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Sudden Strike
by Steve MacGregor

Installation and Setup

I reviewed a complete, boxed version of the European issue of the game supplied by CDV. The package included two CDs and a 40 page manual. The game installed from the first CD without any problem. The second CD contained additional single missions (including “exercise missions”, and many missions in winter conditions).

On starting up the game for the first time, the first shock is not to see a configuration option for your 3D card. Yup, that’s right. Sudden Strike doesn’t require a 3D card. I think I’ll say that again. YOU DON’T NEED A 3D CARD TO PLAY THIS GAME. Shocking, isn’t it? Even more shocking is that it looks pretty good. Easily on a par with Panzer General 3D: Scorched Earth (PG:SE) which I reviewed recently (and which requires a 3D card). This is achieved by modeling all the game elements (troops, vehicles, buildings, explosions, etc.) as 2D sprites.

Starting the Game
The intro screen offers two gameplay options – Single Player and Multiplayer. I have to confess that I didn’t have time to try the multiplayer side of the game at all (I hope to follow this up in a later installment to this review), so I’ll concentrate here on the single player aspects of the game. There are two single player options, Campaign or Single Missions. Single Missions allows the player to choose from 14 scenarios of varying complexity. Installing the missions from the second CD adds a further 11 missions (including my own personal favorite; Saving Private Bryan. I bet you can’t guess the scenario there, eh?) and 9 exercise missions. The exercise missions are fairly simple, with clear objectives, and each requires a grasp of a different aspect of the game. It’s nice to see that the single missions really are different missions, and not just an opportunity to play campaign missions in a different order.

The real meat of the game though, is in the Campaign game. Here you can choose to play as the Germans, Allies or Russians. All campaigns comprise a series of interconnected missions, but these are not in any way dynamic, nor do they seem to branch. You must simply succeed in each campaign mission before you can proceed to the next. It’s also worth noting that there are no variable difficulty settings in the game, although some campaigns seem harder than others (generally, I found the Allied campaign missions to be the easiest, followed by the Russian and then the German). You also don’t have any choice in the composition of your forces, something we have almost come to take for granted in wargames.

Beginning a campaign takes you to the briefing screen for the first mission. The briefing takes the form of a voiceover (sometimes in rather oddly accented English) and an animated map. In some of the more complex missions, I didn’t feel that the briefing was sufficiently clear. It doesn’t help that the voiceover and the map animations are not in sync, so that it can be difficult to reconcile the speech with the animated arrows and squiggles on the map. Also, occasionally the briefing would contain odd instructions (capture enemy turrets, for example, in a mission that didn’t seem to include anything resembling a turret. Tanks, yes. Anti-tank guns, yes. Bunkers, yes. Turrets, no). I suspect that these incongruities arise from poor translation. They can be irritating, but I didn’t come across any that actually prevented me from completing a mission.

The Briefing Screen

When you accept a mission, you move directly to the battle screen. When you get there, it is immediately clear that part of the design brief for developers Fireglow was to concentrate on gameplay rather than graphics. Thus while the graphics are more than adequate, they do lack some of the more sophisticated effects that can only be obtained by using a 3D graphics card. The trade-off for this is the sheer number of units that can be on screen at once. CDV claim that more than 1000 units can take part in individual scenarios. I have certainly seen scenarios with very large numbers of troops, and the game did not suffer from any slowdown at all on the test system. Personally, I feel that the balance is just about right. The less than state-of-the-art quality of the graphics did not lessen my pleasure in playing the game, and I appreciated a complete absence of slowdown or jerkiness even when playing at 1024 x 768.

German units await orders

It is notable that you do not have the option to vary the graphics quality in any way. The only option available allows you to select the resolution for the battle screen (640 x 480, 800 x 600, or 1024 x 768). When you first enter the battle area, the graphics look pretty good. Units are well detailed and smoothly animated, the terrain is lush and varied and there are a variety of different buildings. After a short time, you may start to notice some niggles. Initially, I was disappointed that the battlefield view couldn’t be rotated, though I didn’t find this a problem when playing the game (buildings and trees become semi-transparent when a visible unit passes behind them). All the units are 2D sprites, including the explosions. However, these are generally well done, and for the most part do a convincing job of suggesting three-dimensional movement. There are no weather effects, and none of the dynamic lighting that we have come to take for granted in most current RTS games. Some may object to this, but I found that the trade off of graphics against fast, smooth action was worthwhile.

A nice feature about the battlefield graphics is that almost everything can be destroyed. Houses and enemy emplacements can be razed, forests obliterated, bridges smashed and bunkers crushed. Lovely! There is something satisfying about looking back at the path of your progress through a map and seeing the location of each engagement marked by a trail of smashed buildings, crushed bunkers, scarred and pockmarked earth and corpses. The hulks of destroyed vehicles disappear after a short time, but the mortal remains of your hapless infantry continue to litter the map for as long as you play.

Infantry advance through a comprehensively “liberated” village

I did feel that the terrain would have benefited from greater changes in elevation. With line-of-sight so important in this game, possession of hills and use of valley could have been a crucial element in battles. As it is, the terrain simply incorporates plateaux, areas raised to a uniform height above the surrounding land, rather than rolling hills.


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