Sudden Strike 4 brings back a franchise that hadn’t seen a new entry in almost ten years. With a new developer at the helm, how did it turn out? We played the PC version to find out – the game is also available on PS4.
When Kalypso invited us to come see Sudden Strike 4 for the first time, during the summer of 2016, we were excited. You wouldn’t think it, but real time strategy franchises set in the Second World War are actually relatively rare. Of course there’s the excellent Company of Heroes, but other than the Men of War series and perhaps Codename: Panzers we can’t remember too many of them worth playing. Sudden Strike coming out of retirement was more than welcome, also become none of those other series have seen a recent release.
Sudden Strike 4’s brand of strategy, as was also demonstrated during that first meeting, is a generally more slower-paced one – leaning towards tactical combat more than resource management and base building. This is true for all three of the game’s campaigns, which cover over 20 battle scenarios divided between the German, Soviet and Allied forces. These missions are laid out with specific challenges in mind, but can be tackled in a variety of ways. One of the keys to success in this regard is your choice of a specific commander – which brings perks to your infantry, tank, or support units. It’s a dynamic that promotes replayability, but a solid overall tactic will likely work no matter which commander you select. In other words, replayability will depend on your own ability to find different routes to success.
That’s not to say that there aren’t plenty of them, since Sudden Strike 4 is a challenging game in more ways than one. Certain roads might be blocked off for your tank units, but can provide a way through for your infantry. This can either give them the upper hand against the enemy’s heavy units by sneaking up on them from behind, or can cause them to become isolated and vulnerable. Lose your infantry, and you also lose a lot of your tank’s ability to scout the area through them.
Another big aspect is the terrain – the weight of a tank might cause it to get stuck in places, and ice can literally break away beneath your feet when heavily bombarded. Points (and thus higher mission scores) can be achieved by winning the scenario as well as by performing specific actions during each mission. These aren’t the usual mission targets and sub-targets, as points are also awarded for things like carjacking an enemy vehicle.
Sudden Strike 4 isn’t a game where you rush into things, since doing so will often see you end up on the end of an ambush or stuck in a place where you don’t want to be. Although playing out in real time (with the option to ‘pause and plan’), this is a game where you want to carefully plan your next move – making the most out of the terrain, enemy positions and possible obstructions that can create chokepoints if used well. When your plan comes together, it’s riveting stuff.
The AI can get in the way of this though – pathfinding can be troublesome, especially for infantry, who also don’t seem to be able to duck for cover behind friendly vehicles. I’ve also seen support units act odd, not performing their tasks unless repeatedly issuing orders to them. These are exceptions to the rule though, as Sudden Strike 4 generally is a very deep and accurate tactical simulation – but they can cause some annoyances. We’re hoping these will get patched up in future releases though, since they feel like minor issues in terms of possibly improving them without breaking anything else. These issues don’t apply to the (online) multiplayer, but we found that mode to be lacking in content upon release – quickly pulling us back to the single player portion.
Despite being a game with modern 3D graphics, Sudden Strike 4 retains the isometric feel of the original games. There is some degree of camera control and rotation, but nothing like what you’d expect coming from the likes of Company of Heroes. I found this to be a refreshing change, almost bringing a ‘retro’ quality feel to the experience even though it took some getting used to – not being able to freely look around. The audio delivery is a bit of a mixed bag though, with excellent sound effects but sub-par voice work – mainly during briefings.
Although not perfect and in need of a little patching, I really enjoyed Sudden Strike 4. Its excellent level design and mix of careful planning with the use of specific units and skills didn’t just remind me of the previous games in the series – some scenarios even evoked memories of titles like Shogun and Commandos with their almost puzzle-like challenges. It’s difficult at times (even without the AI flaws), but that just makes victory all the more rewarding.