While obsessing about the heroic role the UK played in defeating Hitler, we tend to overlook the fact that the ones who did the most to thwart the Nazi juggernaut, like it or not, were the Russians. By the time we hit the Normandy beaches in 1944, the Red Army was already kicking the door down on the Reich, and the burning issue was not "can we take Germany and stop the Nazis?", but rather "can we stop the Communists from taking Germany?"
So in deciding on how the story of the most momentous war ever is remembered, it’s only right that our former Soviet cousins have some serious input. And in the world of PC games at least, what better form should that input take than an extremely promising RTS full of historical veracity and gameplay swagger?
Straight out of Moscow, Nival Interactive’s eye-catching Blitzkrieg spans the European theatre from the beginning to end of hostilities. It’s festooned with weapons, vehicles and scenarios, and an absolute almanac of background details and historical footage to offer a little in the way of education. But instead of bogging down in a world of hexagons and instruction manuals, the developer has tempered this love of military detail with rock-solid and intuitive gameplay.
"It’s all about gameplay and atmosphere," begins Blitzkrieg's project manager Dmitry Devishev. "We’ve put a tremendous amount into drawing the player into WWII with the amount of realism and historical background that we’ve included. But keeping you there will be great gameplay."
Whittle And Hum
Unlike more cartoonish entnes in the genre, infantry won't be able to whittle down the hit points of a heavy tank with their rifles. Every vehicle is rated for front, side, rear and top armour, and every weapon for penetration and damage. So as you desperately try to manoeuvre your US Sherman tanks for a shot at the weaker rear armour of the formidable German Tiger, you'll understand why in reality a British commander suggested we should send eight Shermans for every Tiger spotted. And expect to lose seven of them. You don’t need to know about the historical reality, but you'll soon come to learn about it first hand.
But when talking about playability in a strategy game, a good chunk of what you’re interested in is its tactical richness. We probed Dmitry on what tools Blitzkrieg would place at the armchair colonel's disposal to out-manoeuvre his opponent.
"Blitzkrieg is more tactical because of the amount of units that you have to work with," says Dmitry. "This is no tank rusher's game. Best results come from using a mix of units with different capabilities. You have long and short-range artillery, tanks, self-propelled guns, rocket launchers and troop carriers. Infantry carry a diverse mix of arms from rifles to bazookas, and there is also a variety of aircraft. You can use or build trenches, barbed wire fences and antitank obstacles, as well as lay or remove mines. And as you have only a limited number of troops and vehicles, you have to choose carefully how and where you fight."
Which brings attention to the fact that Blitzkrieg will be another RTS to eschew the once-standard aspect of resource gathering, "This is WWII after all -generals don’t build barracks that 'clone' new soldiers on the battlefield," Dmitry points out. But in lieu of letting you build your own armies, the game at least offers the chance for you to nurture them into hardened, elite veterans.
"Your troops and units move with you from mission to mission throughout the campaign. They become more efficient fighters with bonuses for reloading times and accuracy, as well as an increased 'luck’ parameter. The more experience they get, the more promotions and medals you get as their commander, which allows you to get hold of better equipment for your forces," says Dmitry. With limited reserves, it’s going to be vital to keep your troops healthy with constant battlefield repair and re-supply if they're to stay alive. To help achieve this, the maps are dotted with depots that can be controlled by either side to maintain a steady flow of bullets, shells and parts to the front, as well as maintaining morale with an abundance of provisions.
Scene Of Destruction
In bringing alive the deserts, forests, snowscapes and towns the world went insane over all those years back, Blitzkrieg sticks to the rigid though familiar isometric viewpoint of yesteryear, but concentrates in bringing a new level of incident to the scene. So when your tanks open fire, not only does smoke and flame billow from their guns, but their turrets recoil, buffeting the whole vehicle. Fences and trees are crushed below the tracks of advancing heavy armour. Every shell leaves a crater, with hotly contested areas on the battlefield ending up resembling the part of the moon where they keep the meteor magnet. And all of this on your modest, year-old PC.
