reviews\ Nov 9, 2002 at 7:00 pm

G.I. Combat: Episode I, Normandy - PC - Review

Back in the 80’s, movies and games began hitting the shelves based mostly around the war in Vietnam. Lately, it seems like the big entertainment swing for war movies and games revolves more around the WWII theme, with titles like Saving Private Ryan on the big screen and games like Medal of Honor for PC and PS2 being big time sellers. Strategy First has now released a WWII RTS title for the PC called G.I. Combat, which puts players in command of over 120 men and various vehicles during the Battle of Normandy. Also, players will be taken through a large variety of missions and even the option to play as either the Axis or Allied powers. 


The human realism that the developers wanted you to feel is the first really big thing that stands out when you pop this title in and start playing it. You control a number of platoons, ranging from riflemen and HQ battalions to snipers and recon. Each platoon has a certain amount of soldiers present, and each one has various things that can influence the overall outcome of the game … things such as health, morale (they will run away if morale drops and they panic), or mental status which determines how afraid or irrationally they may act. Vehicles such as tanks can be utilized in some missions as well, and will react to things like enemy fire by ducking and sealing themselves into the vehicle or refusing orders if they don’t like the situation.


The playing field for each mission consists of a stretch of land in Normandy. Each field is divided up into an area controlled by your opponent, and an area controlled by the player, and prior to the battle starting each side may deploy troops however they feel the most confident … within the control range allotted. Hitting the start button then plunges you into the middle of a WWII conflict, where you order your troops to charge, march, belly crawl and keep quiet, or defend and fire into an arc shaped location that you have designated if they see anyone move into the area. Some missions will also provide and option for air or sea support, which results in the heavy shelling or bombing of an area that you have selected … which is highly effective for shrinking or wiping out an opposing enemy ground force.


Strategy is definitely the name of the game on this title, since my entire force was wiped out in 7 minutes the first time I played it. Simply charging your men through a hedge towards an opposing platoon brings some really disastrous results and a quick ending, and it’s important to learn how to use all of the resources and strategic positioning available to you. Smoke bombing an area, for example, is something that doesn’t graphically bring a big explosion or massive death to the enemy, but it can be a key to providing cover for your troops to move around and flank an opposing force. Using tanks more for cover or distractions rather than having them go in and try to bully a group of foot soldiers is another example of something I wasn’t used to doing … but that I had to learn in order to succeed. There’s some other troop to troop or vehicle combos to use and be effective, and it will take a while to learn them and get good with them overall.


Feeling like you need to practice prior to going to war? It’s a good idea, and one that I would recommend. There’s actually two ways to go about it, the first of which is in the training mode. This allows you to practice using and commanding your troops, as well as calling in air strikes or moving your tanks around in a combination with your men to be most effective. The only thing that it was missing was a kind of walkthrough to tell you what to do, which made it a little difficult to figure out up front. Fortunately, there were no enemies to fire on me, so it made it a little less frustrating while learning. The second is the mission editor mode, which can be used for creating your own scenarios or can be used for what I did … taking the mission that I was having difficulty with and taking half of the enemy troops out altogether, which allowed me to kind of practice some flanking or moving around some tough spots that I was running into.


There were some things in G.I. Combat that added to the difficulty and got frustrating right from the get go. First, each platoon is controlled as one unit and cannot be separated out into individual actions. I understand that this sort of takes away from the team perspective (and there is no “I” in team, right?) but soldiers that use a mortar or a bazooka could have been effective if they could have been broken off on their own from time to time. In addition, playing with the option to not see your opponents can be really difficult, and maybe sending one man in to scout the area prior to moving a whole squad in would have been a little more effective and would not have resulted in as many body bags.


The second and probably most frustrating issue that I encountered was in the troops themselves. Regardless of what marching order they have been given, they are supposed to stop and fire on enemy troops if they see them or get fired on, or try and find cover. This was not the case a lot of times, and resulted in my platoon breaking through a tree line and getting gunned down like fish in a barrel … rather than them stopping and firing back. Also, the enemy troops seemed have a better line of sight than I did at times, since the second I would touch a bush or tree … even though my line of sight was blocked and I couldn’t fire … they were able to open fire on me and gun down a lot or all of my platoon. Just for consistency reasons, there were situations where my troops would do the same on the enemies … but only when the computer AI was in control. If I selected anyone in the platoon to open fire, all I got was blocked LOS. I know … didn’t really make sense to me either.


Graphically, the game looks OK, but it’s nothing spectacular. The troops and vehicles themselves were pretty well done and looked decent … complete with backpacks, canteens, and grenades. They also had morbid expressions and stayed on the field when killed, and little things like the dead body of a tank commander hanging out of the hatch was added in for effect. The animations were a little choppy at times, but nothing too terrible or something that will take away from the enjoyment. The backgrounds and levels themselves look a little pixelled, and there really is no change in the environment except for placement of houses, cornfields, trees, or hedgerows etc. There’s a pretty nice mix of obstacles and such to be found on the landscape, but they all just sort of look the same when you get down to it. On a major downer, the camera stinks (to be blunt) a lot of the time, and although you can zoom in or out to get a better view … troops tend to get lost in the bushes or trees quite often, and they usually get found again after they are already fired upon and dead. The sounds add a nice setting of war, complete with distant cracks of gunfire and muffled explosions, and the battles that the troops themselves encounter are rich with screaming, shouting of orders, and barrages of gunfire and battle noises.


Overall, GI Combat is a RTS title that will push your knowledge and skills in how strategic you are when faced with a real time battle scenario … and there are lots of them to go through. This is definitely a title that deserves a lot of respect due to the realism effects and what the developers attempted to provide for us gamers and our gaming experience, but the unfortunate problems that were encountered and somewhat lackluster graphics presentation may not appeal to everyone, including RTS gamers, so buy with caution. 


Gameplay: 7.1
The game is a really well thought out title, complete with accurate weapons physics, scenario cover, multiple squads to command, and historical missions. There are also lots of missions, and playing as either side or editing levels adds a lot to replayability. There are some issues with AI, horrible camera problems, and some “unfair” killing here and there that tends to get pretty annoying and just pops up too much to not be noticed.  


Graphics: 7.0
The troops, explosions, and vehicles look pretty good overall, but the environments themselves are pixelled and pretty repetitive, despite a large amount of scenery since it just kind of gets moved around from one to the other. The scenery also causes some major camera visibility problems throughout the game, and troops are easily lost at times until after it’s too late.


Sound: 7.7
Explosions and gunfire abound in the foreground and background while playing this game, and the troop shouts and talking sounded good. The music is only found during load screens, and definitely sets the tone for the game. 


Difficulty: Hard
There is a difficulty setting, and parts of the game like the timer or being able to see the enemy is available to relieve some pressure, and there is a tutorial to walkthrough which helps to get used to commanding your troops. This is still a difficult RTS title regardless, and will challenge even the most dedicated RTS gamer.  


Concept: 7.5
A decent presentation of WWII Normandy in an RTS world, and it’s evident that there was a lot of time and thought put into it. There are some things that need to be adjusted or looked at on the next one to really make it a better experience overall. 


Multiplayer: 7.3
Play online through IP addressing and go against a friend for control of Normandy. This is the better part of the experience since the “I got shot through the bushes” thing isn’t here as much, but still overall AI and camera issues that we talked about earlier are found.  

Overall: 7.1
For an RTS fan; this may or may not be a good buy. It’s got a lot of things going for it, like long gameplay and lots or replay value, but the problems can also cause it to get old really quick or just not appeal at all up front. Purchase with caution, and hang onto the receipt.



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