NEED TO KNOW
RELEASE October 2000
PUBLISHER Mattel Interactive
DEVELOPER Atomic Games
During the frigid Canadian winters, the forest behind my house became a battlefield. Every night I’d meet my friends there and distribute our collection of toy guns, and then we’d reenact the scenes we had seen in war movies. I vividly remember sitting in the snow, back against a tree, pretending I was pinned down by my friend, who was now a German sniper. I was ten years old, and blessed with an absurdly active imagination. Immersion was everything, so crawling for an hour through freezing slush just to get to safety was not out of the question.
This was just one of the ways my childlike fascination with war manifested itself. Between gory drawings of battlefields or watching what few WWII documentaries I was allowed to see, ten-year-old me was obsessed with the thrill and glory of battle. Naturally, that troubled the hell out of my parents, who knew that war wasn’t glamorous or cool. But despite them trying to tell me otherwise, that realization only hit me the first time I booted up Close Combat on our family PC. This real-time strategy game was unlike any other I’d played, and it quickly taught me that war is a lot more horrifying than my kid brain could comprehend.
Reinstalling Close Combat V today, it’s funny that I initially found its low-res battlefields so harrowing. But even if its graphics haven’t aged well, there’s still something unique and innovative about one of PC gaming’s forgotten real-time strategy games.
INTO THE BREACH
Unlike most strategy games of the late ’90s and early ’00s, Close Combat goes to great lengths to simulate WWII-era combat. There are no bases to build or resources to harvest, just dozens of platoons to manage as they slowly crawl across war-torn Europe, engaging in intense firefights. Years of Command & Conquer had taught me that my units were easily replaceable—clones endlessly churned out of a factory or barracks tucked into some corner of the map. So, like an idiot, my first move was to select my entire army, and move them straight into the center of the town we were fighting in to take one of the map’s many capture points. No other RTS had required me to carefully position my units, so I was completely unprepared for Close Combat’s more simulated approach.
When German assault squadrons opened fire, I realized my mistake. Amid sharp cracks of gunfire and horrifying screams, individual soldiers were cut down by the dozen. Those that survived quickly panicked and began to retreat, while others just huddled on the spot—the UI readout telling me they’re ‘cowered’ or ‘pinned’—waiting for their turn to catch a bullet. The firing soon ceased, and ten-year-old me stared blankly at the bloody corpses of several dozen dead soldiers. I had sent them all into the meat grinder, and those that survived were now too broken to fight.
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