Preview - Germany's hit World War II real-time strategy game is about to invade England!
In recent years the "Close Combat" series has had a near monopoly when it came to World War II real-time strategy, but now all that is about to change. Enter German publisher CDV, whose epic "Sudden Strike" shot straight to the top of the charts in their native country when it was released there a few weeks ago. The game is due to invade these shores at the end of October, so we headed deep behind enemy lines to find out more...
The first thing to hit you when you first play Sudden Strike is the sheer scope of the game. It can support up to a thousand units in a single battle, and even in the middle of the most frantic of firefights the frame rate remains playable. The range of units on offer is staggering as well - from tanks, armoured cars and motorbike scouts to infantry, paratroopers and mortar units, from anti-tank guns, rocket launchers and anti-aircraft artillery to mobile hospitals, engineers and trucks, almost every type of unit that you could wish for is included in the game. It can all be a little overwhelming at first, but luckily the control system is remarkably easy to use, making managing your massive army less of a chore than you might expect. You can also pause the game at any time to issue commands to your troops, giving you more time to think about what you are doing. There is no resource management element, with the focus very much on tactical combat on a vast scale, but the game still has plenty of depth. Some of your units can be carried over from one battle to the next in the single player campaigns, gaining experience as they go. The units are also very carefully balanced, and while getting to grips with the game and its controls is easy enough, mastering it is something that will take time. Simply charging in with a tank rush is not enough to gain victory, as you are liable to find your troops being blown up by a group of mortar units hidden in a forest, or cut down by a group of infantry hidden in a bunker. Taking care of your units and using them sensibly is the key to victory.
The second thing you notice when you play Sudden Strike is that its maps aren't just there to look pretty. Many of the battles take place in or around towns, with houses, churches, shops and warehouses dotting the maps, and infantry units can take cover in any of these buildings. Fighting your way through a town becomes a vicious street-to-street battle, with enemy troops taking pot shots at you from the houses as you desperately try to work out where they are hiding, while out in the country a range of bunkers, guard towers, trenches, barbed wire fences, dragon's teeth and other obstructions are scattered liberally across the battlefield. If you are having problems taking control of an enemy emplacement though, you can always blow it up - almost everything in the game is destructible, from bunkers and houses to bridges. In some missions you can call in air strikes to take out enemy positions, and artillery and mortar fire can also damage the terrain. By the end of a battle the map will be a smouldering ruin, pocked by shell craters and with the collapsed remains of people's houses dotting the devestated landscape. The graphics are excellent, and do a good job of bringing home the sheer destructiveness of a war involving tanks, artillery and bombers. Units are well defined and easy to identify, and the buildings (both in pristine condition and various states of collapse) are incredibly detailed. The explosions are perhaps the real high point of the game's graphics though, with billowing flames and bits of earth and debris being hurled high into the air, while rockets streak past overhead leaving little trails of smoke. Nice...
Sudden Strike could be the World War II strategy game we've all been waiting for, mixing mass-destruction featuring huge numbers of troops with a solid dose of strategy and a wide range of units to control. There are over thirty massive missions to keep you busy, split between single player campaigns for the American, British, French, German and Russian armies. Of course, the French campaign is going to be over rather quickly, but with support for up to twelve players to battle it out online the game should certainly keep you occupied (no pun intended) for quite a while, and give you the chance to fight them on the beaches, fight them in the streets, and so on and so forth...