Silent Storm is a turn-based tactical strategy game from Nival Interactive and Encore Software. It involves commandos going through their paces in World War II, but it’s nothing like the Commandos games, where you sneak around and infiltrate locations. Instead, it’s more like Jagged Alliance and Fallout Tactics, where your goal is to put your team of soldiers into good positions to shoot the hell out of the enemy. Plus, with a solid combat engine and excellent graphics, Silent Storm is a lot of fun to play, and it’s worlds better than its main competitor at the moment, UFO: Aftermath.
Silent Storm comes with two 20+ mission campaigns that let you fight for either the Allied or the Axis powers. Oddly, it doesn’t make much of a difference which one you fight for. That’s because your main enemy is a terrorist organization hoping that World War II will weaken countries enough so that it can take over once the war is over. So your job in the game is to take your elite crew of soldiers and use them to uncover what the terrorist organization is up to and then put a stop to it. Since the terrorist organization has infiltrated both the Allied and Axis powers, that means you’ll have to fight both groups no matter which one you’re affiliated with, and it means the two campaigns are more similar than you might expect (a lot of maps are re-used, and some missions are identical).
For each mission you can bring along a crew of six soldiers. One soldier represents you on the battlefield, and if that soldier dies then you automatically lose the mission. The other five soldiers come from a pool available at your base, and if they “die” during combat, they can lugged back to your base and revived. (Technically, almost nobody dies in the game; they just fall unconscious. I guess that’s why even though you can riddle enemies with bullets, the game has a teen ESRB rating.) Soldiers gain experience for going on missions and performing activities (like shooting a gun or disarming a mine), but, luckily, soldiers you don’t bring on missions also gain experience, just more slowly, and so it’s okay if some of your soldiers get killed.
Each member of your crew can belong to one of six classes -- engineer, grenadier, medic, scout, soldier, and sniper. However, just like in choosing between the Allied and Axis powers, there isn’t as much difference between the classes as you might think. Each class gets a unique skill tree, but that’s it, and there aren’t any restrictions on the activities your soldiers can perform (your engineer can use a sniper rifle and your sniper can pick locks, if you want). Worse, many skills are shared between the classes, and it’s only their placement in the skill tree that changes. So character development isn’t the best part of Silent Storm.
Where Silent Storm shines is in combat -- not so much from the combat engine itself, which is nice enough but which uses roughly the same mechanics (with action points and familiar modes of fire) as other tactical games, but in watching and taking part in the combat. Combat can take place indoors or outdoors, on multiple levels, and the terrain is (reading from the press release) “fully deformable.” That means if you can’t pick open a lock, you can shoot open the door instead. Or if you hear somebody walking above you, you can shoot through the ceiling to get him. Or if you know somebody’s hiding in a shed, you don’t have to risk sending a soldier inside; you can just blow away the shed and kill the enemy in the process.
Sometimes it’s fun to use machine guns on enemies, not because you need that much firepower, but just to see how much damage you can do to the area surrounding them. Maybe you can “accidentally” blow out a window or hit a fuel drum and start a chain reaction to bring down an entire building. Plus, it’s even fun to watch enemies “die.” Enemies don’t have a single “death” animation. The game uses a complex physics engine, and so enemies flop around realistically. If you use a machine gun, they might fly backwards a few feet. If you shoot them next to a window, they might stumble through the window and then fall to the ground. This is good stuff, and it makes combat all sorts of fun.
Of course, there are some niggling problems here and there. The enemy AI is generally bad. Often enemies, if they can’t see you, will just stand around and let you snipe at them, and they’re not very good at noticing problems or aiding their fellows. This is an area where Nival Interactive should play Commandos and then do a lot of copying. Turns can also take a long time, especially when you have “allies” in a mission (independent civilians are called allies for some reason), and it would be nice to have some sort of option to move through enemy turns more quickly (like with, say, Heroes of Might and Magic). And Nival was a little too generous putting different types of weapons in the game. Saying there are “75 authentic WWII weapons” sounds good in a press release, but mostly I found it to be confusing, especially since many weapons are all but identical. Does anybody really want to keep track of the differences between the mauser m98, the 33-40, the carbine m1 1936 and the g-41 w? If you can’t tell, they’re all rifles.
I often find myself disappointed in games, but Silent Storm was a pleasant surprise. I thought going in that it was going to be a Commandos clone, but it turned out to be a fun game in its own right, and I’d recommend it to anybody who enjoys tactical strategy games.