Game Over Online ~ Sudden Strike

GameOver Game Reviews - Sudden Strike (c) CDV Software, Reviewed by - Fwiffo

Game & Publisher Sudden Strike (c) CDV Software
System Requirements Windows, Pentium II-233, 32MB Ram, 150MB HDD, 4x CD-ROM
Overall Rating 78%
Date Published Monday, December 18th, 2000 at 10:59 AM

Divider Left By: Fwiffo Divider Right

After the rousing success of the RTS genre, there appears to be three distinct directions that developers are heading towards to get away from the Clone & Conquer mentality. The first is speeding up the game into a frenzy, like what was done successfully in Red Alert 2. The second is the adoption of the 3D perspective carried out successfully by games like Ground Control. Finally, the third is a flock to a RTS game with a heavy demand of tactics, instead of the traditional cannon fodder mentality. Sudden Strike is representative of the third type of RTS game. The developers' aim here is to blend the clever use of tactics with a WWII thematic motif.

When you think of tactics and WWII, one immediately dwells on games like Close Combat. Sudden Strike attempts to make tactical games more accessible by disguising it under the interface of a traditional RTS game. Many would argue that this is exactly what Close Combat has been trying to do and no doubt the familiar interface makes it easier for gamers to take on this new dimension of RTS gaming. For gamers who dread wargames, Sudden Strike is definitely more akin to the RTS genre. For example, your infantry squads can be positioned by individual soldiers with razor-like precision, unlike the semi-autonomous units in real-time wargames (this comes with a mixed blessing of course, since you are responsible for more micromanagement). That said, Sudden Strike does include lots of features from the wargaming genre. For example, using a mixed squad of flamethrowers and infantry grunts, I could attack the blind side of a well-armed tank, in which under any normal circumstances my infantry would be ripped to shreds within seconds. Many RTS gamers shy away from this time of gaming because is takes too long to set up these types of mini-victories. Often if you lose a crucial unit, you can kiss the whole mission goodbye. This is not so with Sudden Strike. It is a lot more forgiving and the objectives laid out are fairly free. It is not puzzle-like in the vein of Commandos. You are often told to capture a specific point but how you do it is never really laid out either consciously or unconsciously. This encourages armchair generals to think of plans on their own.

When I talk about generals, I mean generals. Sudden Strike's main caveat is the meticulous rendering of all major WWII units. It uses a 2D engine and high-resolution graphics similar to what was done with Age of Empires. Although, the engine is quite static, the animation on the units is impressive nonetheless. Those keen on WWII trivia will be able to spot Panzer tanks, Shermans and flak guns. This authenticity extends to the aural experience as well. Mortar fire and air strikes manage to instil fear while the units talk in their native languages. In the midst of firefights, one can easily discern the fire of the M1 Garand versus the MP40 or Mauser. I was really encouraged by all this meticulous research, if only the gameplay were as realistic. Each mission posed to the player is effectively a map of sorts: the objectives are not transparent (Deus Ex is a title with transparent objectives par excellence). In it, there are often four or five objectives that can be accomplished. Although the developers took the pains to hire voice actors that have an English accent akin to German, British or American, I found the speakers unconvincing. Moreover, this is the first game I saw where the speaker actually speaks faster than the subtitles. Often briefings end with "In short: do this, do that", albeit five times as long. What I would have really liked, and this never translated to the actual gameplay, is a mere list of objectives that I need to accomplish always present on the screen. Because there isn't a list, often late in missions I have to go back to the briefing to listen to a good portion of it in order to find out what I'm doing next. This happened often when you use unorthodox or extremely creative tricks, so the game is not as flexible as I thought it would be. The game certainly doesn't like you accomplishing tasks in the incorrect order either. Sometimes, my games stagnated into a standstill because of this.

