Sean O’ Connor has been developing games for a long time – back when the indie game scene mainly comprised games distributed on the shareware model. I downloaded the demo for version 2.0 of Firefight, his WWII real time tactics game some ten years ago and now it’s at version 4.1. And yes, this game is one of my recommendations for my Indie Games Worth Buying (IGWB) series.
If you’ve played any of Atomic Games’ Close Combat series, you find the gameplay very similiar, the only major difference being that the later Close Combat games have a strategic layer to tie the tactical battles together with troops that stay with you for an entire operation or campaign. In Firefight however, you purchase the troops you require for a mission and the survivors return to wherever they’re coming from after the mission ends.
Battles occur as an engagement of two infantry companies – you’ll control a mix of infantry sections, mortar and machinegun teams, anti-tank-guns and individual tanks attached to your company.
Both sides start at opposing ends of each randomly-generated map and attempt to attack or defend the mission objective (signified by the flag). Since Firefight is primarily an infantry-based skirmish, tactical movement, overwatch and mutual support are very important since the enemy AI will often open fire at close short range and pin down the leading sections. Without suppressive fire from supporting sections, isolated sections are quickly and easily suppressed and defeated in detail.
Individual tanks, while expensive at the cost of three (or four) infantry sections, do provide an interesting addition to your tactical options since they are almost invulnerable to small arms fire at medium to long range and provide a mobile source of heavy firepower to extricate troops in trouble or support infantry assaulting enemy strongpoints in villages. Just watch out for enemy tanks, anti-tank guns and lucky direct hits from offmap artillery. They’re not invincible though – panzerfausts and their equivalents or a sufficient quantity of hand grenades will quickly disable any tank unsupported by infantry in the built-up areas.
Calling for a fire mission on a 88mm which has just destroyed two of my tanks.
Friendly AI is excellent – soldiers will automatically fire on enemies in range and use grenades in close combat and tanks will turn and back away when fired upon by other tanks and anti-tank guns. Tank crews will escape and attempt to crawl away to safety when their tanks are disabled. Mortar teams act with equal initiative and will provide supporting fires on enemy positions. You rarely have have to issue fire orders and can concentrate on manuevering sections around the enemy flanks or calling for artillery support.
In a nod to realism, off-map artillery has to adjust fire when calls for artillery are requested. Since this takes time to prepare, commanders must plan ahead and cannot simply request for fire support and expect an instant barrage of deadly firepower on top of their enemies’ heads. Adjusting shots that land near the targeted area are a warning that an enemy artillery strike is impending so wise commanders will move their troops out of range or hunker down in cover.
To simulate WWII technology, your HQ section’s radios work to a limited range only so moving your infantry too far outside the radio range will render them unable to receive orders until your HQ section advances into range.
The butcher’s bill
Morale is an essential part of any realistic tactical game and Firefight does it very well. Suppressed troops take potshots before returning to cover while pinned or badly mauled squads cower, hug the ground and refuse unachievable orders or evensurrender when they had enough. Likewise, the enemy break and surrender when their casualties reach unacceptable levels.
All in all, a very enjoyable and well-executed tactical game with infinite replayability thanks to the randomly generated battles.
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