Recon: An Early Look at Sudden Strike 4

By Jim Cobb 03 Jul 2017 0

In 2000, Sudden Strike helped take Real Time Strategy (RTS) games out of the realms of sci-fi and fantasy into historical settings. Using the ever-profitable World War II era, the game - along with Close Combat and Blitzkrieg - not only spawned sequels but an entire genre of historical RTS games covering all of history. Sudden Strike’s interface was quite detailed and allowed authentic tactics but the “bum’s rush” could overcome skill. The last sequel released was Sudden Strike 3, released in 2007 and introducing 3D graphics, new missions and little else. Kite Games and Kalypso Media have taken up the torch with their up-coming Sudden Strike 4 due in mid-August.

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The horrors of navigating Stalingrad’s streets are illustrated very well.

New Wine in an Old Canteen

The new game’s interface may seem like the old; left click to select, right click to move/attack. Specific order such as use grenades, heal, lie down and different kinds of attack can be given via hotkeys, icons in a command panel or an alternative command circle. Giving coherent orders is aided immensely by the “Pause” function. Figures represent individual men including specialists like machine gunners, officers and medics as well as artillery, heavy weapons and vehicles. Figures can be grouped using the lasso technique and be numerically tagged. A handy innovation reminiscent of Company of Heroes is a badge on the top of the screen representing each tagged group.

High res graphics bring up details of the figures. Individual soldiers can be seen as such while details on vehicles attest to their type and make. Tank commanders can be seen making the risky move of popping up from a turret hatch. The old health bar is still with us but vehicles have bars representing features such as morale, fuel and ammo. Vehicles also have symbols for living crew members and critical functions such as turret traverse that can be repaired. Terrain varies from a frozen lake to a snowscape to built-up urban areas. Features are very detailed and dynamic so when a telephone pole is shoved over, it stays down. Slit trenches, machinegun nests and pill boxes stand out. Mouse tips and small indicator triangles provide information on vehicle status as do voice cues. Explosions and fires are shown dramatically through graphics and sound. Planes zoom over the field, casting shadows as well as bombs when called upon.

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GIs scramble through snow to safety during the Bulge.

Finally – Innovation!

The developers have decided to push the franchise beyond the “Everybody into the pool!” recipe and give the game some refined aspects heretofore missing. The game has the usual German, Soviet and Western Allies campaigns consisting of seven missions each but, unlike the predecessors, a map of Europe shows the scenarios in a semblance of order. The war actually starts with the tutorial that deals with the first day of the German invasion. The German missions start with Sedan in 1940 and continue through to the Battle of the Bulge. The Soviet campaign begins by resupplying Leningrad over Lake Ladoga, finishing in the ruins of Berlin. Naturally, D-Day from the air and sea kicks off the Western Allies’ campaign which sees American troops cross the Rhine at the end of their trek. This sequence is unique in that the campaigns have points of intersection. For instance, both German and Soviet campaigns have Stalingrad while the German and Western Allies’ campaigns feature the Bulge. This concept allows players to see both sides of the fence for crucial battles. When players do something clever like knocking out a tank from the rear or manning a captured gun, they get medals saying “Backstabber” or “Plunderer” – nice pats on the head.

Locked and linked scenarios are usually matters for irritation but another new feature furnishes sense to the routine. At the beginning of each mission, players must choose between tactical doctrines: support, infantry or armor as signified by a famous proponent of the type such as Zhukov for armor, Montgomery for infantry and Bock for support. These doctrines affect the mix of units provided in the game but, more importantly, they represent up to twelve different skills that are either default with the doctrine or can be “bought” with stars earned by successfully completing a mission; the fewer friendly casualties, the more stars. Missions become more difficult as campaigns progress.

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Picking a doctrine defines tactics.

Scenarios are scripted and represent important parts of the battle being fought. In the Bulge scenario, the Americans must fight a delaying action while the Germans in 1940 must build a pontoon bridge over the Meuse at Sedan. Some players may say scripted scenarios are one-offs; won and done. Perhaps this problem isn’t the case with this game. Players can choose a challenge for each mission that handicaps them in unique ways. Given the two levels of difficulty and the ability to turn off helpful settings and use of different doctrines, replay may not necessarily be a problem.

Even if players finish playing all permutations of all missions, the skirmish mode can allow players to roll their own fights. Four different maps allow players to choose all nationalities and all doctrines. Multiple divisions on each side are possible. Victory is of the “capture the flag” variety.

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Creating a skirmish is simple.

The heart of every RTS game is multi-play and Sudden Strike 4 has the usual suspects. Hotseat can be done through the skirmish mode. Players can create their own server or go to “Quickmatch” for a fast pick up for electronic multiplay. “Quickmatch” already has many players hanging around so Net play evidently works.

Sudden Strike 4 looks good now but there’s been many a slip between preview and release. Will replay be as hardy as advertised? Are there too many units for players to easily control? Will the AI be strong enough for solo players? Will documentation be comprehensive and accessible or will players have to rely on YouTube again? Can slightly older machines handle the graphics? How many bugs will have to be squashed?

The tale will be told on August 11th, 2017.

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