Reviewed: March 23, 2001
Released: January 24, 2001
RTS (Real Time Strategy) games have never been one of my favorite genres yet I still seem to buy and play most all of the RTS games that come out. Titles like Close Combat, Commandos, Earth 2150, Ground Control, Star Trek Armada, Force Commander, and all of the Command and Conquer games have at one time resided on my hard drive, yet I have never had the patience or even the desire to finish any of them.
When I agreed to do the review for Sudden Strike I didn't even realize it was an RTS game. I had only seen the front of the box cover in the store and from the title and picture it looked like another 3D-shooter much like Project IGI. You can imagine my surprise when it arrived and I found it to be another isometric RTS game. But not even I could imagine my surprise at how much I enjoyed this game.
Sudden Strike breaks a lot of the established conventions of the RTS genre. The first and foremost is resource acquisition and allocation. I think this is perhaps one of the main reasons I enjoyed this game over all the others. In other games you always start out by mining for resources whether it be Tiberium, Dilithium, or whatever. Then you have to use these resources to generate structures and build units before you can ever jump into the fun part of the game - the battles.
Sudden Strike has no resource management. You start each mission with a preset selection of soldiers and vehicles and your only task is to complete the mission with what you have. You may acquire addition items such as enemy artillery or get sent reinforcements during the mission, but at no time do you have to build any of these. It's all scripted and your only job is to manage the resources given to you. This is a very realistic and welcome approach to RTS gaming, especially in light of the historical nature of this game. If you mismanage your troops and lose mission-critical resources you will be unable to complete the mission and have to start over.
The other major (and welcome) change is the "fog of war". Those of you familiar with the RTS genre will know that maps begin with unexplored areas darkened so you cannot see the landscape or enemy troops. In those other games however, once you explore an area you seem to have the supernatural ability to see anything going on in that area for the remainder of the mission. Not so in Sudden Strike. Even though the terrain remains visible after your troops have passed through an area you are unable to see any activity going on in that area unless you have troops in the vicinity or send a Spy Plane overhead. This adds a whole new sense of realism to the game and also encourages additional strategic troop placement. Even a single soldier hiding in a tree or deserted farmhouse is enough to give you live updates on enemy activities, and this tactic is practically required in multiplayer games where you don't have the luxury of learning the computer's scripted moves by replaying the missions over and over.
Another innovative improvement is the number of units, not only in variety but also in sheer quantity on the screen at any given time. The game engine can easily handle around 1000 units ranging from tanks, soldiers, truck, to planes and boats.
The terrain and all the structures are deformable and depict the scars of war quite well. Bridges crumble when bombed and buildings explode in a shower of lumber then burn and smolder until they are a smoking pile of wreckage.
Sudden Strike plays like all the other RTS games but without all the preliminary setup you may be used to. Once you begin a mission you will have a certain number of units at your command to complete the mission objectives. These objectives may change during the course of the mission based on scripted events so you always need to be ready to accommodate this living environment.
Since you are limited to your starting units and possibly some reinforcements you always need to be somewhat conservative with your troops. If a man dies or a truck explodes you simply cannot go build a new one, and if that man or vehicle was critical to the completion of you mission then you may as well start the level over. It makes for a very serious and realistic simulation of war. Gameplay is sometimes hindered by clumsy "path finding" for some of your troops. They will often get hung-up on a piece of terrain and you will have to go back and hunt them down. You can establish a series of waypoints and even queue a series of commands which does offer a way around this problem.
Another useful but missing function in this game is the ability to organize troops into various formations. While you can quite easily select all of one certain type of unit and group them together under various hot keys it would be nice to organize these men into functional formations rather than just have them scrambling across the landscape or engaging the enemy haphazardly.
The interface in Sudden Strike is one of the easiest to learn and master. Your troops all have certain commands or modes of battle-readiness which are easily selected with the mouse interface or you can use the handy keyboard commands where are setup much like a touchtone phone using the QWEASDZXC keys.
The color pallets are all very earthy and somewhat depressing adding to the somber mood of the historic events you are reenacting. Landscapes vary from snowy Russian terrain to the bloody beaches of Normandy.
A much welcome change is the support for resolutions up to 1280x1024, something Westwood Studios still hasn't managed to do after a half-dozen Command and Conquer games. Playing at these higher resolutions really brings out the details in not only the terrain and intricately detailed structures, but also the subtle differences in each of your various units under your command. Playing at the lower resolutions tends to make your troops all look the same making it hard to pick out that certain soldier you need for a specific task.
Special effects are exquisitely rendered. Bombs send plumes of water high into the air or explode their targets in a fiery ball of destruction raining a shower of flaming rubble over the area. Surprisingly, for as real as this game is there is little to no obvious bloodshed which seems to have earned this game an "E" rating.
One of the first things I noticed as I panned around the maps was that the ambient sounds changed based on the terrain I was viewing. If I was looking at a river I heard water gurgling and if I was hovering over a wooded area I heard birds.
Of course all these subtle noises are shattered by the explosive sounds of combat. Airplanes drone overhead as air raid sirens wail and bombs whistle toward their targets exploding with thunderous fury. All vehicles have their own unique sounds and the spoken dialog is delivered with a professional quality that you wouldn't expect in a game such as this.
There is very little music aside from the opening techno track that accompanies the open movie. Both the music and the movie seemed rather out of place for a WWII simulation. It reminded me of a flashy video or promo I might see on MTV. Not that it's bad - just out of place.
This is probably a good time to mention that the gameplay in Sudden Strike is slow; sometimes painfully slow, and there is no time acceleration feature built-into the game so traversing across the sometimes very large maps can take quite awhile. This can be especially frustrating if you have to replay a particular mission and have to cover that same terrain again.
There are over 40 missions spread across 3 campaigns covering various countries, seasons, and landscapes. The missions quickly ramp up in difficulty and it should take you many, many hours to complete the entire game.
Multiplayer is supported for up to 12 players divided into 4 teams. The game doesn't have any built-in functions for running/advertising a server or locating other "generals", but the Sudden Strike website does offer an area to find others interested in playing online.
There is a definite challenge to playing against a live human rather than a computer that is scripted to deploy the units the same way each time you play the campaign missions. You will quickly learn that you must develop new tactics to defeat your human opponents.
Since the game is not fast-paced by any standards and doesn't require huge amounts of graphical updates, Sudden Strike plays well on a standard dial-up connection.
The fact that I liked this game says wonders about it. I could never really figure out why I couldn't get into the RTS genre and now Sudden Strike has shown me that resources can be taken out leaving me with just the "fun parts" of the game - combat and strategy.
There are a few weak spots; mainly the clumsy path finding of the units and the very weak manual. Hopefully some of these will be addressed in the update patch now available. I found more useful info and tips at the Sudden Strike website than I did in the documentation that came with the game. But these minor issues are easily overlooked by the quality of the rest of the game.
If you are a WWII veteran, strategy buff, or just an RTS lover then Sudden Strike is definitely the game for you. If offers features and tactics previously unavailable and trims away all the unnecessary fluff leaving you with a pure combat simulation.