserves. Even after the tutorial has been dispensed with, the game still offers ways like shortcut keys for a quick description of a unit's stats or load-out.

The gameplay mainly involves preparing for battles that will be conducted from a bird's eye-view and managing the battles themselves. Preparation is deceptively simple; a player needs only select units to fill the slots allocated for the battle at hand and resupply any units that may have survived the previous battle in the same sector (or an adjacent one). However, the player has to consider the intelligence information on hand and recall whatever enemy units that may have been in the contested region (or an adjacent one, as units from nearby regions can be brought in to reinforce a battle group). Bad deployment decisions generally end with disasters like infantry who have no anti-tank weapons to handle enemy armour (which is sure defeat).

The historical backstory of the game controls the rate of introduction of newer, more powerful units. It also justifies the deployment of units with limited equipment early in the game (unlike other games in the strategy genre, where little reason is provided for the gradual build-up). The game starts with the lightly-armed forward recon elements of the Allies engaging the similarly equipped watch garrison of the Axis forces. However, the escalation of military munitions is not uniform throughout the sectors within the grand campaign of Market Garden. Certain sectors have a skewed build-up, resulting in severe disadvantages for one side. The challenge does feel more than a little artificial, but it certainly was in line with the theme of desperation in the backstory.

After the preparation/resupply phase, there is the deployment phase, where the player places his/her units within the deployment zone afforded by the scenario. The rest of the map, outside of the deployment zone, is concealed to the player (except for terrain details). This phase is also where a brash player can make terrible mistakes, such as deploying infantry out in the open, which will guarantee them a quick death. A few nasty mistakes later and this game will have drilled into the player the need for thorough plans.

According to this reviewer's research on this game, certain gameplay balances have been introduced into this entry of the Close Combat series; one of the major ones being the prevention of the deployment of artillery on top of tall buildings. Indeed, this was a smart decision, as infantry, who can still occupy the highest levels of buildings, gain a tremendous advantage in line of sight when they do so, in addition to defensive benefits for being much harder to hit.

After the deployment phase, the battle begins in earnest. Depending on the clock (this game is one of very few in its day that offered night-time combat), players are treated to an eerily quiet phase, where birds chirp or owls hoot, unaware of the incoming fury of war. Eventually, both sides will reveal their forces, and munitions will be flying all over the place.

Unlike most RTS games, the campaign of this game is terrifically long. In a span of a single day within the game, the player may have to manage more than half a dozen battles, each of which has to be won by taking (if not already taken) and holding a few strategic locations in the map for a variable (and often unpredictable) amount of time until the enemy loses its momentum for a counter-attack. (As a general rule of thumb, once the enemy's attacks peter out, the player has practically won.) The outcome of a battle is also important because any surviving units will gain combat experience (especially if their side has been victorious and they scored many kills) and said units need to resupplied and reinforced.

(It has to be mentioned that the campaign can be very computing-heavy, as there are a lot of mathematics involved in crunching numbers for stats and combat actions. For example, reinforcing a unit that has taken heavy losses with fresh, green troops will actually cause its aggregate experience to drop. Another example is a randomly generated name for practically every soldier on the field.)

If the player prefers a one-off session, then the game offers some quick scenarios that can be played in one sitting. Still, it has to be said that much of the meat of the game lies in its Grand Campaign.

The AI is very vicious, and will swiftly punish any unwise decisions. Yet, with that said, it does not appear to be effective against players with competent skills at strategizing, or at least efficient countering. For example, as the Axis player, this reviewer did not manage to stop the initial advance of XXX Corps, but later managed to stymie its progress by hiding anti-tank teams in all sorts of terrain close to where the armoured units of XXX Corps tend to be deployed. The AI did not appear to be none the wiser even after said teams managed to wreck so many vehicles over several battles (though it did attempt to field flamethrower-equipped tanks).

With all those bits of gameplay mentioned, the contribution of the graphics and audio of the game to its crux, the gameplay, have to be described. A Bridge Too Far is not a very pretty game, even by the standards of its time. The game rigidly only offers the bird's eye view, which while very good at showing the relative distance between units, does a poor job at showing whether they have line-of-sight (LOS) to each other. In the case of units on opposing sides, the fog-of-war would peel away according to the LOS of units still under the player's control. However, judging whether friendly units are within each other's LOS or not is not immediately obvious, sometimes making it difficult for them to give each other covering fire.

The most laughable animations in the game involve, ironically enough, close combat. It is very amusing to watch the shoulders and arms of opposing infantry swinging away at each other like dueling toy robots before one of them keels over and dies. Likewise, if not for slight animations in the treads of tanks, it's difficult to tell when they are about to start moving.

However, the flaws mentioned above are at best minor. The LOS issue is overcome once the player is able to identify which type of cover obscures vision and which does not. The game also highlights the outlines of any friendly units (and detected enemy units) hiding under cover. There will be a lot of commands to be doled out continuously, such that stilted animations won't be noticed much. Otherwise, the graphics do a good job of emphasizing on the desperation of the battles fought in Operation Market Garden. (Even the said awkward close combat animations will feel comically satisfying once the player manages to perform a related feat like having an assault squad successfully flank and murder a string of machine-gun and mortar teams that would have given a hard time to other units.)

As for the audio, the cacophony of gunfire and explosions can be rather startling the first time around; the volume slider appears to be ineffective, at least on this reviewer's system. It is worth noting that as long as the screen is placed over units, even those hidden in fog-of-war, their tell-tale sound effects can be heard. (The game also suggests this explicitly.) This allows the player to gauge the advance of enemy units, as well as guess the location of enemy artillery teams. (This is particularly important, as the AI, like all AI scripting of the time, has cognitive capabilities that would appear as cheating to a human player.)

The voice-acting in the game is at best deceptive. This reviewer had assumed that non-English speaking troops are speaking other languages, when the fact is that they have accents so terribly forced that their English is almost not legible. For example, listening to German troops stating "We are being suppressed!" may sound like they are speaking Deutsche the first time, at least not to the player's immediate realization. Fortunately, every unit has its own clear visual indicator for its level of suppression, but this reviewer would have preferred that the voice-acting had been of better quality.

This reviewer did not get to thoroughly try out the multiplayer portion of the game, due to lack of any compatriots to compete against (this reviewer had played this game a few years after its debut, after all). This reviewer did coax a friend into playing a single session using hastily created GameRanger free accounts, but apparently it only served to emphasize on the need for a proper tactical plan when playing any side in any scenario in this game. (The session ended in a disaster for said friend.)

In conclusion, A Bridge Too Far may not be a game for everyone, but it certainly is a highly recommended title for any person who have a penchant for strategy games of great depth.