For over two hundred years the United States Marine Corps has had a number of duties, from functioning as a continental landing force and a deterrent against mutiny aboard United States Navy vessels to working as a wide-ranging global amphibious force meant to handle any mission thrown at it. Today's turbulent world may have a Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) conduct an amphibious landing in hostile waters, rescue downed military personnel behind enemy lines, airlift civilian personnel from a dangerous location, provide humanitarian support to those in need, or even provide security or ground forces for larger purposes. A Marine commander must reflect the flexibility that is required by his men - and it is this that developer Stanley Associates hopes to create with Semper Fi, published by Interactive Magic.
Semper Fi is basically a platoon-level, turn-based, hex-based wargame depicting modern land warfare. Each turn is roughly the equivalent of seven minutes in real time, with a hex on the game map equaling about 300 meters in diameter. You take control of either the US Marine forces or the OPFOR, Opposing Forces. Instead of utilizing the basic "I go, you go" method of turn-based gameplay, the designers instead use an action phase system where initiative - based on morale, troop readiness, and so forth - determines when one side goes. Once you decide to end that phase, the next action phase begins, where initiative is determined again. In this case the same player may play several phases in a row. Since a combat unit can only be activated or used a certain number of times per turn - moving or firing typically - special care and thought to determine the best avenue of approach is required in most situations. Once each player cannot (or will not) take any more actions and hits the End Turn button, then the next turn begins, and the process starts all over again.
Graphically, Semper Fi is unimpressive at best. Map and unit graphics are uninspiring and somewhat blocky, with Semper Fi mostly resembling a 640x480 SVGA rendition of Norm Koger's Tanks! more than anything else. Elevation is handled only by contour lines. The good news is that the interface is simple and easy to use with only a little practice. Unit health and hex stacking is displayed graphically on the icon, and everything else is shown as a series of tabbed menu bars on the right-hand side of the screen, reserving the rest of the screen for the map. Moving a unit simply involves clicking on it (if applicable during the action phase), which activates a surrounding field of blue hexes the unit can move to. An overlaying field of red hexes indicates where the unit can fire. Every command in the game is accessible with the mouse.
Combat, the heart of the wargame, works pretty well in Semper Fi. The game rewards concentration of fire, combined assault, coordinated movement, use of off-board assets like artillery and naval fire, artillery, hidden units, terrain, and proximity to the command units. Morale, unit firepower, ammunition, and leadership are all tracked and could mean the difference in a battle.
Then there is the artificial intelligence. It works and does a nice job at times, but of course one could wish for something much better. One of the coolest things about Semper Fi is that you can have something better using the AI editor. This way you can alter how the AI behaves by altering how it perceives all of the varying game conditions like "victory hex value" or "anti-tank value."
Another nice aspect of Semper Fi is the scenario editor, which allows you to create any number of different scenarios. This is particularly good since the scenario and campaign selection for Semper Fi (15 and three, respectively) is less than stellar. Scenario victories are based on casualty rates and mission objectives. The campaigns themselves are a series of linked scenarios that do have some unit crossover but offer little else. Unfortunately the instructions for the scenario and AI editors are on Adobe Acrobat format on the CD-ROM, but the rest of the 100-page manual (with some handy unit tables in the back) is more than adequate.
So what is Semper Fi? For the wargame aficionado it has customizability and replayability along with a pretty usable user interface and a decent combat system. For the regular everyday player who may have an interest in the game, it doesn't offer much. The graphics and sound are poor, as is the immediate selection of scenarios. There is the feel that perhaps Semper Fi was trying to appeal to the mass market, but crashes in the attempt. The truth of the matter is, if you can take the "Semper Fi" slogan and the USMC logos and replace them with pretty much anything else, you'd still have hothing more than an OK game struggling to be something much better.