While the Sudden Strike games date back to the early 2000s, Sudden Strike 4 is my first experience with the series of real time strategy – or RTS for short – games. This latest addition to the series is under a new developer and publisher. The game was developed by Kite Games and published by Kalypso Media, most well known for the Tropico series. So how did this new duo’s first shot at an established franchise turn out? Let’s take a look.
Fighting on the Front Lines in Sudden Strike 4
Sudden Strike 4 features a standard but excellently implemented system of RTS mechanics. You play as your army’s commander, instructing your troops through varied environments to take unique objectives in order to complete missions. In between missions you can use stars obtained from victories to choose various doctrines, passive boosts or active skills to improve your infantry, tanks or support units. The implementation of controls on PC is solid, selecting and commanding units feels satisfying with all the features you’d expect, like control groups and hotkeys for every action. And the game supports modding – a nice bonus.
While it isn’t incredibly complicated as far as RTS games go, I do wish that Kite Games did a better job explaining the more advanced mechanics and controls – especially for rookie RTS players. The game’s tutorial covers the basics you need to know like hotkeys, control groups, flanking and unit control, but it doesn’t delve into the game’s more advanced mechanics and nuances. This means relegating important techniques like refueling, managing control groups and infantry class specific items to text tool tips that pop up while you’re in the heat of battle. However, if you’ve played a few RTS games before, there isn’t anything different enough here to really throw you off.
One of the things Sudden Strike 4 does incredibly well is pairing interesting level design with creative multi-stage mission objectives. A mission might start with your infantry parachuting in and planting TNT on the supply bridges before laying siege on the nearby town outpost. And end with you using the aid of transport ships landing on the beach to capture the artillery and support buildings inland.
An interesting twist to the RTS archetype is the ability to pause anytime to queue up commands for units in the single player campaign. While it does inherently lower the skill required it makes the game a little less intimidating for inexperienced players. It’s especially a relief with some of Sudden Strike 4’s micro-management. If you’re looking for a hardcore RTS experience, you can always choose not to use it.
Sudden Strike 4 has mechanic depth and simulated realism with the need to refuel vehicles, resupply artillery and dispatch medics to provide first aid to infantry. However, it does lack some of the simulation mechanics that are staples of the genre. The first thing I noticed was the game’s choice to not include a cover system. Without a cover mechanic, base building or a true tech research tree, the game could feel shallower than some other RTS titles.
The Best Defense is a Good Offense
One of the most divisive elements of Sudden Strike 4 is the game’s choice to skip traditional base building mechanics. The decision to ditch building construction, a staple of the RTS genre is a ballsy move and might leave some more hardcore RTS fans discouraged. But it does come with some benefits. Without the need to queue and monitor the construction of a home camp, it allows the game’s camera perspective to be more focused on the front line. Additionally, Kite Games’ decision is blended well into the game’s other mechanics and plot as the missions tend to center around your army laying siege to a vital outpost or reclaiming invaded towns.
Whenever I venture into a RTS, one of the elements I find most daunting is the need to constantly pivot your focus and camera between scouting the front lines and assigning research, facility upgrades or building construction back at your base camp. Without the need to worry about my outposts, I was able to put all of my focus into unit positioning and formulating a strategy. The lack of stress with managing the defenses and the always present space bar pause made Sudden Strike 4 the most relaxing RTS I’ve probably ever played. Whether that’s what you look for in a RTS is up to you.
Sudden Strike 4’s Historical Setting
Sudden Strike 4’s single player setting paints the battlegrounds, events and conquests of World War II from the perspectives of three forces in the war: Germany, the Soviet Union and the Allied Forces. Each group has its own campaign spanning multiple missions (25 missions in total) that follows the movements of their armies and the impacts of each battle. Sudden Strike 4 does focus more on the strategy and impact of each conflict, leaving the political dissection of World War II to the documentaries and literature.
The majority of each campaign’s narrative is told through text before missions and voiced journal entries upon the mission’s completion. There isn’t a strong overarching narrative for the campaigns. Rather, each mission centers around the strategy and repercussions of each battle. The presentation makes every mission an interesting mini history lesson that you’re then able to command your way through and experience – something especially interesting to history buffs. However, traditional gamers looking for a linear narrative with recurring characters might be slightly disappointed with what they find.
The game does also have an online multiplayer mode as well as an instant battle skirmish mode. While both carry over the game’s solid core mechanics, there’s far less content available for them than the single player campaign. Leaving these modes feeling more like extras to the game’s extensive single player campaigns.
Step into the Battlefield
While not ground breaking, Sudden Strike 4’s visuals are impressive, especially the polish on the smaller effects. The game does its best to make each mission feel like a new and unique battleground, with the environments ranging from dense forest hills to coastal supply outposts or even the icy waters of Leningrad. Watching a full scale battle play out can be quite immersive with tanks plowing through fences, masses of engaging soldiers swirling and explosives sending corpses flying or uprooting trees. Performance was quite impressive as well. Even with all the settings maxed, the game’s FPS (frames per second) was a stable 60 on my PC (i5 4690k, GTX 1070).
Easily eclipsing Sudden Strike 4’s visuals is its stellar audio design. With the noises from the front lines like the rumbling treads of an assaulting tank or the tense sounds of infantry crawling through brush crafting a violent melody of combat. The noise from the battlefield is epic and immersive with an impactful and exhilarating soundtrack to back it up. The only dip in quality comes from units’ voice acting, with cheesy at best performances and a limited amount of voice lines per unit.
Move it Soldiers
As a whole, Sudden Strike 4 is technically polished, from the UI and audio to the graphics. However one blemish on its technical front is its sometimes underwhelming path finding and A.I. In a game about commanding waves of units, the units need to feel responsive and obedient – like you can trust them to not get tripped up on a tree during a valiant assault. One such issue came when I was attempting to siege a radio base. I commanded my entire infantry control group to make a charge from the west. The result: nearly every unit ended up stuck on each other while attempting to navigating around a small fence. That’s just one of quite a few A.I. hangups I encountered in my time with Sudden Strike 4.
In the end, Sudden Strike 4 is an excellent WW2 light RTS game, however its great moments and atmosphere are sometimes undercut by its spotty A.I. With the three main campaigns, there’s a decent amount of content, although the skirmish and multiplayer modes could’ve been more developed. If you’re a fan of RTS or enjoy the WW2 setting, it’s totally worth checking out, even at the $50 launch price tag.
Sudden Strike 4 on Steam: http://store.steampowered.com/app/373930/Sudden_Strike_4/
Sudden Strike 4 on GOG: https://www.gog.com/game/sudden_strike_4
*Game copy was provided by Publisher and played on the Steam platform. All playtime was conducted on a PC with an i5 4690k, GTX 1070 and 8GB of RAM.