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Sudden Strike 2

Review - more World War II strategy from CDV and Fireglow

Blood, Rain And Mud

Real-time strategy games generally fall somewhere on an axis between two poles. At one end you have the stylised combat of Command & Conquer and its ilk; at the other, the insane realism and micromanagement of Close Combat, veering into the realms of tactical action with Commandos. Sudden Strike 2 plants its flag firmly on the realistic end of the pitch, but can it keep fans of the original title satisfied, and perhaps more importantly, will it attract new players to the series?

Despite the much needed addition of easier difficulty settings, aficionados of conventional real-time strategy games will find Sudden Strike 2 just as daunting a prospect as the original, a game which won a surprising level of cult popularity, particularly in mainland Europe. The game features none of the conventional hallmarks of the RTS genre, as handed down from Dune 2; there is no construction of buildings and units and no resources to harvest, and combat itself is a rather more involved affair than just building more tanks than your opponent and rolling over his base. Instead the game gives you a certain number of troops and vehicles - with occasional reinforcements - and it's up to you to complete the mission using the military force to hand and nothing more.

What's more, these aren't the superman units found in C&C - they move slowly, die easily, don't always hit what they shoot at and their morale wavers in combat. They're more Private Ryan than Major Tanya. Keeping them alive is essential, although regularly you have to dispassionately choose to break some eggs in order to make an omlette, sending hapless infantrymen into the breach as scouts, a distraction .. or bait. To make things more complex, there are special officer units which improve the morale of troops when they're around, but seem to have the inverse effect if you get them killed, making their positioning into a very delicate balancing act.

Historically Yours

Historical accuracy is a key selling point for Sudden Strike 2, and developers FireGlow have gone to great lengths to ensure that each unit and campaign is balanced as it would have been in World War II. Tanks and other armoured units are now much more representative of their actual strengths and weaknesses than they were in the first game - the German Tiger tank is one of the most powerful units on the battlefield, for example, and lesser tanks won't have a hope against its amazing armour.

Each campaign is based on a famous World War II engagement, Operation Market Garden being the most recognisable, but there are also campaigns on the Russian front and in the Pacific theatre. The difficulty of these campaigns varies depending on historical circumstances rather than the whim of the developer; so for example, playing in the Pacific as the Japanese (the new playable army in Sudden Strike 2) is a particularly fraught exercise, since historically the balance was tipped against them. All in all, it's a World War II junkie's wet dream. All this accuracy would probably look very intimidating to a mainstream RTS fan, but for someone immersed in the history of the period this title would hold infinitely more attraction than the likes of C&C Red Alert.

The Art of War

In terms of graphics, Sudden Strike 2 is definitely in the retro camp compared to the lush visuals of the likes of Ground Control or C&C Generals. No 3D rotating camera views or high-polygon units here; everything is resolutely 2D, with a visual style which is best described as "gritty".

However, the 2D approach doesn't grate - in the context of what the developers are trying to accomplish with Sudden Strike 2, it's perfect in fact. The graphics take a back seat, with the deep and intricate gameplay definitely driving the whole show; they convey the information required (with varied terrain and weather conditions, and beautifully realised vehicles) and then let you get on with playing the game. Most impressively, the engine is capable of dealing with vast numbers of units on-screen at once without even a hint of slowdown, no doubt thanks in part to the rather dated graphical approach the developers have chosen.

Rather more laudable is the audio in the game, which has obviously had a lot of effort put into it. The sounds of war are perfectly captured, and each side has its own set of voices barking out orders and so on, each in the appropriate language for the force in question, and with correct accents. This is more than can be said for the usual standard of German voice-overs found in videogames, which often bear all the authenticity of a Carry On film.

Spot the Difference

Realistically, Sudden Strike 2 is unlikely to entice any gamers who didn't fancy the first game much. CDV and FireGlow clearly feel that they have a potted target audience for the title already, and it is fans of the original Sudden Strike who are the most likely purchasers of this sequel.

Which is perhaps no bad thing, as any attempt to make the game appeal to a more mainstream audience would inevitably have translated into a dumbing down of some of the more complex elements of the title, which would have annoyed the core audience of hardcore strategy fans and history buffs.

As it is, fans of the original will be delighted with this update - new campaigns to play, a whole new force to command, new units and an increased focus on historical accuracy will appeal to anyone who enjoyed the first game, and there's no good reason for them not to own this sequel. However, casual strategy fans whose patience threshold for complex RTS titles stops at Age of Empires need not apply. Sudden Strike 2 is a great game, but it's a great game for a very limited audience. Which isn't a criticism, as this is a game which achieves just about everything it sets out to do, but rather a caveat emptor to potential buyers who might not be aware of what they're letting themselves in for.

8 / 10