Close Combat: Last Stand Arnhem – PC Game Review
Close Combat: Last Stand Arnhem. PC Game. Developer: Black Hand Studios. Publisher: Slitherine/Matrix Games. $39.99 download, $49.99 boxed.
Passed Inspection: An impressive array of missions and campaigns, new infantry support features, beautiful hand-drawn map, many troop commands, informative toolbar, a helpful and attention-grabbing tutorial, an extensive custom scenario creator, more selectable screen resolutions, decent (not perfect) multiplayer options, and simply a classic delivering consistent results dedicated fans love to see.
Failed Basic: Outdated graphics, overused UI, battles can take some time because there is no way to speed up; would be nice if it incorporated a multiplayer gaming platform; some screen resolutions don’t seem to be completely compatible; text can be difficult to read at times, and the suggested retail price needs to be justified.
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Operation Market Garden was one of the most controversial Allied operations of World War Two. An overreaching plan conceived by Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery and approved by the Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower, it called for the US 101st and 82nd Airborne divisions to be parachuted into The Netherlands to secure the bridges around Eindhoven and Nijmegen. While that was happening, the British 1st Airborne Division and the Polish 1st Airborne Brigade were to be dropped near Arnhem to secure two bridges in that vicinity. All these bridges were to be secured for the approaching armored spearhead of the British XXX Corps.
A menu provides options for giving orders to your units in Last Stand Arnhem
The British and Polish forces ran into difficulties because of a lack of communication and/or lack of reconnaissance. They were eventually outnumbered and surrounded by German paratroop and SS panzer units. This disastrous and controversial event is the setting for Slitherine/Matrix Game’s Close Combat: Last Stand Arnhem.
Last Stand Arnhem is a remake of the coveted classic Close Combat: A Bridge Too Far—but it is more like a sequel than a remake. It offers many additional campaigns, operations, and missions. The missions, over 60 in all, include nighttime operations, assaulting across rivers, and demolishing/repairing bridges. The player controls troops at the squad level and is given command of as much as a company of men with which to maneuver around the map, using houses, trees, and walls as cover against enemy fire. The game’s interface and mechanics are well established and beloved by the large and dedicated Close Combat fan community.
Taking advantage of terrain is very important in the Close Combat games, as stressed in the tutorial. Unfortunately, the fixed-angle, top-down view of the battlefield characteristic of this game series makes this difficult at times. The top-down angle is a holdover from the game’s ancient (by gaming standards) roots—it was first released in 1997 by Atomic Games. By today’s standards the graphics overall are archaic. The 2D view is serviceable, but barely; distinguishing line of sight is nearly impossible when looking at the terrain from this perspective. Hills are also difficult to identify. The sprites used for the soldiers are primitive and often barely stand out against the hand-drawn landscape. They are small and are reminiscent of something we’d see from, well, a game made in the mid-1990s. Traditionally, graphics have not been not the strong suit of wargames, and Close Combat‘s age is showing in this category.
The good news is that even after 15 years the gameplay is still superb, although little has changed. Players are limited to ordering their troops to do things like move fast, ambush, fire, sneak, and defend—which isn’t really comparable to the vast array of options available in games like the Combat Mission series. But new features have been added and updated, like fire support from artillery, mortars, or aircraft, and players will find a range of tactical and strategic possibilities.
Gameplay is still superb, and there are a lot of new missions and options, but the graphics are those of a wargame from the 1990s.
The interface of the game would be recognizable to anyone who’s played any of the Close Combat games before. There is a lot of helpful information on the HUD (head’s-up display), like the morale of the units selected and other psychological aspects that made the Close Combat series unique and enjoyable. The weapons each soldier is carrying, the ammunition available, and a mini-map are also displayed on the bottom toolbar. The mini-map, as in most strategy games, can be used to get to anywhere on the battlefield quickly with just one mouse click. The information and the controls on the toolbar might be helpful and extensive but they can be difficult to see in some resolutions—they’re just too small.
The game offers a variety of units, which always makes for an entertaining campaign. Players will continuously be surprised by what they’ll be in command of—or up against—in nearly every mission. But don’t worry too much about facing elite units: the AI seems to have problems waging battles against human players. Between unit behavior bugs, vehicle path-finding issues, and wasteful offensives—when a defensive stance would have served better—players will be just as surprised by AI movements as they are by unit variety. This doesn’t mean players can turn a blind eye to what the enemy is doing. On occasion, players may see themselves brilliantly outflanked or up against an AI that conducts an assault assisted by precise fire support. Close Combat veterans may recognize that this latest release is an improvement over the AI of the recent remakes, but it still needs work. Additionally, the AI in campaign play is too laidback, but I understand subsequent patches have addressed this issue, making the campaign AI more aggressive.
One of my favorite aspects of a wargame is the co-existence of a strategic platform with a tactical platform, so I can test stratagems through the strategic overview map by moving battle groups around to seize valuable resources or assault key strongholds. Last Stand Arnhem offers this option, but anyone can tell the strategic map wasn’t the main focus, and thus can’t be fairly compared to the popular strategy interfaces of the most renowned strategy games. The bread-and-butter of the Close Combat series was always the tactical map, and this is where most of the player’s time will be spent. Until the developers try to venture outside of their comfort zone, the strategic aspect of these games will remain unimportant and therefore unattractive.
The game does offer an efficient, simple, and well-organized tutorial system. It can be reached through the main menu by clicking on the "BOOT CAMP" button. The tutorial system is arranged according to five different categories: "QUICK TOUR," "MONITORS/TOOLBAR," "VEIWING TERRAIN," "INFANTRY TACTICS," and "ARMOR TACTICS." I found the tutorials to be helpful, short—but to the point— and easy to follow. Having short tutorials helps prevent beginners from losing interest.
There are also some multiplayer options available for those who wish to play against other human players. Via the main menu, the multiplayer section offers four different ways to connect through the Internet or a LAN network: "INTERNET UDP," "INTERNET TCP," "SERIAL CONNECTION," or "CONNECT VIA MODEM." This is an acceptable array of options, but players need to know the IP address of the host in order to connect. Therefore, this type of gameplay won’t be comfortable for all players and may in fact be intimidating for some. For those that aren’t familiar with this protocol, unfortunately, there is no other option such as connecting via a multiplayer platform (Metaserver, Steam, Gamespy).
The game also offers to players the option to create their own scenarios/missions. There is no tutorial, but players can find information in the game manual. Again, there are over 60 ready-to-play missions available in the game, more than enough for the casual player. And this is before diving into the custom scenario creator, where the possibilities are endless.
As a consistent reader of military history, I always like to see games like Close Combat: Last Stand Arnhem released in which I can exercise my yearning for strategic and tactical gameplay, and I enjoy playing remakes of classics. But if there aren’t any new astounding features included in the remake then I personally feel that it should be offered for lower price than that of a newly published design. A price of $49.99 for a boxed version from the Matrix Games Website, or $39.99 for a download, seems steep for a remake. There is no question the series has made some great classics available again, and it has an outstanding fan base, but in my opinion a game should do more than ride on past success and former glory. I’m saying this because I’m a concerned customer. I’d like to finish by inviting Slitherine/Matrix Games to adventure beyond the frontier, perhaps leading the wargame genre into the realm of cutting-edge graphics and revolutionary ideas.
Armchair General Score: 75%
About the Author
Curtis Szmania is an avid reader of military history, a hardcore PC war gamer, and enjoys building and overclocking computers. He reads from a variety of military history books ranging from Ancient Sumeria to the Korean War. He also has a soft spot in his heart for the underdogs in any conflict and is intrigued by a fighting force that overcomes overwhelming odds.