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Posted on Jun 30, 2014 in Electronic Games, Front Page Features

Close Combat: Gateway to Caen – PC Game Review

Close Combat: Gateway to Caen – PC Game Review

By Patrick Baker

coverClose Combat: Gateway to Caen. PC game review. Designer: Slitherine, Ltd. Published by Matrix Games, Inc. Digital download: $34.99; Download and boxed edition: $49.99

Passed Inspection: Great graphics; involving game play; high replay value; short learning curve.

Failed Basic: AI is weak on the offense; cannot accelerate time; cannot save mid-battle.

Close Combat: Gateway to Caen (Gateway) is the latest in the venerable Close Combat series of games. Gateway has all the virtues, and sadly, all the faults of its predecessors. That being said, the game is a fun and interesting Real-Time Tactical (RTT) wargame that engages and challenges players.

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Gateway is the seventh game in the revised and updated Close Combat series developed by Slitherine, Ltd. and published by Matrix Games.  The new series of Close Combat games started with 2007’s Close Combat: Cross of Iron; the last release in the series prior to Gateway was 2012’s Close Combat: Panthers in the Fog.

 

Historical Background
Gateway portrays OPERATION EPSOM, sometimes called the First Battle of the Odon.  EPSOM was the first major British offensive after the D-Day invasion and was designed to encircle the ancient city of Caen from the south in the Odon and Orne River valleys and provide a jumping off point for a final offensive to capture the city.  The main Allied unit was General Richard O’Connor’s British VIII Corps consisting of the 11th Armoured, the 15th (Scottish) and 43rd (Wessex) Divisions, all of which were well-trained, but inexperienced units. The British expected their opposition to be the 12th SS Panzer (Hitler Youth), the 21st Panzer and Panzer Lehr Divisions, all of which had been depleted by recent combat in Normandy.

Kicking off on June 26, 1944, the British made good progress the first day despite a determined German defense. But by the second and third days of the operation, the Germans were counterattacking with four SS Panzer divisions, including some units equipped with the dreaded Tiger tanks. On June 30, O’Connor ended EPSOM due to German resistance and the exhaustion of his own units.

Although the British had failed to make a breakthrough, they did manage, inadvertently, to disrupt German plans for a large-scale counterattack to be lead by the SS Panzer divisions. The British inflicted some 3,000 causalities on the Germans and destroyed over 125 tanks, losses in men and materiel the Germans could ill afford. The British lost just over 4,000 men killed, wounded, or captured.

The Game
The 32-bit graphics are outstanding.  You can almost see the individual leaves on the trees and really can see the individual weapons the soldiers carry. Each terrain type is distinctive, even down to whether or not a field has been mown.  Artillery and mortar impacts leave craters in the ground and destroyed vehicles remain in place from battle to battle. Each vehicle is nicely detailed right down to the paint scheme.

The sound is also excellent. The soldiers on both sides shout out phrases in their native language and with proper accents (no Americans in Scots Highlander regiments). Also the soldiers’ vocalizations give the player important information, e.g., their morale is about to break or they cannot make an assigned move. The weapons’ sounds are distinctive as well, with a Bren gun sounding different from a MG-42 machine gun.

The tutorials are easy and useful in learning the game system. The User Interface (UI) is smooth and simple. Orders to the units at the tactical level are given through a right-click, drop-down menu. Squads, guns and vehicles can be ordered to ambush, defend, creep, move, or move fast.  When ordering a move, the player clicks on the unit, decides what kind of move to make and merely drags a cursor with an attached line to the location he wants the unit to go and clicks again. Unit path-following is logical, with the men staying close to cover, or following a road if moving fast. Artillery, heavy mortars and air strikes are controlled by three buttons. The player selects the kind of attack to conduct, clicks to place a marker for the attack, and in a few moments the strike takes place.

