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Graphics: The 2D top-down view that Invasion Normandy affords hasn’t changed much since its predecessors, but it now runs in resolutions up to 1600×1200, with a color depth of 16-bits. The maps are extremely detailed, with features such as roads, forests, hedgerows, barbed wire, pillboxes, and a variety of other terrain types that react to battlefield damage. Although the look of Invasion Normandy‘s terrain isn’t flashy, it provides an attractive background for battles, and sets the tone of the game well.
All of the units are to scale, which, unfortunately, makes their animations extremely limited. This is especially noticeable with the infantry units, as their movements are choppy and have little variety. They jerk into combat, then transform into dead bodies over the course of what looks like three frames of animation. The graphics also present another problem: elevation, often of great tactical significance, is sometimes difficult to ascertain until it’s too late. These flaws, along with less than inspiring explosions and weapons effects, make Invasion Normandy fairly dull to look at.
Interface: Invasion Normandy utilizes the standard Close Combat interface, which is easy to learn and use, as most commands are handled through a simple right click menu. RTS conventions such as group numbering and waypoints have been included, making it simple to command your troops. Pertinent information is displayed prominently on panels at the bottom of the screen, which can be hidden to reveal more of the battlefield. The interface can also be customized somewhat; while the hotkeys cannot be remapped, you can decide how much information is displayed onscreen about your squads and soldiers. The game speed and certain display options can also be altered.
The lack of control over individual soldiers is still a problem, as some squad members invariably end up exposed to enemy fire even when the squad is under cover. Being able to only command the team is doubly frustrating considering the title’s emphasis on the morale of the individual. In addition, the aging engine, while allowing players with lower-end machines to play with ease, created an unwelcome side effect on my system: the scroll speed is often blindingly fast. This can be adjusted, but even at the slowest setting the screen scrolls very rapidly.
Gameplay: Invasion Normandy features classic squad-level combat that is simple to learn, thanks to the comprehensive manual and in-game tutorials. There are loads of scenarios, providing players with a substantial amount of material to work with. In addition, the scenario editor is powerful yet simple, and contributes to the game’s already high replayability factor. Despite the wide range of battles, the mission objectives are limited to taking victory locations, which would make things somewhat repetitive if the geographic variety wasn’t so great. The new treatment of strategic troop deployment is also interesting, adding depth to the already entertaining tactical combat, but on the whole, this title provides the same experience as its predecessors. The limited deviation from the Close Combat formula is annoying, but the fundamentals of the series are solid, and Invasion Normandy delivers an entertaining package.
Multiplayer: Two players can go head-to-head over a TCP/IP, modem, or serial connection, or using the MSN Gaming Zone or Mplayer.com. All of the standalone battles, as well as the operations and campaigns, are available for multiplayer use. Invasion Normandy functions adequately with all of these connections; the scenarios and objectives are the same as the single-player game, but the added challenge of playing against another human always adds new elements to gameplay.
Sound FX: Initially, Invasion Normandy sounds very impressive. Muffled explosions and gunfire are heard constantly in the distance, and the sharp crackle of small arms fire is enough to startle you into action. Weapons have distinctive noises, making the battles sound extremely realistic. The speech is also well done, as soldiers shout orders to each other or deliver battlefield reports. Players can even decide whether they want the German forces to speak German or English. However, despite their overall quality, there is little variation in either the speech or the effects, and hearing the same sounds over and over again is somewhat annoying.
Musical Score: There are only a few musical cues, used exclusively on Invasion Normandy‘s splash screens and menus, including a strange, jazzy, and extremely synthesized version of the “Marine Hymn.” The game contains no other score, for battlefield clarity. Due to this, the music does not enhance or detract from gameplay, and so this category has not been rated.
Intelligence & Difficulty: The complex AI/morale system of the Close Combat series is preserved in Invasion Normandy, and it still provides a realistic and challenging experience. The enemy is governed by these same rules, and their troop behavior reflects this. Although their morale is well-detailed, for the most part the computer-controlled squads are fairly stupid. Advanced tactics like flanking and feints are non-existent, and enemies will often charge you over long stretches of open ground.
The difficulty can be adjusted in a number of different ways, from force strength to realism settings. For example, players can turn off the morale-based AI, forcing their troops to always obey their orders. With all of the settings at normal levels, Invasion Normandy is challenging, but not impossible, providing a good balance for newcomers and veterans alike.
Overall: Invasion Normandy suffers from the same problem that many sequels do, as it doesn’t add many new features to the Close Combat series formula. The visual, aural, and control limitations of the original are becoming more and more obvious as the series continues. In some aspects, however, sticking to the formula isn’t always a bad thing. Invasion Normandy still provides fun, easy to learn squad-level combat with tons of new scenarios, despite its lack of innovation.
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