The stealth action genre of games has been enjoying a bit of a comeback in the past year, and it’s easy to see why. The prospect of looking at a map filled with enemies in what on the surface seems like an impossible web of security, and then slowly but surely dismantling it, finding and making gaps, and eventually accomplishing your objective is pretty intense. It’s almost like a puzzle game for those who like a little more action.
One of the best examples of this kind of gameplay from 2020 was Desperados III, which added a Wild West flavor to the genre, along with some amazing graphics and clever level designs. An honorable mention should probably go to Rebel Cops, which was fun despite going way too far on the difficulty scale for most players. Even a little game like Picklock was pretty good for what it was in this area.
Enter Partisans 1941, which is one of the most ambitious entries into this genre in a long time. Developed by Alter Games and published by veteran Daedalic Entertainment, Partisans 1941 takes all of the classic elements found in those aforementioned stealth titles and adds quite a few unique elements on top of that to try and redefine the category. It doesn’t quite reach that goal, but lays the foundation about what could be possible in the future.
Partisans 1941 takes place at the onset of World War II. At first, you play a captured Russian Army officer who must escape from German captivity. This acts as the tutorial for the game, and unlike most titles these days, is extremely well done. You move along a linear path touching little floating question marks that explain different concepts like stealth, cover, attacking using melee and range, inventory management and things like that. Generally, you read about a new concept, watch a short video, and then practice it on those first few maps.
Eventually you will gather up a squad of partisans and set up a base camp in the woods. As more people join your team, they will each bring a set of special skills that can be employed in the various missions that you will undertake. Every character has generic skills like handling weapons or carrying things in their inventory, and also specific ones like luring enemies into an ambush, walking around in a disguise or killing silently. As you use each character, you will be able to invest points in them to make their skills more effective, and how you grow each character is up to you. This adds a light RPG element to the game that works extremely well.
Once you get into the game fully, your camp will be your center of operations. From there you will plan your next missions and decide which of your characters will go on those missions. Who you choose to attempt a mission will largely determine how you are going to be able to approach it. I liked to go with a balanced stealth and combat party to give me the most options, but there are lots of winning strategies to discover.
The camp also has some light city management gameplay aspects. You will need to keep your partisans fed and also make sure their morale stays high. Doing that is not too difficult. So long as you assign partisans to those tasks, like hunting for food, your team will be fine. You can also invest in new buildings to make their tasks more efficient. If you keep your team fed and happy, they will perform better during missions, so it’s good to concentrate on the camp, although I almost wish that Alter Games would have put a little more into this part of the game. It differentiates it from other tactical stealth titles, so I would have liked to see just a little bit more. Maybe we will in Partisans 1942.
Combat is handled in real time, but you are able to slow down time by holding the spacebar while giving orders. This is absolutely necessary to get your team into cover and set up ambushes, which is primarily the way that you will be taking down enemies. Note that while the clock slows down, it does not stop. So this is not a turn-based strategy. Time slows down quite a lot, more than enough to think strategically, but you do have to keep moving and remain aware of your environment.
The combat in Partisans 1941 is one of the biggest differentiators from other tactical combat type games. You almost always have a squad and are using them as a team, as opposed to most others in the genre where you have one hero at a time working on the map. Partisans 1941 blurs the line between a straight RTS combat game and a stealth tactical title, which is pretty cool. It should appeal to gamers who like both kinds of games.
Partisans 1941 is not a perfect game, and it’s a little bit short, but it does a wonderful job at stretching the genre and showing what is possible when innovative gameplay elements are applied to what many probably think of as a static kind of game with long established rules. I had a really nice time playing Partisans 1941, but I think if developer Alter Games keeps advancing this genre, then their next title in this series will be even more grand.