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Title: Close Combat - A Bridge Too Far
Publisher: Microsoft
Date Published: 1997
Platforms: PC

By September 1944, the Allied advance had been halted because of its own success. Almost all of France has been secured, Belgium had been recently liberated and the Wehrmacht has been forced to fight a war it was bound to lose. Only the lack of supplies stood in the way of a final offensive. Montgomery wished to use the British XXX Corps to drive through Holland, around the Siegfried line and into Germany.

Eisenhower eventually agreed to operation Market-Garden: A daring offensive which would utilize airborne troops to take and hold key bridges in Holland over which XXX Corps could drive into Germany. At the cost of halting all other movement, operation Market-Garden commenced on September 17. The American 101st and 82nd Airborne division, the Polish 1st Airborne Brigade and British 1st Airborne division dropped in or near respectively Eindhoven, Groesbeek, Driel and Arnhem. Arnhem bridge was the prize: If XXX Corps rolled across it, it would be in a position to move straight into Germany.

There was widespread agreement that the German forces were weak, and hence were not expected to put up any serious resistance. However, they were unaware that, in addition to the army units, several SS formations were in Holland to rest and re-equip, and some of them were camping next to the Allied landing zones. Even before it started, Market-Garden was threatened with disaster. In the end, the operation failed. Most of the bridges were taken, but Arnhem remained out of reach, and the British forces there were almost wiped out.

The game

Close Combat - A Bridge Too Far (CC2) is the second game in the Close Combat series. Like its predecessor, the game focuses on relatively small battles, with no more than nine infantry units and six support units under the player's command during any of the individual battles.

The objective of the game is either to get XXX Corps to Arnhem bridge as quickly as possible, or to stop it, depending on whether you play as the Allies or the Germans. This must be done in ten days. There are three sectors (Eindhoven, Nijmegen and Arnhem), each consisting of a number of operations which again consist of a number of individual maps where the battles take place. It is possible to play individual battles, operations, sectors or the whole campaign.

Gameplay

When playing the game, you start out with a map showing the progress of XXX Corps, the map you're about to fight on, the status of the operations in the sector the battle is taking place in, and a briefing. From there, you move on to the requisition screen, where you manage the forces at your disposal. All operations are started with a few pre-selected units, and then requisition points are used to purchase more. The number of points you have depend on the difficulty setting and whether or not the operation has received any supplies since the last battle. The cost of each unit depends on the unit's quality (for example, an elite airborne rifle squad will cost a few points more than the equivalent from the regular army) and effectiveness (a small reserve squad is cheap, while a tank is much more expensive). There is also a limited quantity of each unit available.

When you've selected the units you want, and perhaps traded in some unnecessary units, you move on to the deployment screen, where you place your units on the map and order them to hide, run for cover or fire at will. During the battle, things become very simple: Kill the enemy. When the possession of some bridges is at stake, the Germans will have the option of demolishing them in order to delay the allies, and the allies must annihilate the Germans before this happens.

Battles end either when one side has no units left on the screen (i.e., all units have been destroyed or have fled) or the two sides agree to a cease-fire. There is also the option of ordering a wholesale retreat from the battlefield, which allows the player to surrender the map to the enemy immediately, but any soldiers and guns which are too close to the enemy will be lost.

There is a total of seven commands that can be given, such as move, sneak, defend and hide. Most of them are self-explanatory. Hide, for example, makes the unit hide until the enemy is very close (useful for ambushes), while defend makes them fire at will.

While the map appears flat, it is not, and line of sight plays an important role. Taking the high ground or tall buildings lets your units see further, and anti-tank teams like bazookas are more effective when they can fire at the weak top armour of enemy tanks.

After each battle, a debriefing screen will show how much ground each side has on the map, each side's losses and other useful details. There is also the length of the cease-fire to consider. The player which chooses the shortest period will attack first, and will force the enemy to lose a small amount of resources. You can also see how each soldier performed in the battle, which attributes increased or decreased, what he killed/destroyed and which medals he has been awarded.

At the end of each day, the supply screen allows the player to send supplies to the various operations. Supplies give each operation some extra requisition points, and, more importantly, more ammunition. The more battles you fight in an operation, the less ammunition your forces will have. The Germans can always send supplies by truck to their forces, while the Allies can only receive supplies by truck where XXX Corps has already passed through. If the Allies possess a landing zone at the end of the day, they can send supplies by air, but only to one sector.

By the start of each campaign and by the end of each day, the player can watch a documentary-style video consisting of footage from the operation and a voice which describes the aim of the operation and the historical develpoments, respectively.