An aspect of the WWII battlefield that Blitzkrieg perhaps takes further than any game before is air power. Every five minutes or so. you can call on aenal support from one of five categories: reconnaissance planes, fighters, tank busters, bombers, para-transports. Need to take down that enemy spotter plane that’s been zeroing in his artillery? Call for a couple of fighters. Want to reduce that village to rubble? Bring in the bombers for some carpet bombing, USAF-style. Fending off an armoured assault? A pair of tank-busters will open up his panzers like tin-cans.
"You control what type of aircraft you bring in, the time they come in, and the area of operation," explains our man Dmitry. "Once they are in the air. the Al takes over and they complete their assigned missions, handle anything else they find, and then fly out when their time is up. Their importance to you will be the same as they were to the real troops on the ground in the war - vital."
When talking to a developer working on an isometric WWII RTS, to not bring up comparisons with Sudden Strike would be like interviewing Michael Jackson and not asking him if likes sleeping in the same bed with other people’s children. So go on then Dmitry, how is Blitzkrieg going to be different?
"There are many differences, but I'll concentrate on three of the biggest. First is historical accuracy. Things like shell penetration and armour values are based on actual characteristics that we researched. Even the weaponry your infantry uses follows a chronological timeline as the campaigns unfold.
"Secondly, there's the RPG-like progression for both you and your troops, with an unlimited number of random missions available at each stage of the campaign to give you the chance to earn more experience and upgrades before taking on the historical missions. "Thirdly is support for modders. We’ve provided a fully-featured map and mission editor that will even let you create and share your own campaigns, as well as a resource editor that lets you modify or add your own units, infantry, sounds, graphics and more." So there you go Sudden Strike, an ill wind blows for you in the east. From our time with Blitzkneg, we get the feeling this is one morsel of Muscovite militarism that your fans are going to love.
Blitzkrieg - A Game So Educational That It Should Be On The National Curriculum
Anyone looking for an insight into the course the Second World War took in Europe need look no further. Blitzkrieg includes missions from almost every aspect of the struggle, including such forgotten fronts as the 1939 Winter War between Finland and Russia, and the 1942 fighting in Tunisia that gave US troops their first taste of battle against the Nazis. What’s more, each mission is accompanied by a chunk of historical info to keep it all in context.
"Each side has seven to eight historical missions taken from battles that in reality they won," explains Dmitry, "meaning you get to fight in Stalingrad for the Soviets, Normandy for the Allies and as part of operation Barbarossa (the invasion of Russia) for the Germans, to name a few. We wanted to make sure that we put the missions in chronological order and avoid 'alternative history’."
"The missions include Tobruk, the Battle of the Bulge and Operation Jupiter in Norway for the Allies; The invasions of Poland, France and Typhoon (the advance on Moscow) for the Germans; and the Soviets will be defending Moscow and Kursk as well as driving into the Ukraine and Germany itself."
Every Young Lad Loves A Good Tank, And Blitzkrieg Provides Hardcore Tiger Titillation
Taking its name from the German doctrine of swift, concentrated armoured attacks that would puncture front lines and burst through to envelop the static defenders, Blitzkrieg is understandably full of tanks. Polish shit-wagons with pea-shooters, crappy Italian Fiats seemingly continuously stuck in reverse, experimental Nazi Maus tanks that were as big as a block of flats and about as militarily viable too - if panzers are your bag, prepare to wear an 88mm wood.
What we wanted to know was how the boys at Nival got all this hardware into the game, and with such spot-on accuracy in the models. "Being in Moscow helped immensely as most of these units are in museums here," says Dmitry. "We went to see them and we were even able to compare measurements between the books and the real thing, as well as get textures for our artists! We also have a host of material in the office concerning every aspect of WWII, from experimental weaponry right down to soldier uniforms, and we took on a military historian as a consultant from the very start of the project."
