German publisher CDV burst on to the British gaming scene late last year with the release of Sudden Strike, a mixture of real-time strategy and tactically-complex wargame which proved a hit with critics and gamers alike on this side of the Channel.
Featuring a wide range of authentic looking Second World War units and the ability to have up to a thousand of them on-screen at once in epic scenery-destroying battles, it was no great surprise after the game's chart-topping UK release to hear that an extensive add-on pack was in the works...
On The Campaign Trail
Perhaps the most obvious addition to the game is the range of new single player missions and settings. For example, while the original Sudden Strike did include British troops, the mission pack expands on this by adding a new mini-campaign centered around the Brits, taking the action into the deserts of North Africa for the first time.
These new sand-blasted landscapes are every bit as detailed as the familiar eastern and western front settings of the original Sudden Strike, including everything from ramshackle houses to minaret and dome festooned mosques and palm tree lined roads. Also included is a new campaign each for the Germans, Americans and Russians, with new autumn settings adding some variety to the old summer and winter maps, fallen leaves covering the ground in patches of red and orange around the half-bare trees.
Each of these four new campaigns includes just three missions, and in some cases the same basic map is used in more than one of the scenarios, but there is still plenty of gameplay to be had here. The sizeable maps and sometimes vast numbers of troops under your command mean that missions can often take upwards of an hour to complete, even if you get everything right first time. Which you won't.
It's A Little Tricky
In fact it will probably take you several attempts to complete each mission, as Sudden Strike Forever is almost ludicrously difficult. Hopefully the game balance will be improved before the pack ships, but as it stands the missions in the preview version we were sent vary from tricky to virtually impossible.
With its almost bewildering scale and a nasty habit of bombarding you out of the blue every few minutes with devestating artillery fire, Sudden Strike was already pretty difficult. And if anything this add-on is even harder than the original; which does make a certain degree of sense, as it is really aimed at people who have played the original game rather than newcomers to the series. Still, when a relatively experienced strategy gamer such as myself can't even get past the first mission of a campaign on the amusingly named Easy setting after four attempts (taking up the best part of an afternoon in the process), you know that something isn't quite right.
Hardcore strategy buffs will no doubt appreciate the challenge, especially if they have already played their way through the original, but for more casual gamers it's going to be hard to recommend this pack unless something is done about the difficulty level. It's all very well giving people a challenge on the higher difficulty settings, but generally it does pay to make the easy setting .. well .. easy.
Taking The War Online
As well as the dozen new campaign missions, the add-on also features several stand-alone scenarios to keep you busy, with objectives ranging from basic capture-and-hold missions to more complex tasks such as rescuing prisoners, killing enemy leaders and escorting wounded officers.
Twenty new multiplayer maps have also been added to the game, and online support has been improved with GameSpy Arcade support to allow you to easily find and chat with opponents, while several new gameplay modes and options should add variety to net battles. Tweaks to the game's interface and pathfinding AI should also help matters, and although multiplayer has always been one of Sudden Strike's strongpoints, it looks like this add-on could make things even better.
Something else sure to please online fans of the original game is the array of around thirty new units, including everything new 152mm howitzers for the ultimate in long-range artillery bombardment to bazooka-wielding soldiers for dealing with those pesky panzers. The British army is getting the main boost though, with a whole range of new troop types such as the Tetrarch light tank, armoured personnel carriers, and the oddly named Matilda (daft name for a heavy tank, but that's the Brits for you) complimenting their new campaign.
On The Campaign Trail
For the more creative amongst us, the add-on pack also comes with a fully functional editor, which allows you to create your own scenery and scenarios from scratch using a simple mouse-driven interface.
The size of the terrain involved means that making a good looking map can be a fairly time consuming process as you place buildings, rocks, ruins, roads, bridges and fortifications as well as troops and vehicles. Luckily the editor is very user-friendly though, and despite the fact that the early version I was sent was labelled in German and missing a manual, it was fairly obvious what everything did after a few minutes tinkering with the various settings.
The various types of game object are selected from the appropriate menus on the left hand side of the screen and then simply placed with a mouse click wherever you want them in the map. Meanwhile different types of terrain can be painted on to the map, meaning that fields, grassland, rivers, lakes and so on are just as easy to create thanks to the tile-based nature of the game. Before long this becomes second nature, and with the wide range of terrain, trees, buildings and fortifications now on offer in the game, the prospects for people wanting to roll their own are good.
Sudden Strike Forever is a very worthy addition to one of last year's more entertaining and inventive real-time strategy games, but the rather excessive difficulty level is going to prove harsh for less experienced players. It is possible that the difficulty settings will be corrected before the game is released over here but, given that the pack is already available in Germany and will be appearing in France within the next two weeks, sadly that seems unlikely.
British gamers can look forward to the pack invading our shores on June 29th.