Steel Division 2 - Black Sunday Review07 Sep 2020 2
Steel Division 2 - Black Sunday Review
Released 17 Aug 2020
Axis minors never get enough attention. Usually forgotten, at best they are an afterthought. The money, after all, lies with the Wehrmacht’s fandom’s endless obsession with Tigers and MG-42s. It’s a real shame, given that Germany’s minor allies, often hopelessly outgunned, fought desperate battles across the Eastern Front. When they are remembered, it is only to blame them for things going wrong.
How pleasing then, for Eugen to give Romania its due in its latest DLC for Steel Division 2: Black Sunday. In keeping with Steel Division 2’s 1944 era, this DLC covers the Jassy–Kishinev offensive, the Soviet offensive that smashed the units defending Romania’s northern border and ultimately leading to Romania switching sides to join the allies in the final months of the war. Just another operation to most of us in the West, the Jassy–Kishinev offensive is a golden opportunity to feature all manner of Eastern front arcana, from the Romanian Army itself to the Soviet Black Sea Fleet. It’s such a shame, then, that Black Sunday just doesn’t go far enough.
Black Sunday includes another enormous campaign for Army General, Eugen’s quasi Total War-style strategic mode, and six new divisions for skirmish and multiplayer, three for each side. Eugen has given the DLC its standard treatment, piling in mountains of hardware and an enormous range of units speaking a language that (so I’m told) even Romanian speakers can’t understand. Like with Steel Division 2‘s previous DLC, Fate of Finland, the sheer breadth of what is on offer means there’s a good chance that this will be the first time that many of the units appearing in this DLC will have been depicted in a video game.
More units and more stuff is always good. I’m no hardcore multiplayer gamer these days, but I’ve enjoyed the time I’ve spent with the new Romanian divisions. The thing that most surprised me about the Romanians was how their recon units are loaded to the gunnels with sniper rifles. Quite the change from SD2’s normal policy of keeping snipers few and far between. Whilst Romanian infantry is rock-solid, just like in real life they are let down by critically poor support options, with anti-tank weapons being particularly problematic. Their armour is average at best.
Unfortunately, this kind of gameplay isn’t exactly new. Infantry heavy armies that fight like World War I never ended have been around since the game’s release. The Hungarian 12. Tartalek is (ironically) the best example of this. We’ve since received similar divisions with each DLC, with the Polish Armia Krajowa taking the infantry army thing up to 11, the Finns with their rock-solid infantry that excel at close quarters and now the Romanians, who get lots of snipers. All variations on an increasingly monotonous theme. The sole Romanian armoured division has similar problems of simply not being different enough.
You’ll note I’ve avoided mentioning the Soviets. I have a confession to make. At Steel Division 2’s release I would have gladly said: “I don’t care how samey Soviet divisions get, give me more”. Black Sunday has defeated me. True, Soviet paratroopers, the VDV, have finally arrived in Steel Division 2. Unfortunately, they are just another infantry heavy division with middling armoured support. That’s the story for the other two Soviet divisions. Their aircraft or tanks might slightly differ from what is already on offer, but not enough to matter. Ultimately, everything we see in Black Sunday has already been done elsewhere. As someone fascinated by the period, it’s a real disappointment.
There are other letdowns as well. For a start, let’s talk about maps. Every DLC for Steel Division 2 has included a number of new maps. The maps, although few in number, have so far have done an excellent job differentiating the region from leafy Belorussia where Bagration took place. Not so with Black Sunday. No new maps are included, despite the shift south to the Black Sea coast surely meriting maps with a more Mediterranean atmosphere. The lack of co-op missions for the few co-op players out there (like yours truly) is a similar disappointment. Eugen did an excellent job of making such a relatively obscure operation seem interesting. Descriptions of Soviet Naval Infantry taking a fortress on the Dniester estuary by sea, supported by air-power and Bronekaters made me genuinely excited for what would be on offer. But with co-op out it’s not possible to see what would happen there, and the lack of dedicated maps makes Army General decidedly dreary too.
Whilst in the depths of the Pripyat marshes, Army General could afford some liberties, the fairly well-defined terrain features of the Black Sea coast begins to let the experience down. I was interested to see how Army General would handle the exciting naval landing covered above. Let us simply say that the storming of the Akkerman fortress on the Dniester estuary, described by Eugen as a sort of D-Day meets Guns of Navarone, became a generic land battle with bodies of water parked either side of a central isthmus. Even rotating the spawn location so that the Reds came from the sea would have been some consolation. But it didn’t. The resulting battle was decidedly humdrum. It’s one thing to create a new campaign with new units, but further effort is needed to make it feel like Northern Romania in 1944. It’s all the more disappointing when the promotions for the game have emphasised these kinds of interesting operations.
Black Sunday’s tragedy, ultimately, is that it doesn’t go far enough. It brings in a new nation, plenty of new units and depicts an interesting period. But it doesn’t offer enough along the way. For multiplayer, the formations (except in one-versus-ones, where I understand certain Romanian units are the pick of the litter) will be quickly forgotten. Meanwhile, absent co-op scenarios and new maps there is precious little in Army General to make you feel like it’s 1944 on the Black Sea coast. Rather like the minor axis nations themselves, Black Sunday is full of promise, but is critically lacking in support.
Steel Division 2 - Black Sunday is included in the Steel Division 2 History Pass, as well as the Deluxe & Total Conflict Editions.