|a game by||Fireglow Games|
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They're an odd lot, the Germans. You'd have thought that losing a couple of world wars would dampen their enthusiasm for a real-time strategy game involving Panzerfaust gunners, Nazi officers, Sturmtiger assault cannons and V-1 doodlebugs, especially when the name of the game in question is often shortened to SS. Yet Sudden Strike continues to gain popularity both here and in the Fatherland, where its Karlsruhe based publisher has recently released a much awaited patch, available to existing users as a 2Mb download.
If you already own a copy of the game, you'll be glad to hear that this latest update beefs up the multiplayer side of things by including support for GameSpy. This means that there's now a master server holding information on all SS sessions around the globe, and so joining them has become a point-and-click dream. You can get to the action direct from your desktop without having to do any mucking about from within the game itself. If you've not yet bought the box, or have yet to free it from its Christmas wrapping, make sure you install the patch before you run the game, and then go grab yourself a copy of server seeker GameSpy.
Keep On Moving
Aside from a rather limited number of multiplayer options, Sudden Strike plays well over any Internet connection, from a 33.6K modem upwards. If you're used to playing arcade shooters such as Counter-Strike or Unreal Tournament, where the data transfer rates are much higher, get ready for arenas where low latency is no longer king. The very nature of RTS means that the odd dropped packet, lag spike or connection glitch does not affect the flow of gameplay: tanks keep rolling, troops keep moving, and unless something serious goes wrong, you could be forgiven for thinking that every online opponent was hardwired in to the back of your machine. We did try playing it on a laptop using the infra-red modem on a 28.8K WAP phone as our on-ramp to the Internet, but after a couple of dropped carriers and a lot of MESSAGES IN CAPITALS from increasingly narked adversaries, we decided it was probably a bit silly and gave it a miss.
As a game, Sudden Strike really does lend itself to playing against other people. The fact that combatants don't have to muck about with building factories, training troops and the like means that every game is steeped in strategy and hard thinking from the outset. If you're familiar with C&C style blasts, where everyone remains confined to their bases often for hours at a time, hiding behind an ever increasing number of sand bags and gun emplacements, SS missions will come as a refreshing change. Straight away you're thrown into the melee, dodging distant snipers, creeping down alleyways and blowing stuff up. Certainly you'll find it hard not to look down on Red Alert and its brethren as being more than a little brainless - even a little passe.
Combine SSs emphasis on tactics with delicious graphics, great ambient audio and streamlined interface (the patch includes improvements to the way you unload troops from carrier vehicles) and in no time you'll be cooking up a phone bill to remember.
Criticisms are few. It's not quite as accessible as the aforementioned arcade blasters, and quite often you'll find yourself stuck, perplexed as to what to do next. It's also quite frustrating to have injured units without any way of pumping them back up to full health, but if you're looking to escape the realities of war, you've probably worked out by now that Sudden Strike isn't for you.
Download Sudden Strike
Strategy games based on real-life war time situations are nothing new. For years now, PC games players have had access to hundreds of stuffy, hard-core, hex/turn-based titles - even Microsoft's much-lauded Close Combat RTS series took itself far too seriously. So far, no one has really captured the scale and essence of the Second World War in 'proper1 computer gaming terms.
Thankfully, German developers CDV look like addressing this problem with Sudden Strike - a new, real-time, tactical strategy game based on a harrowing period of contemporary history which is now being made into a fun computer game. You see, PC game developers often find themselves treading on egg shells when dealing with this kind of historical subject matter, resulting in compromised gameplay. In Sudden Strike's case, however, the fact that the developers are German (and so see the Second World War from a slightly different perspective) means that the rule book has gone out of the window and that game designs have not been plagued by political correctness. As a result, it looks like being the real-time strategy game we've all been waiting for.
Despite Sudden Strike being hailed as "the blockbuster of the new millennium" (by CDVs own PR department), and it being due out next January, its roots lie in the current decade. The developers, having chosen a fairly standard isometric viewpoint to portray the action, have resisted the temptation to go full 3D. But this is no reason to dismiss the game and early versions have shown hundreds of troops, tanks and aircraft moving about the battlefield with virtually no slowdown at all.