The manual deserves a few words. It is a massive affair, and, in addition to covering every aspect of the game, also comes with a detailed history of the operation. There is also history of the war and a list of the weapons, tanks and vehicles which can be seen in the game, complete with stats and a short description. My copy of the game has the manual on the CD itself, which means that many of the descriptions are accompanied by short videos showing the weapon in action.

Combat

CC2 is meant to be a highly realistic game, and this is reflected in the gameplay. Every single soldier has a total of five different attributes which determine how he acts and reacts on the battlefield. These are leadership, physique, psyche, experience and morale. In combination, they determine how the soldier reacts to things such as heavy enemy fire, nearby casualties and such things. An experienced soldier will be better at what he does, but is worthless if he can't handle adverse circumstances. The realism isn't limited to the soldiers, but also includes the weapons, which have different rates of fire, occasionally jam and are issued with a limited amount of ammunition. Tanks, in particular, can be immobilized, lose crewmembers or guns, or quite simply blow up in a spectacular explosion (as is usually the case).

During battle, this means that your units may not obey your orders if they consider them suicidal or if they are under heavy enemy fire, or it may take them a while before they do. Some soldiers may panic and do nothing, while others go berserk and charge the enemy. Some may even run away from the battle. Likewise, weapons have a certain chance of hitting a target, and a certain chance of doing damage.

This is especially a problem for the Allies, as the Germans have many tanks with very thick frontal armour, in some cases almost impenetrable. In addition to this, most German tanks can destroy all Allied tanks with a single shot. In addition to this, all German infantry teams carry very effective Panzerfaust anti-tank weapons, which means that all Allied tanks within a hundred meters of a German infantry team risks destruction.

There is also a plethora of tanks and vehicles to choose from. While only a limited selection may be available at any one time in campaign mode, the player will usually have about half a dozen and upwards to choose from. For the Allies, XXX Corps comes with a full selection of all Allied tanks and vehicles, from the puniest halftrack to the mighty Sherman Firefly. The Germans have almost the entire range to choose from, from the Panzerkampfwagen III to the almost invincible Köningstiger, plus a large number of different vehicles.

It should be noted that while the individual soldiers act much like the real thing, the AI itself isn't quite as good. It usually deploys its units relatively randomly, and fails to take full advantage of the terrain. Still, once the game starts, it gets better, and can be very difficult to defeat at times.

There are a few bugs, though. For example, if a three-man machine gun team has its gunner killed, one of the other two members will pick up the machine gun. However, if there are only two members left and the one without the machine gun panicks and runs away, and the other soldier is then killed, then the panicked soldier will get the weapon even if he has run far from his dead comrade. Nevertheless, such bugs are rarely noticable.

The game does lack a number of features which would give it much needed replay value. There is no way to change the weather, for example. Every time you play the game, bad weather in England delays the Polish drop three whole days, limits air support and on some days the supply drops. It would greatly enhance the experience if a little bit of uncertainty was added, at least as an optional extra. Also, the possibility for the Allies to call for air support would have been a great addition. (This problem has been addressed in later games in the series.)

There is also the problem that it is inherently easier to play as the Germans. Because the player's success is measured by how far XXX Corps advances, the Allied player is forced to win everywhere, while the Germans merely have to win against XXX Corps when and where it appears. This means that for an experienced player, playing as the Germans entails fighting quite a few pointless battles, since he/she knows that XXX Corps will never, for example, reach as far as Arnhem, thereby making all the battles in that sector inconsequential.

As the Germans, it is necessary to preserve your forces and hold out until reinforcement arrive. You'll usually be outnumbered, but carefully executed ambushes and superior weapons may be enough to stop the Allies.

For the Allies, speed is essential. If you're delayed for too long, then the Germans will build up enough forces to halt XXX Corps. It will be difficult for the airborne troops to hold out against the Germans until support arrives, especially because of the lack of effective antitank weapons.

Graphics and sound

The graphics are pretty good for a strategy game, and it is possible to see quite impressive details on the tanks and vehicles when you zoom in on them. The terrain and buildings also look pretty good, and it is actually possible to see the little soldiers throw grenades and stab at each other when in close combat. The sound effects are excellent, and each weapon can be easily recognized. The soldiers will scream for medics, notify you that the target assigned to them has been nuetralized or tell you that you're losing the battle in their respective languages.

Conclusion

Ultimately, the game manages to be both highly realistic and still very interesting. In campaign mode, there are battles requiring different strategies, and there is a real challenge in overcoming the inherent difficulties involved in fighting as the Allies and the Germans. There is a certain lack of replay value and the lack of options can be very annoying at times, but as a realistic WWII strategy game, it succeeds very well.

The Close Combat series:
Close Combat
Close Combat - A Bridge Too Far
Close Combat - The Russian Front
Close Combat - Battle Of The Bulge
Close Combat - Normandy

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