Game-Play
Players may choose to fight single battles, conduct linked operations, or play any one of six large campaigns. The game also has a nice scenario editor for do-it-yourself battles.  Players can fight as either the British or the Germans. They also can select both sides’ levels of force and how much, or how little, of the “fog of war” they have to deal with.

In the operational segment of play, the player issues orders to battalion-sized elements to move, rest, or merge. Fire support missions are assigned or interdiction missions conducted in this segment. Moves on the operational map are resolved simultaneously. Movement on the operational map also determines where and between which units the tactical-level combat takes place.

The tactical level, as with any of the Close Combat games, is where the fun is. The player selects from a menu of available small unit types with which to fight the coming battle. A variety of infantry, guns and vehicles are available. When on the defensive against tanks you want to pick anti-tank (AT) weapons like AT guns, or the infamous Projector, Infantry, Anti Tank (PIAT), or Panzerschreck. Of course, the best anti-tank weapon is another tank. On the attack the player can select more mobile units, like tanks, or armored personnel carriers to move men around the battlefield.  Of course, there are limits on the number and types of units that may be selected.

In the course of the tactical battle, the goal is to maneuver your units, engage and destroy the enemy to seize victory points, or break the enemy’s morale and cause them to retreat—maybe even to disband.

The game really shines in its “human factors” modeling. Down to the individual solider, factors such as physical stamina, proximity of leadership, and combat experience are modeled and determine how well a soldier will stand up to the stresses of combat. Making squads run everywhere exhausts them; seeing their squad mates killed or wounded lowers morale; run out of ammo and the soldiers cower and hide, and so on. Sometimes a soldier will go “hero” and do something nearly superhuman, but most of the time they run, or simply give up, or even surrender, if stressed too much.   This means that most of the time soldiers cannot be ordered to do stupid or suicidal things, like running across open fields in the face of machine guns.  This also means the player must fight smart, move men carefully and pay attention to their welfare.

The replay value is high, with the players able to change sides, adjust force levels and select different units for each battle. Also players may try different schemes of maneuver when replaying a battle, to test if they can improve on their earlier performances.

The AI for Gateway is, unhappily, no better than the AI in the earlier incarnations of the game. On the defense, it is good; it places its units reasonably well and generally will not make horrible tactical errors. But on the offense, the AI is simply not capable of organizing a coherent attack plan and will only win when attacking with superior combat power or if the human player makes some significant mistakes.

Besides the weak AI on the attack, there are two other annoying things about the game. The inability to accelerate time can leave the player waiting around for things to happen, and not being able to save mid-battle is exasperating.

New Stuff
Gateway has new play features such the ability to conduct a rolling artillery barrage and the ability to camouflage and dig-in AT guns and tanks at the start of a battle.  It also has some new units, such as Cromwell and Churchill tanks (my favorite being the Churchill Crocodile flame-thrower variant), the M-10 Achilles tank destroyer, the Ordnance Quick-Firing 17-pounder AT gun and others.  I also must give kudos to the designers for exploring some of the lesser known battles of World War II in the West, in this case the First Battle of the Odon.  It seems most wargames about World War II in the West are focused on the Normandy Invasion or the Battle of the Bulge to the exclusion of other, equally interesting, battles.

The Bottom Line
Close Combat: Gateway to Caen is an involving, engaging and enjoyable game, just like all the other versions of Close Combat. Newcomers to the series will find it a good starting point and old grognards should find enough new features and units for the game to be a worthy addition to their game collection.

Armchair General Score: 90%

About the Author
Patrick Baker is a former US Army Field Artillery officer, currently a Department of Defense employee. He has degrees in Education, History and Political Science. He cut his war-gaming teeth on Squad Leader and Victory Games’ Fleet Series. He bought his first PC in 1990, a Wang PC-240, specifically to play SSI’s The Battles of Napoleon (much to the annoyance of his wife). He continues to use all his education to play more games and annoy his family.

