As I slowly made my way down the Beirut street, my eyes roaming left, right, and up looking for threats, I risked a quick glance over my shoulder to check on the rest of my four-man squad. Just as I knew they would be, each of them was in position to cover the group as a whole. Two of them were on the other side of the street, mirroring the movements of me and the guy behind me. My partner was doing exactly what his training had stressed: watching the area behind us to prevent a surprise attack from behind, while I was responsible for the area in front of us. This tactic of ensuring a 360 degree zone of coverage is known as Ready-Team-Fire-Assist, or RTFA. And, it saved my tender hide that day. As I was just about to cross a side alley, the team across the street saw an enemy combatant lying in wait. They immediately targeted the unfortunate insurgent, and removed the threat.
Of course, this being a game review site, and this being a game review, you've probably already figured out that I was sitting safely at my PC rather than actually facing combat in Lebanon. I was playing Close Combat: First to Fight, a new FPS from Destineer Studios. While previous FPS have typically followed the "you against the world" paradigm in single-player mode, Destineer has moved the edges of the envelope with the squad-based First to Fight. The movements of the four-man fire team have the ring of authenticity to them, which is not surprising when you consider that the developers consulted with 40-plus combat experienced Marines. In fact, First to Fight will be used as a training tool by the Marines.
Of course, we heard some of this before with titles like Full Spectrum Warrior, which was also used as a training aid by the US military. First to Fight is very similar to FSW, with two major exceptions: in First to Fight you as a player will be able to actually shoot at the enemy, and you will take the fight indoors. This adds a whole new level to the game, as the indoor door-to-door fighting is some of the most stressful and dangerous fighting there is. Fortunately, your fire team has again been trained to deal with the unique challenges of entering a room that may or may not contain a number of heavily armed men that would like nothing more than to ruin your day. Through the use of what is known as the "frag takedown," your team will clear a room of bad guys before they even know what hit them.
Commanding your squad to do your bidding is very straightforward: your aiming reticule will change color when appropriate to indicate an area where a command can be applied. So, when standing in front of a closed door you simply right click the mouse and select “Frag TD” to command your squad to stack up at the door. When they’re ready, press the “Action” key (spacebar by default) and they will take down the room using a frag grenade. You can also send them to any given spot simply by putting your aiming reticule over it and pressing the ‘G’ key. You can command each member of your squad individually as well.
For the most part, your squad members will do as they are told. There are times when they will save your bacon. There are also some times when they aren’t quite as helpful. For example, I commanded them to place suppressing fire on an enemy so I could try to flank him. “Unable.” Huh? Just do it, Marine! That happened a few times, but other times they did just fine. Similarly, the enemy was at times very challenging, but at other times simply stood there patiently waiting to meet their 72 virgins.
While the squad-based game play of Forst to Fight is a nice improvement over previous FPS shooters, the graphics and sound of the virtual battlefield are somewhat dated. The sounds in particular are pretty annoying. Imagine you’re creeping along an underground drainage pipe, trying to be as quiet as possible so as not to alert any enemies that may be ahead of you when one of your troops hollers out, “Sure is quiet in here. Too quiet.” I swear, that troop almost got his own collection of virgins for that! The graphics are ok, but the world isn’t as interactive as a more state-of-the-art title such as Half-Life 2. After experiencing the highly interactive HL2 world, something like First to Fight seems very drab and lifeless.
First to Fight introduces a few nice features with the realistic squad behavior and easy to use interface, but suffers from an out-dated game engine and annoying sound. All in all, though, it’s a pretty good introduction to the stresses and violence of door-to-door urban combat.
Destineer Studios' Close Combat:First to Fight was developed with input from more than 40 active duty Marines. While the realism of the squad-based shooter is nice, an average game engine and annoying sounds will prevent this one from being a big hit.