by Ingvi Snædal
previewed on PC
There’s something uniquely thrilling about starting a mission knowing the men and equipment you have on the screen in front of you are all you’re going to get. No base building, no mass production of cannon fodder, no tech trees. Just the men at your command, the abilities their training has granted them, and your tactical intelligence. This is the Real-Time Tactics genre, a niche genre of strategy games home to titles such as Men of War and Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War and Sudden Strike which amassed a sizable fanbase from the launch of the first game in 2000 to the last in 2010. Having been on hiatus for over 6 years now, Sudden Strike 4 is set to rise from oblivion in Spring 2017. We went hands-on with the game in Berlin at Kalypso’s 10 year anniversary event and had mixed success with the preview build.
Apart from the obvious technical upgrades (the last game in the series was the first one to use a 3D graphics engine), the game stays relatively true to its heritage. The most notable addition this time around is the ability to choose a commander before launching missions, à la C&C: Generals. These commanders give certain bonuses and abilities, and it’s up to you to choose which one is best suited for the task at hand. The game offers the standard Allies/German/Soviet singleplayer campaigns and each of those has three commanders to choose from. These commanders may grant anything from a reduction in vehicle repair time to precision artillery strikes, so tailoring the experience not only to the mission, but to your personal playstyle is of the essence.
The campaigns are comprised of over 20 unique missions, each based on historical events, and the game will offer over 100 authentic units to command. The game will also feature a multiplayer mode, so you can pit your skills against other armchair generals in real-time combat. At the conclusion of each mission, you will be awarded one to three stars based on your performance. This, in addition to the achievement window displayed at the end of the mission, is designed to help you better yourself as a commander, pointing out tactics you could have used while awarding you for the considerations you did make.
There were two of us at the event and both got some hands-on time with the game after the presentation. Despite going through the same map they had presented, my colleague drove straight into a minefield, got his infantry pinned down by a machine gun, and left a perfectly good anti-tank gun standing idle when he knew the next engagement would primarily consist of tanks! Needless to say, he only had one star at the end of the mission (or rather, when he pretended to ragequit to save himself the embarrassment of the summary screen). I, on the other hand, had a rather pleasant time of it. Having seen him tackle one map, I decided to go for the Battle of the Bulge, in which I commanded the Allied forces under General George S. Patton. Although I hadn’t considered my success to be that great, I finished with three stars. Turned out, I had only received one type of achievement, but I was awarded it over 50 times. I simply always parked my tanks at an angle towards the direction the enemy was coming from and the deflection bonus kept coming. Whether I deserved a three-star rating for that is a matter of opinion.
My colleague and I agreed that we loved the realism in the game. Tanks take time turning the turrets towards their targets and the ballistics look good and feel fair. The only major issue I had with it was the fact that, when I ordered my tanks to retreat, they turned around and drove in the direction of my click, even though they were engaged in combat. No tank driver would ever start turning the tank, exposing their rear to the enemy knowing that cannons were trained at them. A more realistic response by an AI in active combat to an order of retreat would be to back up while keeping the fire on the enemy, only turning around when out or range or sight.
With the game aimed at supporting modding via Steam Workshop from launch, I hope we’ll see mods piling up post launch. RTT games where players can command the Japanese forces are unheard of, but their tactics and tech should allow for interesting gameplay. The same goes for total conversion mods which could introduce fantasy, sci-fi, or alternative history gameplay to the Sudden Strike series. The version we played in Berlin was already smooth, so we can’t wait to see how shiny they can polish this dusty title before launch.