From Moscow to Middlesboro, kids grow up wanting to drive tanks, so what would be Dmitry’s armoured chariot of choice? "Favourite? That’s a tough call. But if I had to choose only one, it would probably be the Soviet heavy assault gun SU-152 also known as the "Beast Killer". Sorry mate, never heard of it. Give us one of Blighty’s finest any day - a tank with a proper codename like Valentine or Matilda. No wonder those Nazis were shit scared of us.
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
Frankly if we don’t have a few more wars soon the games industry might have to start using its imagination again and set some games in places and times that haven’t already happened. But for now WWII is always a familiar favourite and as it happens, it's also the setting for Blitzkreig - a Sudden Sfrifce-a-like from Nival Interactive.
As demos go Blitzkrieg's is pretty damn meaty, with three single player missions, one each for the Russians, the Allies and the Germans. In the first map you have to use your entrenched German troops to defend against an infantry and tank attack and then make your way across the river, taking out enemy installations with a variety of units. As the Allies, you have to sneak a scout into a heavily defended German town and take out the anti-aircraft guns before staging an impressive aerial bombardment.
The last mission is basically a survive for as long as you can affair as you take control of a large Russian base and fend off wave after wave of Allied attacks. The missions lets you take control of a variety of different units, including five different types of air units such as paratroopers and heavy bombers, which can devastate enemy tanks. Blitzkrieg might look like the virtual equivalent of those life-size model maps kept in attics by elderly men with trousers up to their armpits and comfortable shoes, but this demo is a great introduction to a detailed and well-structured strategy title.
Being a fan of real-time strategy games, WWII history in general and thereby rather naturally the Sudden Strike RTS series, my first squint at Blitzkrieg made me a little anxious not to mention a teensy bit angry. It appeared to me after playing an early version of the game late last year that Blitzkrieg was little more than a thinly veiled attempt to right the wrongs of what was a disappointing Sudden Strike II. After all, not only were both games from the same publisher, fashioned in Russia and concerned with commanding and conquering hundreds of tanks, infantry and aircraft across seemingly arbitrary World War II battlefields, but, more pertinently, since 'sudden strike' is very much a literal translation from the German 'blitzkrieg', both games shared the same title. Had you bought Sudden Strike II when it was released just a couple of months ago, you might justifiably feel a little peeved that already its publisher is requesting you shell out another $35 to play the game Sudden Strike II should have been all along. I know I would.
Having A Sherman
Aside from a name and a love for WWII arcade-style strategy. Blitzkrieg plunders still more from it's stable-mate; eschewing the dynamics of base building, research and unit mass-production, I with the focus instead on managing the forces you are handed at the beginning of each mission. From the famous Sherman tanks to the obscure Polish 7PT, there are more than 200 authentically cloned units to play around with, most of which are variants or upgrades that will be indistinguishable to anyone but WWII buffs.
That however is where the many similarities end, for while the style and setting of both games are entirely similar, the visuals, the focus of the battles and the way in which you progress through them couldn't be more different.
For the single-player portion Blitzkrieg offers up three very different campaigns that encompass every major front of wartime Europe. Playing as the Allies for instance, you begin the game in command of the British Expeditionary forces as they half-heartedly romp across Norway and pre-Dunkirk France. The campaign then turns to North Africa as a few US units are introduced, then to the invasion of Italy and back into France for the final push into Germany. The German campaign is similarly varied, the Russian missions marginally less so, but what the game lacks in surprises, it makes up for by introducing new or upgraded units for you to play with.
However, rather than automatically hand you bigger and better weapons and machinery, the game requires you to fight for them. Each campaign is split into several Chapters, which in turn are comprised of up to four 'random' missions, at least one of which must be completed before you can tackle the final historical mission that ends the chapter. The more random missions you tackle, the greater the variety of units you can use to upgrade your 'core' units. So, for example, if you need to replace your aging anti-tank guns, you must fight the mission that will open up that type of unit.
