G.I. Combat: Episode 1 Battle of Normandy Review
If you remember the Close Combat series of games, then you know that these games were the first to bring war games into the age of real-time gameplay. The games' modeling of the state, both physical and mental, of the individual soldiers was revolutionary at the time and made for some compelling, immersive, and challenging gameplay. The designers of the Close Combat games have returned to Normandy to create a new real-time, World War II war game, bringing a lot of the concepts and gameplay of the original series into the era of 3D gaming. The result is not as groundbreaking as the original; in fact, somewhere along the way playability was lost.
|A squad advances.|
The first sign that something is wrong here is with the game's tutorials. An in-game tutorial usually provides some audio or text explaining gameplay mechanics, right? Not here. War gamers are a pretty forgiving bunch and would be perfectly happy to follow a tutorial in the manual while playing, but there is hardly any information to be found there. The manual basically tells you that you have fifteen minutes to practice giving orders to your units You are dropped into the game without any information on objectives or very little on how to control anything. It's akin to signing up for flying lessons and being placed alone in the cockpit of a plane in a hanger. Why bother to include a tutorial at all?
The game itself is played by selecting from a list of scenarios. There also "Operations" and "Campaigns", the former being two or three linked scenarios. The Campaigns contain four or more linked maps, but each one of their descriptions states that they should be played in mutliplayer mode. In reality, you can play G.I. Combat as single battles, but don't expect anything in the way of continuity or a feeling of connection to the greater conflict. Once you have chosen a scenario, you are taken to the Task Force screen. This screen gives you a list of available units and a set of points to spend on them to select your troops for the engagement. Pick your army and you're ready to go. So far, so good, but the game's problems will quickly become evident as soon as you start playing.
Early 3D games often had trouble with camera control, but most games these days have the issue pretty much under control. This is not the case with G.I. Combat which harkens back to the bad old days of 3D games. The camera control is clunky and unintuitive to the point where you'll be fighting the camera more than you will the Germans. Double-clicking a squad's icon in the control bar takes the camera to the squad, but also zooms the camera in to the point where it is located at ground level behind your soldiers - an angle that is completely useless for issuing commands. If you just select the icon, the map and camera will not move or scroll at all, leaving you to wonder just where the unit could be located. You can click on a unit on the map, but must hit a man or vehicle precisely - there is no band-selection in the game.
You won't be able to leave the camera at an angle and play from there because the angle is too low at all but the farthest zoom level. You just can't give orders when you can't see past a hedgerow or tree. When the camera is zoomed all the way back, your units turn into little circles with no way to distinguish between the different unit types. At this point you might as well go back to the old chit and hexagon style of war game; at least the maps were colorful and you could tell the units apart.