9 Comments

  1. Love to see a review by someone who has some actual military experience, AND has been playing computer games since WAY back when. The first computer game I ever purchased was SSI’s “Operation Market Garden” for the Apple II+. While not being a very good first operational war game, it certainly cut my teeth well enough and made me hungry for more (my brother and I had long been slobbering over Squad Leader at FAO Schwarz in NY City, but as I was maybe 9?? my brother 11 or 12, they didn’t let us get it). I’ve been playing the Close Combat series since the first release by, IIRC, Microsoft–either “Battle of the Bulge” or “A Bridge too Far” and having just started watching “Band of Brothers” for the umpteenth time, and not being able to play any of my Microsoft CC games, I was hoping there would be a new one which didn’t focus entirely on the Eastern German Front (in fact, why they haven’t, to my knowledge, made a CC game based on Guadalcanal, Midway, Wake Island, and, of course, Iwo Jima… ESPECIALLY Iwo Jima, as it could stand by itself, what, with the buried bunkers and all).

    Also just curious, but when you’re saying this game allows for artillery and tanks to “dig in”, are you talking mainly good camo? Or going into full defilade?

    Last thing, as a combat chopper pilot for my entire career, I would love to see some kind of modernized CC game where choppers play the same kind of role they do in the real battlefield, especially when the difference between a chopper flown by, say, a new PIC CW2 (or even a WO1) with under 500 hrs, and one flown by a CW5, with over 5k hours and 2k combat hours is night and day.

    • Hi Chief,

      First, thanks for your kind words on my review.
      As to your question about “digging-in” tanks and A-T guns. the mode provides both better camo and more cover to guns and tanks. In other games in the series, the A-T guns are pretty much just a one-shot weapon, if they even get one shot off before they are spotted and destroyed. The new “dig-in” makes them harder to spot and more survivable as well.
      Hope that anwsers your question.

      Patrick

    • Yeah this game was great. If i ever get a real computer again might give this one a try. Too bad AI issues weren’t much improved.

      As to the comment on Guadalcanal, they did have a very flawed mod of the Pacific theater a while ago including a too-brief section on Guadalcanal. I made my own (hopefully) improved version of it, following the 1st Marine Division in a US campaign and with a longer and more detailed Guadlacanal operation, as well as New Britain, Peleliu, and Okinawa,but never released it publicly as I never finished the corresponding Japanese campaign. Was still trying to decide what unit/units to follow for the Japanese.

  2. A good read is Major (now colonel) McBreen’s pdf white paper on the Close Combat series of games and his use of CC as a training aid for his US Marines. Ref: Marine Workbook

    Close Combat
    Marine
    Workbook

    Quote: ”
    Learning Infantry Tactics
    I have learned more about small-unit infantry
    tactics from the “Close Combat” simulation
    than I have from fourteen years of
    Marine Corps infantry experience.
    “Close Combat” is a computer combat simulati
    on published by Atomic Games. The focus of the
    simulation is on infantry combat at the small-unit
    level.

    three years in schools, and three years as an in
    fantry training officer
    with the Marine Corps
    Warfighting Lab. I have deployed overseas with
    2nd Battalion, 5th Marines four times. I have
    commanded two infantry platoons a
    nd one rifle company. I have serv
    ed as a battalion operations
    officer and regimental operations
    officer. I am a student of ta
    ctics. I have taught NCOs and
    officers infantry tactics. I have partic
    ipated and led tactic
    al decision training.
    None of these activities or learning experiences can match the effective and focused tactical
    learning that I have experienced through repetitive fighting of the small unit scenarios in “Close
    Combat.”
    “Close Combat” permits a player to fight hundreds of scenarios, make thousands of tactical
    decisions, experiment with differe
    nt tactics, and learn from his
    mistakes. I would be a far more
    qualified platoon commander now than I was tw
    elve years ago. Through fighting the “Close
    Combat” simulation, I have internalized si
    gnificant platoon-level
    tactical lessons:

    Long unsupported assaults are deadly
    . Assault for short distances, against a lightly armed
    or well-suppressed position. A single enem
    y soldier can destroy a squad across 100
    meters of open ground.