The Real Deal
It may not perhaps have been the way the Royal Logistical Corps operated, but this dripfeed method of dishing out new units, together with a core group of units that are able to gain valuable experience, lends the game a sense of progression that WWII strategy games, the Sudden Strike series especially, have often lacked.
Though Blitzkrieg is being touted as a realistic game, such details as accurate armour ratios and shell penetration are not so apparent early on - partly because there wasn't much to choose between the various tanks of the combatant nations at the outbreak of WWII. However, in the later levels, when the German Tigers, Panthers and Jagdpanzers are thrown into battle, you realise how important it is to outflank, outrun and outnumber the enemy when their equipment is vastly superior to your own.
Despite the nod towards realism the developers have made a concerted effort to keep Blitzkrieg fun and simple to learn. By way of example, though you have to keep your guns supplied with ammunition, thankfully doing so is not the logistical nightmare it was in Sudden Strike, since you just click on a selected supply truck and off it goes. Similarly, infantry units and gun crews can be topped up with new recruits if they aren't completely decimated, with seemingly unlimited supplies of men available if you have the trucks to supply them and the depots nearby from which to refill. All of which leaves you hands-free to conquer the enemy.
Though the balance between simulation and stimulation is near perfect. Blitzkrieg isn't quite the second coming for real-time strategy games one would have hoped for. Aside from a set of missions that vary little in their objectives, the one major concern is the Al. which although solid, is hardly consistent.
On some of the more open maps I found the enemy general to be supremely challenging, with his tanks probing along the line looking for weaknesses. On other missions, usually the random ones, the enemy would remain encamped where they had been posted, allowing you to freely bombard the map until every enemy unit was wiped away, completely destroying any sense of urgency in the game. So inert is the Al that in some missions it's possible to win supposedly difficult assignments, using just a sniper and a couple of field guns. Add to this the option of speeding up or slowing down the game at will and such missions can be completed in minutes without a single casualty.
Despite such problems Blitzkrieg remains a superior game to SS2 and in spite of the fact both games will have been released within six months of each other. Blitzkrieg is such a significant improvement that even Sudden Strike's most staunchest allies should fall in line with the new order. Graphically SS2 is crude by companson and though Blitzkrieg falls short of the spectacular set pieces offered in C&C: Generals. the smooth 3D units and detailed animations make up for the static scenery.
More importantly Blitzkrieg is by far the most accessible WWII RTS game made to date, yet it retains a satisfying level of realism combined with a wealth of units and reams of in-game background reading. Some of the missions may lack pace and variety, but there are plenty of them and together with the multiplayer game and a promise of third-party add-ons, Blitzkrieg's future looks bright. Had more time been spent on fleshing out the Al and adding a much needed Shogun-style Battle Mode, we could have been looking at a Classic. No doubt a sequel is already on the drawing board with just such an aim, though whether it will be called Blitzkrieg 2 or Sudden Strike IV is anyone's guess.
Rank And File
Get Into Groups Of Ten, Children
Unlike most RTS games, Blitzkrieg's infantry are preordained into ten-man squads, which make them far easier to organise across a crowded battlefield. For those that enjoy unnecessary micromanagement, you can disband infantry squads and direct each soldier as individuals, but it's hardly necessary. That said, specialist troop types do work alone, namely snipers and officers, and mighty powerful they are too. Snipers, aside from their innate ability to pick away unnoticed at entire squads and artillery crews, can even destroy trucks with their rifles. Needless to say these single soldiers are perhaps one of the most powerful in the entire game... too powerful in fact.
Lan Of Hope And Glory
Time To Served Up Some Punishment
Since no online servers were up and running, we had to indulge our multiplayer curiosity by playing Blitzkrieg's two multiplayer modes over the office LAN. Capture The Flag and Assault, both of which are fundamentally identical and require you to capture and hold a number of control points on the map. The more points or flags you have secured, the more reinforcements you'll receive.
