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Sudden Strike II

Developer: Fireglow
Publisher: CDV Software
Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Players: 1-8
Similar To: Sudden Strike
Rating: Everyone
Published: 11 :20 : 02
Reviewed By: Nick Stewart

Overall: 7.5 = Good

Screenshots

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Minimum Req.: P2 333, 64MB RAM, 1MB video card, 4x CD-ROM, 500mb hd
Reviewed On: P4 2.4, 512MB DDR RAM, 3D Prophet FDX 8500 LE, Soundblaster Audigy, Win XP

Intro

From Wild West to outer space and just about everywhere in between, real-time strategy games have thrown players into virtually every type of situation imaginable. Even the blood-stained battlefields of World War II were explored in the two-year-old Sudden Strike, a relatively successful title that found its home among fans who were hungry to explore a war-themed RTS title. Sadly, a number of gnawing problems kept it from possessing truly widespread appeal, as its somewhat epic scope caused a number of glaring control issues. Now, a mere two years after its release, Fireglow has cranked out a sequel, leaving many to wonder if Sudden Strike II has learned its lesson or if it merely slaps on a new coat of paint to the same battle-scarred warhorse.


Gameplay: 7/10
As it's scarcely been a couple years since the release of the original, one can't really expect Sudden Strike II's gameplay to deviate too much from what we've become used to - and sure enough, it doesn't. For the most part, this is a good thing, since the gameplay is every bit as solid as it was when the original was released. Fans will have no problem recognizing it, as it's virtually identical to the first: as the commander of either the German, Russian, American, or Japanese forces, you must lead your troops through a series of historically-inspired campaigns, featuring a number of connected missions. For example, storming and occupying a supply depot in one mission will enable you to use that very depot as a base in the following mission. Even individual missions are made up of a series of sub-objectives, such as the invasion, capture and defense of a given area or city, or you might even find the need to simply travel to a certain spot relatively unharmed. To this end, there are even some unspoken goals you can pursue that might make your life easier; you might not necessarily have to take out the enemy's hidden anti-aircraft guns, but you could find yourself rewarded with the capability to drop paratroopers if you do so. Each nation's goals are varied nicely, and while a certain "been there, done that" feeling sets in after a while, it never affects gameplay to the point where you truly feel bored. Fans of the first title will also be glad to see that the pre-mission briefing screens have been fixed so that the audio now matches the animated objectives, and even allows you to replay individual points at the touch of a button.

The complete lack of resource management was a big selling point of the first Sudden Strike, and so it's absolutely no surprise that would-be war heroes won't have to worry about mucking around with building bases; the only thing you'll have to worry about is your men. While there is a certain amount that you're initially given, you're often privy to reinforcements as you complete objectives, which helps to replenish the ranks of those who have fallen in battle. What's even more fortunate is that your troops are now capable of a broader range of abilities, on top of the ones that have been carried over. As a result, you'll find your men able to drop to a crawl when necessary, while tank crews may lean out to gain better visibility in the newly added fog of war, at the risk of exposing themselves completely to enemy fire. With kamikazes, commandos, bazooka units, tank hunters and snipers rounding out the ranks, there's no shortage of unit types to choose from. This expanded level of versatility is a definite improvement over the original, while the added enhancements - such as increased unit types, and the ability to clear airstrips in order to properly land, use or capture planes - will give players a lot more to chew on. That there's absolutely no resource management apart from merely keeping your men alive allows you to focus entirely on tactics and strategy, though it's at this point where the game's rougher edges definitely start to show.

As a strategy game that focuses almost exclusively on combat and combat-related tactics, it seems almost ludicrous that there should be no way to organize men into formations, and yet, such is the case with Sudden Strike II. If you might think it a good idea to have your troops plow into enemy territory in a specific way apart from simply running in, screaming, you're either going to have to painstakingly direct the incredibly tiny individual men one by one, or you'll have to simply group a bunch together and hope for the best. Because of this glaring omission, you can't help but feel as though you're simply massing large groups of guys together and simply tossing them all at the enemy, hoping to overwhelm him, which certainly takes a lot of the strategy out of something that is supposed to be a real-time strategy title. That you're able to have some control over your groups by directing them to move at set speeds or by adding specialty units saves the game from complete disaster; in fact, when it works, it works very well. Sadly, the effort needed to get it all working can sometimes be too much. The fact that there are too few group keys and too many men, not to mention the hideously painful control scheme that will be discussed later, only hurts what is an otherwise entertaining game.