The best thing about Sudden Strike is that you get to play the game from one of five different perspectives: British, American, Russian, French and - yes - German. Currently, the game's designers have implemented Russian and German troops and have included snipers, sub-machine gunners with grenades, 'Squeeze' gunners, 'Panzerfaust' gunners, Officers, a host of tanks including T34s, T26s, KV-1s, T70s, Tigers, Panthers, SturmTigers and Elephants, trucks and transport infantry, long-range howitzers, tank destroyers, assault guns, bombers, anti-aircraft artillery, reconnaissance troops, armoured cars and (phew!) explosives experts. And that's only the half of it. Sudden Strike will be hugely detailed and will attempt to encompass every facet of a major battlefield situation. The units themselves are as small and as detailed as those seen in the recent smash hit Tiberian Sun. They're also convincingly animated, digging in when under attack and recoiling when they fire. Backgrounds too are extremely detailed - buildings crumble when blown up and tanks churn up fields as they rumble into battle. Many of the levels even have wide open spaces in which to do battle, which is rare in games of this kind - you're usually hemmed in by cliffs or other impassable objects.
All in all, Sudden Strike is a very tempting prospect for real-time strategy fans and CDV are rightly proud of what they've done so far - so proud, in fact, that they're planning to publish the game in the UK themselves. Watch out for the playable demo, which should be available by the time you read this.
It seems slightly ironic that, after a war of unprecedented hatred, where across the Soviet Union no quarter at all was given between the German invaders and Russian forces, that a Russian software developer and a German publisher have come together to release a game recreating those same events. Less ironic, but more importantly, they have combined to create a game that is original, epic, fun and - within the realms of realtime strategy at least - realistic.
Of course it helps immeasurably if a game pertaining to be realistic is based on actual events and it would have been easy for Fireglow - the hitherto unknown developer behind Sudden Strike-to go down the path forged by Westwood all those years ago and worn ragged by numerous developers ever since. Instead they have kept the familiar combat mechanics and removed all traces of base-building entirely.
There are no fictitious minerals to mine, no natural resources to plunder and the only buildings you have access to are the ones already in place, none of which can be used to research weapons or churn out units In contrast to C&C, Sudden Strike has no story to speak of aside from the WWII backdrop and, although in-between some missions there are CG sequences, they are amateurish rewards rather than story-driven. Another distinction is the difficulty. With most RTS titles, you naturally expect each mission to get progressively harder and new units fed to you until the ultimate weapon makes itself available towards the end of a long campaign. Sudden Strike has no difficulty levels to choose from and each mission varies in difficulty to a greater or lesser extent from the last. The first mission in the Allied campaign is easy, the second one comparatively impossible and the third - a massive seaborne assault on mainland Europe - a walkover. You might think this constant shift in complexity and pace stinks of shabby game design, but the truth is that it works. For example, after a difficult mission, you might naturally be wary of taking chances in the next, when the truth is that being cautious may well prove catastrophic, giving time for the enemy to reinforce and regroup.
Supply And Demand
Although you have no option to build more units, Sudden Strike is not without a resource management side to the game -ammunition. Each unit in the game can only operate as long as their weapons can spit chunks of flesh-searing metal. If nearby a unit is critically short of ammo or if a vehicle is damaged, a supply truck (if you have any) will immediately spring into action, patching up damaged armour and doling out ammunition to those in need. Without supply trucks, any defending or attacking force will quickly fail. The thing is, even the supply trucks need topping up from time to time, especially if they are constantly engaged in maintenance. Without the option to drop extra supplies by air, a swift advance is sometimes the only way forward.
Comprised of three campaigns of 12 missions each (Germany's strike across Western Europe, Russia's post-Stalingrad resurgence and the final Allied push into Germany), plus nearly 30 additional one-off levels, Sudden Strike doesn't skimp on units. Amongst the infantry on offer are officers, snipers, riflemen, sub-machine gunners, AT troops and commandos. Even when a tank is destroyed, the surviving crew can be press ganged back into service and each individual soldier has his place on the battlefield. Officers have a wider field of view, riflemen can lay anti-tank mines and all can be used to fire heavy machine guns, mortars, field guns, anti-aircraft guns, howitzers and anti-tank cannons. Trucks which have little or no use in most RTS games can, as well as ferrying troops and mortars around, pull artillery behind them into more forward positions.
