Sudden Strike Blitzkriegs RTS Market

It takes a lot of guts for a German company to come out with a World War II game. In that country, its often taboo to even talk about the war, much less create a game to glorify it. I can just hear the German peaceniks falling out of their chairs as a generation of young people leads the Third Reich to battle on their computers.

In truth, companies like SSI have been making WWII games for years, and letting players take command of either the Axis or the Allies. But this is the first time a German company has done it.

But Sudden Strike has another surprise as well: it’s a real-time strategy game. Just about 90 percent of WWII type games are turned-based, which kept a lot of the more modern gamers away from the WWII genre, except for shooters. And even the Close Combat games from Microsoft are not this detailed. My guess is that a lot of war gamers will flock to WWII now. Sudden Strike is already a best seller in Europe, and is poised to enter the US market by Christmas.

Let just get this out of the way first: I was impressed with this unbelievably well done title. I occasionally play a tabletop wargame with friends called Mien Panzer. The guy that hosts the game has a train-board sized game area in his basement with interchangeable terrain features. Miniatures of tanks and troops are deployed and moved around the board, all following the rules of the game that make each unit realistic. It’s a ton of fun, though you can sometimes get bogged down in the rules. When playing Sudden Strike, most of the good points of a Mien Panzer game are there; only the computer handles all the rules for me.

Each unit in the game is highly realistic, both in performance and graphical representation. A German Puma armored car looks a lot different than an American Sherman. And even an American Sherman looks different than an American Hellcat. The performance of each unit is also highly accurate. I ran several tests, shooting weapons at different tanks and vehicles from different angles. Hit a German heavy tank with an AT round from the front and you won’t notice much difference. Tag it from the rear and it is going to be a smoking road hazard.

The graphics are amazing. You can play at 640 by 480, 800 by 600 or 1024 by 768 resolutions. I like the lower resolutions because you can see more of the action, but it looks good at any level.

And there is so much to see. Every house, tree, watchtower, bridge and well and haystack can be used as cover on the battlefield. And, they can all be destroyed as well. If you find your infantry being pinned down by a bunch of troops holed up inside a house, you can bring up some field guns from the rear and start pummeling it, or ask the air core to bomb it. Eventually, even those nice brick European chateaus can be reduced to burning rubble. And if the troops inside don’t run out, they will be killed. All of the explosions are a joy to watch, whether you are blasting a haystack with a bazooka – great fun – or dropping bombs along the coast and watching as some hit the water and send torrents of spray in all directions.

Since the terrain is destroyable, you can use this to your advantage. In one mission, a slew of Russian T-34s were assaulting a town I had captured, which was mostly defended by infantry. It was turning into quite a route against my seasoned German troops. Thinking quickly, I withdrew as many men as I could across a bridge, where I had left some captured Russian ZIS-3 76mm AT guns and a pair of German PAK-37 guns. (You can often capture enemy field guns and the like by having troops flank the guns and eliminate the operators, leaving the equipment in working order.) There were far too many tanks to take out toe-to-toe, so as soon as most of my commandos were over the bridge, I used the big guns and some grenades to blow it.

Now I had the luxury of time. The first couple tanks that rolled up on the bridge hit mines my retreating infantry had left behind. The next few could see I had blown the bridge, but were destroyed by the big guns when they tried to turn around and retreat.

The Russians brought up waves of infantry to try to kill my gunners, and a supply truck to fix the bridge. I feigned retreat and pulled out of their range. As the supply truck did its work on the bridge, I brought two tanks out of reserve and sent it and the engineers sky high. As my two tanks tangoed with the superior Russian force, I brought the field guns back into range and was able to destroy most of the Russians. Meanwhile, I had constructed a pontoon bridge far downstream out of sight, and was crossing infantry and support vehicles for a counterattack. The game really leaves strategy open to the player.

You can play as the Germans, the Americans or the Russians. Each army has a variety of very difficult missions and their own campaign., plus there are a bunch of single player missions that are not part of a campaign. The game stops about two years into the war – company officials said they did not want to be accused of trying to rewrite history in an exclusive GiN interview – and all of the battles are more or less fictitious. For example, even real missions, like the D-Day invasion for the American side does not give any details as to what beach you are assaulting.

This was what most disappointed me. With all these historically accurate units, it would have been nice to play some actual historical scenarios with the same units involved. That’s what we do all the time in the tabletop wargame.

The other complaint I have is that the engine of the game is basically one that highlights man to man or vehicle to vehicle combat. One guy marching around on the map equals one guy. This should lend itself to smaller skirmishes, with small groups of units combating one another. In many missions however, the scale of the battle is immense and well beyond the ability of any human to control. We are talking about trying to control or fight 400 or 500 units. You can’t do that with any accuracy. Try managing a firefight on one front and your troops are going to get slaughtered somewhere else. They will fight back on their own, but without leadership they will often get killed. Add in long-range artillery fire and bomber missions to the mix and you have commanders going prematurely gray.

When taken as a whole, this is an excellent game. With multiplayer options, you can fight other humans at the same control disadvantage with massive forces, since the computer seems to have no problem with it. If the game came with an editor, you could almost kiss tabletop gaming of this type goodbye. It’s that fun, and you don’t have to worry about cleanup when you are done.

If you like World War II themed games, or wargames in general (especially RTSs) then Sudden Strike will blitzkrieg right into your heart. It earns 4 1/2GiN Gems because it’s one of the best RTS wargames on the market, and the best for WWII scenarios.

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