Another major knock against Sudden Strike II is that the AI is almost painfully stupid at times. Not only is the pathfinding rather embarrassing to watch, but the enemy is often downright brainless. You'll sometimes find yourself able to clear innumerable ground troops with a single tank: simply order the crew to lean out, and so long as you've more visibility than your enemy, you'll have no problem picking him off at a distance. This might sound like a strategic move, but when you consider that enemy soldiers will often stand completely still as they're being shelled, thinking absolutely nothing of the explosions or the men dying around them, the AI hardly comes across as capable. Factor in the still-sluggish speed and the various crashes to desktop, and you've got yourself a war-themed RTS that forces you to see past its numerous flaws to find the entertainment value within Sudden Strike II.

Graphics: 8/10
In keeping with the "stick with what you know" theme that seems to run through the game, Sudden Strike II's graphical engine hasn't changed particularly noticeably since the first came out a couple years ago. This is no bad thing, as the 2D approach made for some appreciable environments, with the broken and hollowed-out buildings of a city under siege mixing quite nicely with the lush forests of the war-torn countryside. The Japanese levels in particular are quite distinctive, with the island themes coming across successfully. Also, the new weather effects not only serve interesting tactical purposes, but they look great as well. The new units all seem rather well-done, though only true history buffs - which I'm certainly not - will be able to tell if they're historically accurate or not. Additionally, the vehicles all have their own unique look, so you shouldn't have any trouble telling them apart, though this is certainly the exact opposite of the various soldiers, which are still virtually indistinguishable from one another. This creates a particularly nasty problem, which will be detailed in the following section.

Sound: 7/10
Though the accents have largely improved since the last outing, Sudden Strike II's vocal acting still floats around the mid-range point. It's certainly a plus that the units now respond to your commands in their native language, which is a nice added immersion factor; on the other hand, the mission briefings are often quite bad, as the various nationalities have been injected with a B-movie type of accent. The music is equally middle-of-the-road in terms of quality, though the small number of tracks and the inclusion of what appeared to be strange German pop music will have you lowering the music volume in no time. The fact that the music volume itself is broken is probably not a bad thing, as you likely won't find yourself complaining about the inability to bring the music back after dropping it to nothing. As a result, you should probably just ignore the soundtrack and listen to your soldiers as they respond to your orders amidst the well-done explosions and tank engines.

Control: 3/10
If there's one area that Sudden Strike II suffers the most, it's in its control scheme. The fact that there are often hundreds of units onscreen at any given point probably led to the soldiers' minute, ant-like size, which might not be such a problem if the controls were somewhat polished. As it stands, however, the primary frustration from the first go-round remains the primary frustration in the second: namely, the inability to easily select individual units. Sure, you can sit there and run your cursor over each and every one, taking note of the unit type that temporarily flashes onscreen and then sending off men in the groups of your choice, but this is frustrating at the best of times and downright impossible in the heat of battle. What's worse is that you'll often find yourself needing specialty units like tank-killers to help you win the tougher battles, and so it's often a game of patience to prepare your men beforehand. It's a single gripe, but in a title such as this, it can make all the difference between a fun time and a hair-pulling session.

Overall: 7.5/10
As one of the few - if not the only - World War-themed RTS titles on the market, Sudden Strike II is best suited to players who are not only eager to explore this relatively untouched niche, but who are also willing to cut the game a great deal of slack. The bulk of the problems that turned gamers off the first title are still very much present here, and so sore spots such as the lack of formations and the extreme difficulty involved in finding and selecting particular units isn't likely to win it any new friends. The often questionable AI also comes into play to create an offering that might leave die-hard fans wondering where they might actually find the strategy in this so-called real-time strategy experience. However, if you're willing to stick with it and are able to look past the unnecessarily obtuse and frustrating control scheme, you'll find a surprising amount of fun lying deep within the tarnished heart of Sudden Strike II.

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