Soldner: Secret Wars
In The Year 2010 you will no longer be able to watch war on BBC News 24, or read about the latest military botch-up on the cover of national broadsheets. You won’t even know wars are happening. Unless you’re taking part in them, of course. According to German developer Wings Simulations, all international conflicts will be covert and will be fought by highly specialised mercenary forces. Not only that, these forces will travel the world in a ship disguised as a merchantman, so no one will know who they are, or where they are.
All of which is inconsequential, because what you really need to know is that Soldner: Secret Wars brings the concept of virtual battlefields a step closer to reality. Imagine 128 people locked in full-on combat over a massive arena using high-tech weapons, choppers, jet fighters, a variety of armoured vehicles and even nuclear warheads. Fancy some?
Instead of giving you a number of maps, Soldner offers only one area. To compensate, it’s absolutely huge (6500 by 3500 kilometres to be exact), and is a recreation of a chunk of the Bering Sea (between Siberia and Alaska) complete with islands and coastal regions. This means there are no loading times, and you can really let rip in your flash jet without running out of game space.
The downside is that it is possible to get lost, which, according to Teut Weidemann, Soldner’s designer and CEO of Wings, is part of the fun. "You have modern navigation tools," he enthuses, "and the mission areas are well marked and act as a magnet for players. Since this might be a problem for newer game players, we have the server option to limit the gameplay area around the mission objective. Still, those areas are huge, as they need to support helicopters and jets." And thanks to modern weaponry designed to work over long distances, the Battlefield 1942 problem of actually getting close enough to an enemy to kill him should be minimised.
Although the game will support 128 players on special servers, most games will have a max of 32, so the vastness of the world could be even more problematic. Thankfully, Wings is not aiming for a hardcore war simulation, and has done everything in its power to make it a fun experience. The team mentions Counter-Strike and Flashpoint as two of its biggest influences - which should make any gamer sit up and take notice.
Seek And Destroy
Perhaps the most startling idea, and the one that seems to get Teut most excited. is the 'Advanced Destruction System’ which allows for the total destruction of foliage and buildings. "Big weapons leave craters which makes traversing with vehicles difficult but adds cover for infantry," he explains. It also means you can hide behind fallen trees or destroy whole buildings, which should prove a very effective way of discouraging camping snipers.
Doll lovers among you might also be interested in the so-called Barbie character-dressing system. "You can pick your hat or helmet, face, jacket, trousers, boots and add-ons from a huge list," says Teut. "This gives you the ability to appear as a terronst, civilian, SWAT, special forces or heavy-duty soldier. On top of that you can change your camouflage and add team logos to personalise your vehicles. Backpacks, tattoos, sunglasses, kneepads and other stuff all add to the look as well."
This freedom with your character extends to your role. You’re not forced into choosing a character class, instead -as in Counter-Strike - you create your own by the weapon you buy and how you play the game. But rather than have a certain amount of money per player, there is a team account from which you make purchases. This is also used for more intriguing things, like buying really large weapons and technology upgrades. You’ll also be able to buy med kits and engineering tools.
In recent online shooters with a single player mode (see Battlefield 1942, UT 2003 et al), the solo campaigns provide little more than training for the real thing. And while Soldner is very much an online experience, the offline mode is a full game in itself. Although it’s based around a random scenario generator, it seems these will also include scripted moments (ambushes for example) and ensure you never play the same game twice. Even more interesting are the political and diplomatic aspects of the campaigns. Since you play a mercenary available to the highest bidder, you’ll find certain countries refuse to hire you, so you’ll need to deal carefully with alliances.
Needless to say, at this stage Soldner looks like a fantastically grand project. The only real danger is that Wings will attempt too many new ideas, and that some of them may not work (we all know what a poor impact the destructible environments in Red Faction made) or that people will treat it as just another pseudo-team-based deathmatch (as happens all-too often in Battlefield 1942).
To counteract the second threat, each team has a nominated commander who ensures his soldiers work together. How he will do this is still unclear though, and the nightmare scenario we have already woken up in a cold sweat about is having some snotty 10-year old from Bremen barking orders at us. As always, you'll need to join a clan to guarantee a proper match. But then such is the nature of team-based online shooters.
Design Your Own War
Meet The Most Customisable Multiplayer Modes Ever
Not only does the huge gaming field mean you're unlikely to tread in the same place twice, the online games can be tweaked so much that you'll probably never play the same mission-type twice either. There are nine standard modes: Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, Bomb Runs, Hostage Rescue, VIP Mode, Assassination, Conquest and Soccer(!). But each of these can be edited to change objectives and parameters.
So, for example, you could alter a CTF to turn it into a Capture the Helicopter (in which case you'll have to fly it back to base without it being destroyed) or you could turn a Hostage Rescue into a weapon retrieval mission. On top of that, Expert mode will allow you to configure a vast number of additional parameters, add your own scripts and generally tinker to your heart's content. Wings is also making Soldner as easy to mod as possible, almost guaranteeing a long, healthy life for the game.
Download Soldner: Secret Wars
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
First there was Battlefield 1942, then Planetside, now bringing up the rear is Soldner, the latest first-person shooter to jump on the let's add loads of vehicles and wide-open spaces to get lost in' bandwagon.
Actually, compared to what's gone before, this German-crafted game adds many a welcome feature that, in theory, might improve the likes of Battlefield a great deal more. The buildings are all fully destructible, a shell fired at the ground leaves a crater for troops to huddle in and there's a very powerful command feature that means one player can order and keep track of his team-mates - even issuing them with equipment should they request it.
What's more, with dozens of weapons, class-based character customisation and over 70 vehicles to climb into, from jeeps and tanks, to helicopters and fighter planes, Sdldner is probably the most comprehensive game in its class. It's also the worst by quite a considerable margin.
First, The Good News
Let's start with the best bits and work our way down. The command feature works very well, it has to be said, although teamwork was rarely in evidence - which is down to the fact that most players are still finding their way. In the air, the game is rather enjoyable too, with aircraft that are far easier to master than in Battlefield Vietnam - the ability to bail from a plane and open your parachute late to make a stealthy landing is probably one of the game's best experiences. Not much else measures up to that promise, sadly. First, the graphics... Well, they do the job, but they're unlikely to test even the most mediocre of graphics cards. The maps are suitably big. but the detail is basic and the gameworld as a whole feels unrealised and cheap. The mechanics of the game are even less impressive - vehicle handling is laughably simplistic and far too sensitive, buildings come apart in the most unconvincing way, fences disappear rather than attempt to fall over and when you aim your cannon at the ground a crater does appear, but try and dig another and the cursor won't allow it.
Then there are the play issues, the chronic imbalance between player classes (the whole game is a sniper's love-in), getting stuck among felled trees, the abysmal single-player game.., Worst of all is the voice that announces you in and out of each game. Zzzoldner! it barks. Well, it drove me mad anyway.
Out of the box the game is bugged beyond belief and although the recent patch has staved off a few stability and lag issues, it's going to take a lot more work before Soldner is able to take numbers away from Unreal Tournament 2004 and Battlefield. Which is a shame, because as a team game it has the potential to be the best. Sadly, it's the execution rather than the ideals we have to honour - and while Soldner boasts a wealth of impressive-sounding features, the playing experience is anything but.