With all the troubles in the real world under the spotlight in recent times, it is only natural for game developers and publishers to latch on and create virtual replications of what we're seeing on the news every night. Sometimes game developers stop the similarities at the concept and create completely fictional scenarios, while at other times game developers base their creations on real world locations, such as the game in review today, Close Combat: First to Fight, which is based around civil war like instabilities in Beirut, Lebanon in the year 2006. As the leader of a US Marine special forces group, it is your job to spearhead the US military action against unrest in this capital city, and although First to Fight is claimed to be a game based on a real life US military training tool (which is becoming almost a necessity with army games now days - how many do the US army need?), unfortunately it fails to live up to the hype.
As expected, First to Fight features two main game modes - Single player and Multi player, both of which are self explanatory. There is also a tutorial mode, however this is non interactive and simply introduces you to key elements in the game via a series of videos.
Multiplayer is somewhat of a standard now days in FPS gaming however it is getting to the point where there are almost more multiplayer enabled shooters than interested gamers to play them, which is clearly the case here with First to Fight. While the game is just new on the market, there were only a handful of servers to play on with even less gamers to play with, creating a pretty sub standard experience online. In any case, there are three available modes - CoOp, Modified CoOp which allows more weapons and Fire Team Arena, a 4 vs 4 deathmatch mode. CoOp is certainly a nice addition but it is obviously something you'd preferably want to do with friends as good communication and a serious attitude are required otherwise you're just wasting time.
While in single player mode, there are basically two states of gameplay in First to Fight - when the game's AI is working, and when it isn't. When the game's AI is working, commanding your squad members works very well - you can order room storms, request suppressive fire, air strikes, mortar attacks, sniper attacks etc - you can even call your squad members by name and give individual commands, giving you full control on your attack. Not only this, but your squad members will (usually) utilize their environments very well - taking cover where possible, spreading out evenly to cover all angles etc. It really is quite a game to behold when things are running smooth, as not many games in the past can match the authentic feel displayed here in First to Fight.
However, when the game's AI isn't working quite so well, i.e. most of the time, all these wonderful things fall on their face and it becomes nothing short of a frustrating battle to try and get your squad to do even simple tasks, such as opening a door and storming the revealed area. Eventually you'll probably give up and open the thing yourself, only to realise why it was, exactly, your buddies didn't want to open it in the first place - there is a colony of baddies who have somehow been previously informed of your arrival, at that exact time and place, setup in a nice little gun nest that will more than likely instantly send you packing for the pearly gates. If you're lucky, your squad members might give you a hand and make up for their previous disobedience, but I wouldn't count on it. At what seems to be completely random times, your squad's AI will basically suffer a brain fart and freeze combat activity, resulting in squad members calmly sitting with their back facing the action whilst they are being fired at by 7 baddies, resulting in the all too common "game over" thanks to an excessive amount of lost allied soldiers.
On the other end of the spectrum, the baddy AI is also riddled with inconsistencies - just in a different sense. Sometimes they will appear to feature qualities you'd expect to see in a human being - for example, reaction times which aren't in the vicinity of milliseconds, while at other times they seem to feature qualities associated more with ultra mega x-ray vision robots with balls of steel - for example, knowing the precise moment your head pops around a corner, giving it a good plug with their incredibly accurate AK47 from 50 yards away.
If anything though, this type of gameplay is at least challenging. It certainly makes you very cautious as you progress through the compact urban setting that is Beirut - this is certainly a game that rewards realistic movement and engagement. However, this realism approach contradicts other elements in the game - such as the "life bar", the medipack powerups and the checkpoint saving system. So what you basically have is a fundamentally realistic and authentic game wrapped up in an arcade shooter's packaging with primarily dodgy AI - really not the best mixture in any regard.
On the topic of the checkpoint system - I personally think it has no place in PC FPS gaming now days. Long ago, it was a valid way to enhance a game's difficulty, creating a greater challenge and a sense of "desperation", but in the present days of FPS gaming, where AI and level design can contribute far more to a game's difficulty than it use to, it really is a redundant save game model. What's worse is that in First to Fight, you can save whenever you want, however when you try to load a saved game it simply dumps you back at the last check point you crossed before saving, so rather than making it clear a check point system is used, the game hides the fact and forces you to find out yourself - lovely. When it comes down to it, all the checkpoint save model does is further expose the game's repetitive nature - there can be multiple key events in the game between checkpoints, and having to redo these events because an ultra mega x-ray vision robot enemy with balls of steel plugs you in the head with his AK47 from 50 feet away completely out or nowhere can get rather tedious.
Visually, First to Fight is just about average in today's FPS gaming market if not slightly below average. The player models are nothing to write home about and the animations aren't overly impressive either, but the environments are easily the game's strongest point visually, portraying the scene of a war ridden city very well. Control wise the game is just your vanilla FPS setup with the command system relying on your right mouse button - much like SWAT4. The menu presentation definitely feels a little "console port'ish" as does the whole game to an extent, but it gets the job done well enough.
First to Fight has the basis of what is a very solid game, but it fails to deliver in far too many aspects, resulting in an initially impressive, yet easily exposed FPS. The gameplay is good at times, but buggy, tedious and repetitive at other times - the command/leader aspect of the game is a clear example of this; it seems very advanced and it certainly can be when it wants to be, but usually it proves to be, perhaps, a little too advanced for the game's AI and it simply confuses itself. All in all, First to Fight remains a decent challenge, but whether or not that is a valid challenge or a synthetic challenge created by the short comings of the AI and other aspects is questionable - it certainly seems to be the case.