Sudden Strike 4 Review: A Tactical WW2 Adventure That Could Have Been Great
The Sudden Strike series of World War II strategy games made its original debut in 2000. Last year, it was announced that Kite Games was developing a new entry in the series for PC and PS4. Then on August 11, players got to step back into the shoes of World War II generals with Sudden Strike 4.
What kind of experience can you expect if you choose to join their ranks? Unfortunately, not one that's as good as it could have been. This new RTS from Kite Games is graphically impressive and delivers on the promise of tactical gameplay. However, glaring issues with the campaign and an inability to access multiplayer make it tough to recommend.
Gameplay and Graphics
Sudden Strike 4 is a real time strategy game in which players assume the role of historical World War II commanders. At the start of each battle, the player is given control of a group of infantry, armor, artillery, and support vehicles. These units are designed to be realistic in appearance and function, from the sound of weapon fire to the relative fire range (a submachine gun will not have the same range as a rifle).
Unlike many games in the genre, Sudden Strike 4 requires players to monitor things like ammunition and fuel. Unit health can be complicated as well. Infantry can be injured and require a medic, while vehicles can suffer critical damage and need repaired. But it will behoove you to pay attention to matter how much is going on. Because tactical play, like encircling enemy forces or hitting a tank in its weak spot, is rewarded with badges that improve the player's score at the end of the battle.
One major gameplay difference between Sudden Strike 4 and other games in the genre is its lack of any base building or unit production. This fits the setting well and encourages players to think more strategically.
While these gameplay elements come together to form a mostly satisfying experience, the flow is occasionally broken by the game's AI. Because of the sometimes strange behavior of NPCs, you might find yourself using odd strategies just to trick the game to your advantage. Enemies, for example, target the closest unit first -- meaning that it can sometimes be more effective to use empty transport vehicles as a way to soak up damage than to actually arrange units tactically.
Graphically, the game is impressive. The maps are extremely detailed, with excellent effects for the water and vegetation. Buildings and vegetation are destructible, and the animations for that destruction are fantastic. Vehicles catch fire and explode when damaged and projectiles hit with a visual impact. Even infantry units bleed when hit.
Yet for all the visual flair of the game's action, the menus and interface in the game are surprisingly basic. The UI as a whole is a simple black-and-white affair with a slightly translucent effect similar to old Windows 7 menus. It gets the job done and is easy to navigate, but it gives the game a strange feeling of being dated that contrasts jarringly with the actual gameplay.
The main feature of Sudden Strike 4 is the single-player campaign set in historical World War II battles. The campaign is split into three sets of seven missions -- German, Soviet, and Allied.
Those familiar with World War II history will notice that Japan is not represented. The absence of Japan is disappointing from a historical perspective, of course, but also from a gameplay perspective as well -- because it means that the environments players encounter are restricted to Russia and mainland Europe. The more tropical environments of the Pacific would have offered a nice change of scenery. The North Africa campaign is also absent from the game.
Most of the major battles of the European theater are represented, but there are several repeats. Stalingrad and the Battle of the Bulge, for example, are both in more than one of the three campaigns. This really only serves to draw attention to the absence of notable North African and Pacific battles like the Siege of Tobruk and the battle of Iwo Jima.
Historical oversights aside, the immersion of campaign missions that the game does have also suffers from poor voice acting and inaccurate accents. The German campaigns NPCs, for example, are all British or American.
Sudden Strike 4 supports multiplayer battles with up to 8 players. Players select a commander that provides them with a set of bonuses and their starting units. They are then loaded into a map and must use their forces to capture all the field headquarters to the win the game. Rail stations and harbors can be used to bring in reinforcements.
Unfortunately, online matchmaking is not possible currently. As of launch day, the server browser for Sudden Strike 4 on PC does not populate. It is possible that this problem is caused by the review copy of the game (provided through GOG.com) not syncing with the servers used by the Steam version. However, the servers are created within the game client. This makes it much more likely that there is a networking bug or simply a low player count.
Whatever the cause, a skirmish against the AI was the only way for this type of match to be tested for review. Essentially, it became a campaign mission without the benefit of a basis in history.
Sudden Strike 4 is a game with great ideas. And it executes some of them extremely well. If you have ever wanted to play an interactive World War II documentary, then this may be the game for you.
Fans of the RTS genre looking for a new game might want to pass on Sudden Strike 4 for now, though. Future bug fixes or the official mod support on PC may make it worth a second look in the future, but the stunning graphics and entertaining gameplay are not enough to overlook the game's problems at launch.
Sudden Strike 4 is available for PC, Mac, Linux, and PS4. Mod support is currently not available on the PS4, and no plans have been announced to bring mods to that platform. If you want to pick it up for yourself, you can find it for $49.99 on GOG.
[Note: A copy of the game was provided by GOG for the purposes of this review.]