    A long covered approach is always better than a short open route.
    Be careful of covered
    approaches that cannot be covered by an overwatching unit.

    Every unit needs obscuration.
    Smoke save lives. Every a
    ssault and every withdrawal
    should use smoke.

    Fire and maneuver is the key tactic.
    Use the majority of your force to overwhelmingly
    suppress the enemy, and a small assault uni
    t to rapidly close on the objective.
    iv

    It’s all about suppression
    .
    Fire without maneuver is wasteful and indecisive
    .
    Effective
    suppression is the basis for all infantry tactics.

    Units without mutual support are doomed.
    Mutually supported units protect each other
    from being fixed or assaulted.

    Mortars are inherently inaccurate
    . Area suppression is NOT destruction. Rounds are
    limited. Use them well. Don’t waste
    mortars on bunkers or buildings.

    Concentrate your fire
    . Fire control insures decisive act
    ion. In contact, men will disburse
    their fire. Sequentially destroying targets w
    ith point fire is more effective than
    distributing ineffective fires.

    Every unit

    squad, platoon, and company

    needs antitank capability when facing tanks
    .
    An infantry unit with no organic antitank weapon is either
    retreating
    or
    overrun
    . Tanks
    can only be fought in close terrain.

    For anti-tank positions, deep and narrow sector
    s of fire with defilade on both sides are
    best.
    The best sector of fire allows you to engage only
    one
    tank at a time.

    Defensive positions are temporary
    . All units need multiple po
    sitions and the ability to
    withdraw.

    For machinegun positions,
    deep and narrow sectors of fire, with defilade on both sides,
    are best
    . Primary and secondary sectors separa
    ted by frontal protection are better.

    Cover is life.
    Move from one covered position to a
    nother. Good cover is relative to a
    single enemy position. Mutually supporting en
    emy positions can overcome the protection
    of your cover.

    Use bounding overwatch to move
    . A squad in contact need
    s immediate suppression from
    another unit. The measure of
    success is the number of units
    that can immediately bring
    suppression to bear upon enemy contact.
    Good Marine leaders know all of these lessons. They
    have been taught, they
    have read, they have
    trained to do them. But I, and those Marine
    s who have fought “Close Combat,” know these
    lessons in our bones. We know the penalty for mi
    stakes, for misreading the situation, for making
    decisions too late. Hundreds of simulated men
    have died in botched assaults, poorly laid
    positions, and as a result of unexpected enemy actions in order to teach these lessons. We have
    examined the ground, checked the line-of-sight, pos
    itioned the units, and supervised the units in
    contact so many times that the key tactical princi
    ples have become ingrained as second nature.
    I have defended three hundred road intersections
    . Not just the first step of putting a defensive
    scheme on paper, but all the way through to ini
    tiation of combat, falling back to secondary
    positions under pressure, and sometimes being overrun by the enemy because I failed to protect
    my machine gun positions. I cannot walk across
    a street now without
    seeing in my mind the
    intersection occupied: “An
    anti-tank weapon tucked into that
    low position with an oblique field
    etc…”

    • William,

      I agree with everything you said.

      Atomic Games,

      The only thing that would make this series more interesting would be the option to transition between the traditional overhead view down into an first person shooter view. I think that commands should still be issued from the traditional overhead view, but once players assumed the role of a combatant in the first person view, they would become capable of directing fire at enemy positions within their field of fire to the extent of making minor adjustments not requiring a change of position. Example, changing fields of fire on a crew served MG not requiring the breakdown and displacemnet of the weapon would be acceptable. Another example would be assuming the role of an individual soldier who is part of a sqaud fighting from the second story room of a house; moving about the room of a house, going downstairs, firing from different windows, taking cover, reloading, throwing hand grenades, and placing smoke, these would all be allowable actions, but the act of entirely leaving the house would not be allowed in the first person view. This would be a whole lot of work, but I think that it would be worth it- to bring a whole new level of excitment to the game.

