Close Combat III: The Russian Front, published by Atomic Games, distributed by Microsoft Corporation, $49.99.

In Microsoft’s Close Combat III: The Russian Front, the computerized Russian steppe erupts with the chatter of German MG-34 machine guns and the boom of Russian T-34 76mm cannon fire. A real-time strategy game set in World War II, it allows you to command a fire brigade of soldiers, either as Russians or Germans, in a desperate campaign that includes pivotal encounters at Moscow, Stalingrad, Kursk and Berlin. The game convincingly re-creates the miserable, frozen hell of small-unit engagements during Operation Barbarossa in a clean, intuitive style that allows the commander to focus on using tactics effectively.

Computer gamers familiar with the Close Combat system will have no trouble acclimating to Close Combat III, while newcomers will welcome the short learning curve. The game improves on its predecessors, set in the hedgerows of Normandy and in Operation Market-Garden, by adding group leaders and a realistic abundance of armor. If there is a weakness, it lies in the game’s inability to believably relate the massive Eastern Front campaign to such small, individual battles. However, a feature set including more than 300 specialized squads, 80 distinct vehicles and anti-tank guns, accurate line of sight, limited ammunition, realistic vehicle facing, battle continuity and challenging artificial intelligence provide a satisfying depiction of WWII squad-level warfare. The titanic struggle runs best in Windows 95 or 98 on a Pentium 133 MHz CPU or better.

David Christopher Baker