When I began playing this game, I had the Close Combat mentality, where I approached the game with a strong emphasis on maximizing the use of all my troops while preserving the lot of them so to hone them into an elite-fighting machine. I found I was unable to do that, for the sheer amount of units in the game are frightening to any commander. While I mentioned that you could set up traps to outwit superior equipment or troops, those take a significant amount of time. Time is often what you cannot afford. Although some will argue this is part of the realism, I find the casualties are needlessly high (and via extension, not fun). It's great to see twenty paratroopers landing in an occupied city but I question the motive of the developers if only ten survive the landing. It's fun to see realism. It is my belief that realism brings something to games that make them more profound. But if I were to play a WWI campaign of czarist Russia (to use an analogy here) where Russian forces never even won one single battle or engagement, although it can be realistic, it is certainly not fun. The giant scope of up to one thousand units per map has its dramatic effects. There are many maps to play on and because of the lengthy objectives on each map, players will not find the game short. Moreover, there is a bonus CD with even more maps so the title is definitely not bereft of material in quantity.

Sudden Strike features a wide variety of terrains from snowy plains to dense forests. These challenge gamers to think up new ways to ambush the enemy, as often you will be outnumbered if you want to go toe to toe with the enemy. Frequently, one is able to call in massive air strikes on towns and reduce them to a cinder. This is particularly effective since Sudden Strike proves that urban warfare is brutal and ugly. The buildings and ruins all have a European flavour to it. I particularly like the fact that units can garrison many of the buildings or towers. This is like Red Alert 2, only more realistic and flexible. There are a few quirks with Sudden Strike that are related to the interface. I paraphrase someone that all games from the motherland appear to have a slight learning curve. This game is certainly no different. A few minor annoyances include the existence of British, American, Russian and custom mission campaigns that have their respective save games lumped into one folder. Another annoyance is the moving of troops into transports. At default speed, the troops move much too slowly for anyone's comfort. I wish there was a move fast button (a la Close Combat) but I recognize this might be a feature of realism. Troops move a lot faster by being "mobilized" through a variety of transports, motorcycles or cars. However, when you assign a team to a certain group of infantry and load them into a vehicle, unloading will cause that team to disappear altogether. This proved fairly annoying when I was unloading troops in the middle of an ambush.

In multiplayer, Sudden Strike pits up to 12 players together. There is no doubt the WWII motif gives any RTS a unique flavour but I found the types of multiplayer games were lacklustre. I found myself wishing there was some way to do attack/defence or some sort of co-operative mode that would certainly make this game more enjoyable. Sudden Strike is a good game that is compromised by some interface problems. I found many of the units, that I was supposed to save with tactics, died only because I didn't have time to react to the situation (and in some cases, can't react at all period). On the one hand, Sudden Strike does suffer from some annoying problems. On the other, I can overlook some of the uninspiring briefing speech and in-game cinematics because at its heart this is a game where one focuses on tactics. Here, this title exudes a distinct European feeling. Sudden Strike, with its RTS interface, certainly makes it easier to introduce gamers to overcoming inferiorities on numbers and capabilities. There really is no greater joy than charging a diversionary infantry attack on an entrenched AT gun while taking over the gun itself with a squad on its flank. Sudden Strike is unique in this way, in that it often lets you take over the enemy's equipment whether it is transports or displaced AT guns. I also loved the fact that you could launch an eight airplane wide carpet-bombing campaign on the enemy. These were issues that were never addressed properly by Close Combat or any other games for that matter. When all things are said and done, Sudden Strike is a solid game and a great introduction for those who are tired of the mindless carnage in RTS titles but aren't ready to cut their teeth yet in hardcore wargaming. Those who approach this game with a cannon fodder mentality will definitely be in for a rude awakening.

Note: Sudden Strike is currently widely available throughout Europe. It has also been spotted on store shelves in Canada and the United States, imported from Europe without permission from Strategy First, the company that owns the publishing rights across North America. If you live in North America and would like a copy of Suddden Strike, grab it while you can before it disappears from the shelves (if it hasn't already). Strategy First is expected to officially publish Sudden Strike across North America in February, 2001.


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