      Mike

  3. First of all, my congrats for the review provided, I totally agree with the first message of this “Comments” section. I used to play titles from the CC series from the very first titles too, as I am interested in history and wargames (I used to play board strategy games once, though I must admit that these titles make everything “easier” when it comes to setup a session!).

    I was very pleased to discover (just this year, unfortunately) that CC games have not been forgotten, but that they are actually experiencing a second life now :) Too bad they are so underrated or unknown by the “masses”, ’cause I think they are indeed the best strategy games when it comes to WWII. And I am so glad to know that they are actually appreciated by military personnel like you are.
    I’ve never been in the army: here in Italy I postponed the service for university, and then it became not mandatory at a certain point; furthermore, I think it is not a “well managed” institution in my country, therefore I did not want to take any part in it (though I would have liked to join the forestal corps, but it is very difficult to get in there).
    However, after reading so many books of military history, I think these games are very well done and now I have the confirmation thanks to your job. Keep it up with the good work :)

  4. What happens when you put a tank or anti tank gun in ambush mode? Will they only shoot close range? Will they be camouflaged? I know that ambush mode on infantry makes them attack only at close range.

    Got hooked reading and watching documentaries and movies on WW2 (and later other wars) thanks to Close Combat A Bridge too Far in the 90s. I love going to the library section and reading all the historical info and listening to the sounds of weapons. Wonder why dont provide that anymore in other CC series. Would make it more fun to play. Also why cant they actually make a proper game ending? Having a static page with Victory doesn’t do justice to all the hard work you’ve put in to win a campaign

  5. A few years ago I have just started to buy and play the newer editions of this series, because I am a great fan of the original titles, and the CC Cross of Iron was an awesome title. Unfortunately I cannot agree with your review on this game, the general score of 90% is just too high for this piece of ____ game. Reasons:

    1. The biggest problem of these game series was the infamous “tank dancing” – you order your tanks to move directly forward, or backward, but they just randomly start to turn on somewhere along the way (and most of the time, they get a shot to the side or to the back). It’s just irritating, that the after 10 titles, this error is still not fixed, and they still selling this game for money regardless. Nearly 50% of reloadings come from this bug, and after 17 years I think players deserve it to be solved.

    2. Unit selection. Who in the hell thought, that selecting units on a platoon level with not allowing adding single units to platoon from the forcepool is good for playing. The result is: you cannot mix two depleted platoons/squadrons into one, therefore you act with either a depleted platoon, or choose full strenght but completely different one to fight with. The previous editions: Last Stand Arnhem, and Wacht am Rhein did the job perfectly, why did you have to change that? A big flaw, which you not even mention this in the review.

    3. Realism. Not the first edition, where even on maximum realism settings the game is not 100% perfect with unit skills and damage. In the previous editions the difference was not that lame. But this edition sucks big time. You can try it on any difficulty and realism settings: a Cromwell III or a Stuart V takes out a Tiger from the front from any distance. Not to mention that 2 inch mortars kill panthers anytime in this game. Just bullshit.

    4. On the tactical map: you can have to fighting force on one sector. According to the manual: your main force gets all the action, the reserve one doesn’t. However any airstrike, or artillery barrage that hits on the strategy map affects both of your forces. Another bug/bullshit.

    5. After several titles in the series, there’s still no way to save any unit placement settings. You still have to assign your troops to every spot on the tactical map. I don’t say it’s crucial, it just would have been a nice improvement.

    6. The graphics are beautiful. The artillery barrage on a tactical map, smokes erupting from vehicles have never been better. Too bad that CC fans never cared about shitty graphics, just cried for better AI and gameplay.

    I think it’s outrageous, that Matrix released a game with the same known bugs without fixing any of them while adding no real new content in this game. As for your review, my advice is that next time, play the game for some more time before rating it.

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