Sudden Strike 4

War, war never changes…and in the past several years it feels the same for Real-time Strategy games. Kalypso Media is hoping to change that perception with the release of Sudden Strike 4 a WWII based RTS for PC and PS4.

The player is given the opportunity to fight the war on three sides from the early stages of the war: as the Germans as they Blitzkrieg their way across Poland, into France and ultimately on the eastern front against Russia; as the Russian army as they push back against their German invaders; or as the Allies, liberating France on their way to crushing the German war machine.

Each of the three factions are broken down into historically significant battles across World War II. As the Germans, the tutorial has you invading Poland, and ultimately facing the allies in the Battle of the Bulge. The Russians with the infamous Battle of Stalingrad and the race to Berlin and of course the Allies starting with Operation Overlord. You can play any of the three factions in any order you choose, and switch between them however you like.

The battles are fought in typical RTS fashion, where the player gives orders to various vehicle and weapon types to secure each objective as provided in the opening battleplan. Unlike similar RTS games, there is no resource gathering or base building here. You are given a (typically) small group of units, that you utilize to obtain your objective, with the occasional set of reinforcements provided as the mission proceeds. Each faction has three generals to choose from with various special abilities that can be unlocked and used in battle. These special abilities include such options as tank commanders opening hatches for a greater view of the battlefield, or the ability to build defenses around your tanks. After each mission, you will receive between one to three stars based on how well you performed. These stars can then be utilized to unlock additional abilities for each of your generals.

Every soldier, tank or supply vehicle feels critical to achieving your mission. For example, medics are typically the only units who can heal wounded soldiers, and if you are unlucky enough to have your medics killed early, you will be left struggling to keep the rest of your soldiers alive. Another example is that repair vehicles can fix broken tracks or damaged cannons but have no offensive and very little defensive capabilities. Sudden Strike is about planning your attack, utilizing your artillery, and understanding the weak points in an enemy’s defenses. An all-out tank assault will typically leave the player with a bunch of burning wrecks, crippling the ability to be effective later in the mission. A wise general will learn the strengths (and weaknesses) of each unit going into battle and utilize them accordingly.

Sudden Strike 4 does an outstanding job with its use of environment and utilizing the environment to your advantage. One Russian mission has your squads escorting supply trucks across a frozen river. Your troops can literally break the ice out from under the attacking units and send them to an icy death. Artillery can make use of hills to launch strikes over, and your infantry can hide in forests or corn fields to stay hidden from enemy units. Graphically the game is beautiful, with its snow-covered battlefields, and lush green forests. A wise general will ensure he/she understands the terrain and utilize it to their advantage.

Sound design is a mixed bag here, and feels like a missed opportunity. The scream of the dive bombing Stukas or the satisfying thump of your howitzers are broken by commanders who all sound as though they are from the US or England. The journal entry that proceeds each battle is read with the same English accent regardless of whether it’s a German, Russian or Allied mission. When the movie Robin Hood Prince of Thieves came out, and everyone complained that Kevin Costner didn’t bother to speak in an English accent…I didn’t understand…well, I do now. Several times I had to look to see which nation I was playing because I simply couldn’t tell by the narrator or the commanders voices. It’s a real shame too, because each of the units that you control DO speak in accents. If there is one jarring aspect that breaks the immersion before and during each battle, it is this.

It’s the attention to detail and the little touches that made some of the most notable impacts on me. Troops that are getting overrun will launch flares, to both signal where the enemy is, and request help. If troops are severely out-gunned and out-numbered they will simply put up their hands and surrender. Your troops can kill off soldiers who are manning artillery cannons, and then turn their own guns on them. If you are lucky enough to kill off a tank crew (without destroying the tank), you can load it up with your own soldiers and join in the fight. Littered throughout the battlefield are additional empty enemy vehicles that can be repaired (or refueled) and then used for your own purpose.

Overall, while Sudden Strike 4 doesn’t do anything particularly new or revolutionary, it’s still loads of fun to play. It will punish you if you don’t plan and you will curse yourself if you do not save often and end up having to restart due to some poor early decisions. It has two difficulty settings to start with…Easy (which really IS easy) and Normal (which is better described as brutal). Normal may seem overly difficult at first but it does make you plan ahead instead of just amassing your forces and charging ahead. Remember to save…and save often (don’t blame me if you don’t heed this advice).

Pathfinding of the units will leave you feeling nostalgic for the 90s…in that it’s typically not great and you’ll find yourself cursing as your units go off in a direction that you hadn’t anticipated. It does tend to lend itself to more micromanagement, and moving units in small steps instead of where you ultimately want them, but for RTS veterans, this will probably feel more like a minor annoyance then a major problem.

While the game can be played with a gamepad (and if you are playing this on PS4 it’s your only option), I would recommend sticking with mouse and keyboard here. Each mission will run anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours (depending on your skill level, and not counting numerous saves and reloads), and with each faction having 7 missions, you are in for a long war. In addition to the single player campaign there are also options for Skirmish battles as well as Multiplayer.

What I liked: Use of terrain, the gorgeous graphics, the tense gameplay where every unit you lose makes you question whether you need to reload the game or not.

What I didn’t like as much: Voice acting (couldn’t they at least fake a German and Russian accent?), AI Pathfinding

4.5 out 5 Stars