When it comes to real-time strategy games, there are few from which to choose that deal with the subject of World War II, with perhaps the best known of these being the Close Combat series. Another attempt to create a historical game featuring warfare of that era comes in the form of Sudden Strike, a game that sets off to be both realistic and fun -- a balancing act that falls a bit short.
Although billed as highly realistic and historic, the units in Sudden Strike are as realistic as those in Command & Conquer: Red Alert and historical accuracy extends so far as to only encompass some famous WWII events and locations through very abstract representations. This doesn't detract from the game unless you happen to be a player who is looking for a serious real-time war game. But, if you can get past the lack of realism, there is still a lot of gameplay to enjoy with many missions that include some of the biggest battles ever seen in a RTS game.
What makes Sudden Strike unique is its focus on battles and tactics rather than resource management and construction. Missions range from commanding a small group of French Resistance fighters to truly immense battles such as a recreation of D-Day and Stalingrad with hundreds of units on screen simultaneously. The game engine is capable of handling up to a thousand units per scenario but, even during the biggest battles, the actions and placement of individual units are critical.
Strategy plays a key element, as rushing into battle with tanks will result in your troops being quickly annihilated by well-placed guns and artillery. Instead, you must plan each movement step by step, scouting the territory ahead at all times and wearing down your enemy's defenses as in a real war by using combined arms tactics. This is the most realistic aspect of Sudden Strike and, while instilling a great sense of depth, at the same time it makes some of the missions extremely time consuming (over 19 hours in some cases).
A variety of units are available for each country, ranging from different types of infantry such as riflemen, machine-gunners and commandos to howitzers, anti-tank guns, anti-aircraft guns, numerous vehicles, tanks and airplanes. You can also beef up your arsenal by capturing enemy units' weapons such as anti-tank guns, mortars, artillery and more. While all the units are based on historical and realistic counterparts, they don't always behave as you might expect. Some of the most glaring inconsistencies include the vulnerability of tanks to light machinegun and rifle fire or Panzerfaust-wielding infantry that fire rockets repeatedly, more akin to units in a sci-fi RTS than anything ever seen in WW2. Even worse are "magical" supply trucks that never run out of ammunition and spare parts, an area where the lack of resource management (supply lines and ammo dumps) hurts the game.
A few other problems are notable beyond the realism issues, the biggest of which is unit management. When there are hundreds of units on screen at one time, identification is essential to good organization, a factor that Sudden Strike fails at miserably. Most of the infantry look nearly identical and you can barely differentiate an officer from a rifleman. Furthermore, there is no provision for maintaining formations or quickly organizing a group of units to coordinate actions effectively. Add to this very spotty path finding where vehicles seem to wander in search of their destination or get stuck between trees and you find yourself spending more time trying to get units to follow your orders than enjoying the game.
Sudden Strike is not the realistic RTS it's advertised to be and playing the larger missions is more tedious than fun because of path finding and unit management problems. That said, there are other things to like about the game if you aren't a wargaming purist looking for an intense, real-time battle experience that emulates WWII style tactics and historical accuracy.
Graphics: The graphical detail is possibly the best of any RTS made up to the date of release. Terrain, most buildings, objects and units are depicted with multiple levels of damage and the hulks of destroyed vehicles and corpses of infantry don't disappear immediately, which creates scenes of massive destruction after prolonged battles. Vegetation can be burned or destroyed with heavy weapons (important when used as cover for your troops) and you get a good sense of being in forest, not just barren RTS settings. Explosions, real-time lighting and weapon effects are all superb.
Sound: The sound is nearly as good as the graphics. Infantry quietly chatter in the background, vehicle engines idle when not moving, birds chirp in the trees and streams and rivers gurgle when you approach them. In destroyed areas, a cold deathly wind can be heard instead of the peaceful sounds of nature that were there before. Most units even have multiple vocal responses to orders and reactions to events and even ask for ammunition! A couple of minor bugs regarding sound include the occasional use of wrong language by certain troops, such as a German truck driver speaking in English or a Russian armored car driver answering in German. Some of the voice acting during scenario briefings seems amateurish.
Enjoyment: The game should appeal to casual war gamers and most RTS fans. While not realistic as claimed and at times hard to control and a bit bug-ridden, overall the game offers a lot of fun and an experience no other RTS can deliver.
Replay Value: There are separate campaigns for the Allied, Russian and German armies as well as stand alone scenarios offering plenty of possibilities for single player action. In addition, new multiplayer maps are being released on a steady basis from a growing mod community on the Internet. An editor is planned for an upcoming expansion pack that will allow players to create new single player campaigns as well.
People who downloaded Sudden Strike have also downloaded:
Sudden Strike 2, Sudden Strike: Resource War, Sudden Strike 3: Arms for Victory, Theatre of War, Stronghold: Crusader, Blitzkrieg, Blitzkrieg 2, Soldiers: Heroes of World War II
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