News From The Front Lines
Last month, I had my first chance to sit down with the latest title in the Sudden Strike series, Sudden Strike 4 from Kite Games and Kalypso home media. After a long drought from real time strategy games, I was excited to take on a new one set during humanity's Last Great War. I played the first level of the Allied Campaigns in Operation Overlord and felt an experience that was something very few RTS games offered: A game where the cinematic and the authentic go hand in hand to bring the player a hair raising, heart racing time and makes them feel as though they are responsible not for the lives of throw-away soldiers on a screen, but vital cogs in the war machine that can only lead you to victory, if you lead them to victory.
From Operation Overlord, I've spent my time in the remaining 6 Allied missions. I've completed all 7 German missions as well. And now, about halfway through the Soviet campaign, I'm taking this time out to let you guys know that if you're not playing Sudden Strike 4 yet, you really should be.
Sudden Strike 4 is a personal, intimate strategy game. Rather than relying on bases and resources, you rely on reinforcements that are deployed to the battlefield over the course of missions once certain conditions have been met. This makes it certain that the player must take the utmost caution in their troop movements if they want to seize victory for their forces.
This intimacy begins even before the mission begins, as players pick between a general and their corresponding doctrines: Infantry for special uses with ground troops, Armored for more unique abilities with tanks and armored vehicles, and Support which I'm sure you've guessed, gives support units an edge. The Infantry Doctrine features Bernard Montgomery (Allies), Konstantin Konstantinovich Rokossovsky (Soviets), and Johannes Blaskowitz (Germany). The Armored Doctrine features George Patton (Allies), Georgy Konstantinovich Zhukov (Soviets), Heinz Guderian (Germany). Last, but not least, the Support Doctrine consists of Omar Bradley (Allies), Vasily Ivanovich Chuikov (Soviets), and Fedor von Bock (Germany).
Different operations call for different generals if you want to get the most efficient victory you can, but the game doesn't force you into playing it that way. You're more than welcome to take an Armored general in on an infantry-heavy mission if you think the one or two vehicles you have are worth it. Feel free to buff that one artillery vehicle in a tank heavy mission and just make a curtain of steel and iron defending it while it trolls far-off enemies. The choice is really up to you, but I tried to play it as efficiently as possible and stuck with what the mission briefings seemed to imply were the 'right' choices.
Missions will take you through a total of 21 missions, through three different campaigns across the entirety of the war. Based on some of the biggest moments throughout the war, each and every mission is a memorable, pulse pounding adventure. Most missions are at a moderate but urgent pace to get the job done, leaving enough time to organize your movements the way you wish. But if you ever feel too rushed, the game does also offer a pause-to-move feature where you can pause, plan out your movements, and then unpause so that your units will pick up on your latest orders. Really handy for when you need different masses that aren't in proximity to one another to move ASAP. Controls are pretty standard, in that if you've played any RTS game ever you'll have no problem picking up on your camera movements, unit movements and different abilities. How you apply that knowledge tactically makes up for the pick-up-and-play routine controls.
I tended to favor infantry over everything, using my tanks and artillery as the extra oomph when needed. I guided my virtual 'Band of Brothers' through fields and towns, admiring the beautiful graphics in the calm and then, when an engagement neared, I split them apart and prepared for combat.
Engagement after bloody engagement, guiding my troops in was something special to behold. It wasn't the quick engagements of a Command & Conquer or Starcraft; it was more visceral, more real. There was enough pause to see how these soldiers were handling themselves, to maintain a full situational awareness while also admiring the grit that transpired with every round fired and ever hit on an enemy soldier; and moments of panic, as a medic has to crawl to save one of the wounded. Tanks rolling in from the sides for a flanking manoeuvre on the unsuspecting enemy, time and time again. It was epic, it was cinematic, it was my own war story.
Each mission also has a set of challenges to complete, and with the various achievements to unlock over the course of the campaigns, the replay value is definitely there. But I found myself replaying missions more because of how much fun I had playing them rather than going back for completionist aims. But for as much fun as I had, there's one thing that I take great issue with and that's the multiplayer.
While the gameplay stays intact, the game loses a bit of its luster with the multiplayer map designs being centered around being 'fair', rather than just being an online version of campaign maps. The four maps available are Countryside, Siege, Beach and Frozen River and while they're all quite nice, a game like this loses its soul when it favors map balance over tactics. There will be those that disagree with me, but I think it'd be fun going into some of the maps from the campaign knowing that my experience could be entirely different just based on what side I was playing as at that moment.
To Distant Lands, With Gun In Hands
As my first entry into the series, Sudden Strike 4 is one of those RTS games that I'll actually remember a year from now. One where I'll be sitting there and go, "Jeeze, I think it's about time to play it again." I'm halfway tempted to go back and check out the older games, but Sudden Strike 4's campaign is just something sublime that I'm going to be revisiting frequently when I get the RTS itch. The shame is that I didn't enjoy the multiplayer as much as the single-player, as while the gameplay mechanics stay intact it loses a lot of that luster. A final note: the campaign, being only 21 missions along with the less enjoyable multiplayer, may not be enough for many people to pay out the $49.99 price tag. It's a bit steep, but I still say it's a must play for any RTS fan.
General/Doctrine variety offers unique ways to approach mission planning, brisk but not overbearing mission speeds, combat balances the visceral, the cinematic and the authentic perfectly, all campaigns are fantastic, a nearly perfect single player experi
Multiplayer focuses too much on balance for this sort of RTS, making it lose its character in the process, 21 missions seems like a low number between three campaigns.