There is also a bewildering array of armoured vehicles on offer, too many in fact to list here and, even in the game manual, they have had to be grouped together to save trees. Almost every APC, armoured car, tank, mobile field artillery piece, tank destroyer and half-track you can think of on every side, save Japan, is in the game - even French. The differences between most may be difficult to spot unless you're a WWII nut, but you'll find which have the better guns, thickest armour and fastest speed through trial and error.
Right Here Right Now
All these units and missions would be wasted if the game didn't play or look too hot. Of those unaided by 3D graphics cards, Sudden Strike is probably the best-looking strategy game on offer today. Every unit is incredibly detailed and well animated. Soldiers are seen resupplying tanks, loading cannons, even sparking up when there is a lull in the action. Hit a tank in the right place and its tracks will be left behind. Even transport and reconnaissance planes will circle to earth, engines aflame when hit by anti-aircraft fire. Even more impressive are the weapon effects. Rockets scream through the skies leaving smoke in their wake; bullets ping off bunkers tanks and buildings; and the explosions from heavy ordinance pull clouds of dust from the earth, rip through houses and leave heaps of human wreckage as evidence of each epic battle.
Each house, bunker and watchtower on the map can be seized by soldiers and used as cover. In towns, with anti-tank guns hidden and troops with bazookas nestled inside houses, tanks suddenly become an easy target in the tight streets outside.
Enemy artillery too can be taken over if left intact and the gun crew killed. Tank shells have a knack of ruining enemy hardware, so if you lack long-range artillery, a quick infantry assault on a company of cannons should do the trick.
Boasting up to 1,000 units on each map, Sudden Strike can certainly live up to its claims. A These huge battles almost get unmanageable as you lose track of fractured and broken units across the dense maps. To counter this are missions where only a few units are at your disposal, where a convoy needs escorting to safety or a bridge needs blowing up by a handful of troops. Such vast switches in the scale of battles keep you on toes.
Prisoner Of War
Sudden Strike is not without it's annoyances: The maps are too flat, set as they are on only two levels of height, and the mission briefings are hardly what you'd call dynamic. There are times too when the game is punishingly difficult. Some levels can take a couple of hours with much of the time spent being bogged down with logistics rather than action and, although each unit gains experience in each battle (although this isn't carried over into the next), it would have been fantastic if inexperienced and outflanked troops surrendered -giving the enemy a headache by having to escort their prisoners to the edge of the map.
One major problem is the multiplayer game. Rather than give each player a number of points to spend on units before each game, it sends out preset units to each player depending on the map. The aim, whether you play a team game or not, is to control certain points of the map (highlighted by barrage balloons), after which reinforcements make an appearance. For team games it works fine, but more multiplayer modes are desperately needed if people are to continue playing Sudden Strike after the singleplayer missions dry up.
All that aside, for a generation of RTS gamers brought up on Victor comics and classic war films, Sudden Strike is a dream come true. What is so goddamn infuriating is that Sudden Strikes approach to resource management is so original and intuitive that you wonder why no-one has thought of it before. As real-time strategy games go, it's as real as they get and, in terms of gameplay, up there with the likes of Command & Conquer, Age Of Empires and Total Annihilation. WWII aficionados sick to death of stuffy turn-based war simulations would do especially well to pick up a copy.
Having built a strong reputation for abhorring real-time strategy games, it may seem strange to find me writing about one with some enthusiasm, but that is exactly what is about to happen. I might have cried, "What do you mean you can't play while it's paused?" in abject horror when I first played Command & Conquer and screamed, "But I'd just started building my base!" as I got massacred within seconds playing any of its clones. I might even have badly bruised my forehead after hitting the keyboard as I was bored unconscious by legion upon legion of'build a base, mine resources, create 6,000 units, rush enemy base' games. But none of that matters, because there are two games regrouping over the horizon, ready to charge, that have restored my faith in the genre. One of them is Shogun: Total War, the other is Sudden Strike.
War Is Hell
So what could turn a staunch pacifist into an over-excited World War II strategist, sending thousands of conscripts to a 'death by tank' and re-writing one of the bloodiest chapters in recent history for the hell of it? Part of it, of course, is the setting.