CTF games are more immediate, as each side rushes to engage the enemy. Assault games on the other hand are more considered, with one side quietly waiting and preparing traps and defences, while the attackers probe for the decisive attack that will win the day. Despite there being only a handful of maps available, Blitzkrieg can feasibly handle up to 16 players. Rest assured we'll be putting the game through its paces online in a future issue.
Oh, What A Lovely War
Things Are Looking Good On The Front
Blitzkrieg's 3D vehicles are both detailed and realistically animated: turrets follow their quarry and on firing the whole vehicle will recoil. Even stationary field guns will range in to distant enemy positions and rock the ground as they pummel the distant enemy. In the air too you'll see fighters gracefully flitting through the sky, while dive-bombers peel away to strafe advancing armour. Though graphically less spectacular than last month's Command & Conquer: Generals, the various vehicles, soldiers and aircraft are no less convincing.
Blitzkrieg is a Real Time Strategy game with the right mix of authenticity and action that easily reaches into the area of computer game as historical literature. Presenting the best of visuals, controls and goals while leading the player through major events and more mundane encounters in three World War II European Theater campaigns, the product exhibits a comprehensive understanding of the ground war fought over half century ago.
The three campaigns in the previewed version are organized into chapters and missions, each of which includes background text on the situation, historical context and tactical issues. A little spell checking might be in order before the American English version is released (and a little fact checking as well. England and France didn't declare war when the Germans invaded Norway; they did so months before, two days after the invasion of Poland). The menus include "custom mission" choices, so the promise of a mission builder in the final release is encouraging. For this may be the definitive RTS WWII title.
There's plenty of action for the casual soldier but the groggiest of grognards might swoon over the authenticity of the units and the inclusion of nearly all the equipment, including some of the more obscure tanks and self-propelled guns. There are even automobiles and Lend-Lease Soviet Studebaker trucks.
Overall feel and flavor for the ground war is masterful. When your squad fights from a building, they shoot from every window. You have to bring in a tow to move your artillery and the crews can be eliminated while the guns stay intact and for capture or remanning. Your units need to be supplied with ammo, so the path to temporary and/or permanent supply sources are a consideration in your planning. Engineers lay and clear mines, build and repair bridges, dig trenches and erect tank obstacles. Four types of air assets can be called in: level bombers, recon, ground attack and fighters. Weather is a factor. There's snipers, officers, paratroopers, the works.
And halleluia there's even a damage model. Vehicles have four armor ratings to represent thickness: side, rear, front and top. Guns are rated for damage and penetration. We're still dealing with hit points for the actual damage but at least facing is now a factor.
Infantry units hold their last formation order, even after exiting a building. Controls are easy and close to standard RTS expectations. The ability to issue commands while the game is paused gives the best of both turn-based and RTS styles, allowing intense bursts of action interspersed with calm, but tense, operational planning.
Complete a mission and the next in the campaign can either be a historical or a randomly generated encounter. At some steps the player is given a choice of missions. Units upgrade, promote and carry over. Equipment bonuses are awarded for winning missions. A Personal Dossier allows you to keep track of your performance as a commander but only tracks one player at a time but player name is saved with the saved game so multiple players can still use the same installation. Many facets of performance are measured including a measure of how much the player has reloaded missions in order to solve them. More than a check on cheating, this is an innovative incentive for the solitaire player to take care in his planning and complete missions the first or second time. Blitzkrieg is a rare gem, a Real Time Strategy that works on all fronts.
Blitzkrieg update: The retail release of this exceptional game still has some spelling and awkward grammar issues but it's a Euro-product and any minor documentation glitches are more than compensated by the knowledge and execution of the subject matter. The factual issues mentioned in the main review have been addressed. The multiplayer client for GameSpy opponent matching service is sparse but serviceable. .