Squad-based military shooters are all the rage at the moment. It seems that every other game announced is using some kind of squad-based or team-based game mechanic. Close Combat: First to Fight is no exception and features squad-based gameplay in a single-player campaign and a number of online multiplayer game modes. Sadly, while it features a lot of current industry buzzwords, it can't compete with the leaders in the genre.
The campaign is set around some unrest in the Lebanese city of Beirut. You and your squad must make your way through six missions (Missions are split into levels, so the game is longer than it may seem) as you attempt to bring some order to the chaos that surrounds you. While not an epic game by any means, the campaign should take the best part of ten hours to get through, if you have the patience.
You take the role of squad leader and can give orders to the members of your team. This ranges from simply telling your guys to move to a set area, to ordering them to clear out a room. This works in a similar way to the recently released SWAT 4 for the PC, but it doesn't feel as intuitive and you don't have the same number of options available to you. You can also call in for extra support from snipers, gunships and mortar crews, should a particularly tricky obstacle stand in your way.
The AI of both your team mates and the enemy is somewhat of a mixed bag. On occasion you'll be amazed at the way your squad takes up defensive positions and covers your back as enemies try and take you out from behind. Then, moments later, this feeling of amazement is shattered as your seemingly brain-dead team fumbles around at a door and is shot to pieces by the sole enemy hiding in a small room. Enemies, obviously not wanting to make things unfair, baffle in equal measure. For every sneaky flanking manoeuvre, there is a senseless desire to man a turret, even if that turret has already seen the death of numerous comrades who have taken sniper bullets to the head.
Going online against fellow humans (with a maximum of eight players) makes the experience a little more enjoyable, as does the online cooperative mode, which allows players to play through the whole campaign with up to four players. While this cooperative mode still suffers from the sporadic enemy behaviour, at least you have fellow intelligent (you'd hope) human beings to play alongside.
Visually First to Fight looks solid, but is rather rough around the edges. The game moves at a fairly slow pace and despite the mixture of indoor and outdoor environments, it starts to feel a little stale in the later parts. Enemy models all look pretty similar and they have a tendency to glitch through walls - as do their shadows, giving their location away far too often. Music is used sparsely in the game and the voice acting isn't that great, but the gunfire and explosions all sound realistic enough.
Close Combat: First to Fight is a game that could have been a real contender. Given the strong competition in this genre from games like Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon, First to Fight really had to offer something at least as competent as those games, but, unfortunately, it doesn't. The campaign becomes a chore to play through and the online cooperative mode is tarnished by the same flaws that hurt the single-player game. With similar and better games to choose from, First to Fight will have a hard time gaining many fans.