It's not that I have an unhealthy fascination with WWII, but seeing a massive landscape covered with soldiers, crawling with tanks, with bridges, woods and villages providing more than just a background, and wide open spaces for troops to collide in a bloody mess is enough to light up anybody's imagination. The amount of detail is just staggering: barricades are wound in spiked wire, the trees come in a variety of types and sizes, you can spot lazy soldiers having a smoke and almost make out the jagged edges of the planks used in the construction of the houses.
And, thank god, there's no resource management. Apart from the expendable human resources, of course. In the way of turn-based affairs such as Close Combat, Sudden Strike has you concentrating strictly on the strategic side of things. The game will provide the depth to freely explore as many tactical avenues as your imagination allows. So there's no need to mess about with bases, sending collectors to mine resources and 'spewing out' soldiers as if they were green plastic toys on a production line. This is war, after all.
Instead of the usual 'two factions battling over control for a planet', you get to play as the Russians, German, French, American or British, even recreating historical scenarios such as D-Day and Stalingrad. The developer has done its homework and faithfully reproduced the vehicles, artillery and planes from each country, which should please bellicose anoraks no end. With up to one thousand units in each scenario, things will be getting very hectic very quickly. This is a game that makes you think before you act and while you act. You can see the whole map from the start, and fog of war only applies to seeing Wy enemy units. It's not as though you've landed on some unknown alien planet, so exploration definitely takes a backseat role to deployment of your units on the terrain. Having the whole map visible from the start means you can focus on developing real strategies as soon as you begin a mission instead of wasting time doing all those boring tasks RTS games have made us become accustomed to.
Although the developers are busy balancing realism with gameplay to ensure the experience remains a fun one, you have to keep things like the morale of your men and the amount of remaining ammo at the front of your mind. To make sure soldiers are more than disposable marionettes, the game allocates them experience points at the end of each mission, turning them into valuable assets as you progress through the campaigns. In addition, a clever resupplying system has ammo-carrying vehicles playing an essential role in the game. And that's just the start of it.
Dig Your Own Hole
Each mission has its own set of objectives, but there is always more than one way to succeed. Given the scope of things to do, that is hardly surprising. You can hide snipers inside a building and have them shoot out of the windows as enemy troops parade down the street. You can send in explosive experts to blow up a bridge that will disrupt enemy operations or send in the builders to cross over rivers. You can call in air support to bomb the opposition, do a quick reconnaissance fly-over or drop some paratroopers where they're least expecting a fight. You can lay mines in a field that you know is crossed by an oncoming army, and carefully position M.A.S.H. units to patch up your men and send them out into battle again.
And you can imagine how juicy things can get in multiplayer mode. With up to four teams and 12 players, a multiplayer session of Sudden Strike promises to be an unforgettable experience. Like Martin Loehlein, the game's development manager, says: uSudden Strike multiplayer is unlike any other RTS game that I have played so far." The team has spent a lot of time working on this aspect of the game to ensure that it works just right. "An RTS without a production part has its very own challenges," says Martin before reassuring us that they have come up with the perfect solutions to each of those tests and created an intense and satisfying game. "The panic that your units experience in some of the situations transfers directly to the player. You should have seen the face of my colleague the moment I started to dig up his fortifications with my howitzer and he had no idea where those shells were coming from." Yes, well, quite.
Hopefully, you should be able to try it out yourself (if you can find a suitable colleague) when, fingers crossed, we bring you the exclusive demo and review next month.
Best known at home for publishing mucky adult games, German code barons CDV are hoping to blitz the world with Sudden Strike, a WWII real-time strategy game that combines fast-paced action and realistic attention to detail.
Choosing either German, Russian, American, British or French forces (the latter offering the shortest game, obviously), Sudden Strike features over 100 units with which to command and conquer over dozens of missions. Some new features worth getting excited about are resupply trucks, paratroopers, infantry that can enter buildings and the ability to have up to 1,000 units moving on each map. We've had an early demo bouncing around the office for a couple of months and it would be fair to say that Sudden Strike has the potential to be one of the summer's surprise hits.
Better than Tiberian Sun? Richie Shoemaker seems to think so.