Sudden Strike 4 is a real-time strategy game (or real-time tactics game to some) that comes almost 10 years after the third entry in to the series. It tells war stories from each side of the conflict – storming the beaches, taking over towns, blowing up bridges, etc. in it’s three mini campaigns. It’s a retelling of a story that been retold many times before, and it’s almost like playing a game I’ve played before.
The campaign is split in to three chunks; one for the Allies, Axis and the Soviets. The missions are based (loosely, at least the way I went about it) on actual battles and each mission is introduced with a historic video and a voice over. Weirdly enough though, no matter which faction I chose, the voice was always American. Weird. Not sure how hard it would have been to hire a German voice actor, or even someone to put on a rather jaunty accent. It’s always nice to get some background information on what you’re doing, but when the actual gameplay seems a little soulless then the whole story aspect falls flat.
You’re awarded stars at the end of a campaign mission which you can spend to upgrade your special abilities before the next battle begins; the player has a choice of which real life commander they want in charge, and with that comes a few different perks, like having your tanks see further, etc. The added customisation of my battalions seemed extensive initially but realistically they didn’t add much, or change how I approached a stage in a dramatic way.
The gameplay itself will be something familiar to anyone who’s played Company of Heroes, or anything of it’s ilk (I guess this goes for any of the other Sudden Strike games too). There are no buildings to be constructed, and no resources to gather; rather you start with a set amount of units and can find others or call in reinforcements at set points throughout the mission. The emphasis here is to make good use of what you have, as keeping your one tank in good condition could be the difference between winning and losing.
Playing Sudden Strike reminded me a lot of Company of Heroes, with the emphasis being placed on a small number of units and using them effectively. You can take cover in buildings and (I’m told) get them in to different formations depending on the scenario. In reality, I was rarely organised, with my troops zig zagging along the line like a lazy procession of ants. The formation changes depending on how far you drag your mouse after a movement click, but there’s no rhyme or reason to any of the shapes. Getting in and out of a building was another hassle, with a specific button on the building needed to be pressed, rather than just telling your units to move elsewhere. This may seem like a small thing, but telling you units to pile out of a building only to have to select them again and move is a pain, especially in the heat of battle.
The actual units on offer here don’t deviate from what we’ve seen on offer in other World War games of this kind, with your boots on the ground soldiers making up the bulk of your army. The tutorial does a decent job of explaining how everything works, ordering your units around, repairing your tanks, etc. It does such a good job in fact that it taught me nearly everything about the game in around ten minutes, there isn’t much more on offer here other than what that teaches you in that initial scenario.
The simplification of the series could be something to do with Sudden Strike coming to console for the first time; whilst PC users are used to over-complicated control schemes because of the advantage of a mouse and keyboard, mapping all of these controls to a gamepad is a daunting affair and could easily alienate people.
The visuals of Sudden Strike seem to be what I was drawn to most during my time playing it. Initially it may seem like it’s the same war-torn landscape we’re all used to (and it is) but getting deeper in to the campaign sees you waging wars on frozen lakes and taking cover behind hay bales in a beautiful flower-strewn field. There are a lot of little details that had me squinting at the screen to see more. A specific highlight for me was look at the ice crack under the immense weight of my armoured division, and marvelling at the individual tank tracks they made in the snow.
I really don’t want to sound harsh on Sudden Strike, and in reality there’s a lot to like here, just not a lot to love. The bread and butter of what made the series so popular in the past has been done again since, and done better. There are series which do all out combat better, there are series’ that do the close up gritty warfare better, and ultimately this just ends up somewhere in the middle; it’s too simple for the PC folk, and I feel like it may be too complicated for the console generation.