Posted on 15 Aug 2017 by Stephen Haselden

Sudden Strike 4

The Defence

Developer: Kite Games
Publisher: Kalypso Media
Genre: Strategy
Platform: Consoles, Mac, PC
Review copy: Yes
Release date: 11 Aug 2017

The Prosecution

Minimum
Recommended
OS: Linux, Windows
CPU: Intel Core i3 3.0 GHz
AMD equivalent
VGA: Nvidia GeForce 660
AMD Radeon HD 7850
RAM: 6 GB
HDD: 12 GB
DirectX: 10
Controller: Full
Mod Support: Yes
VR: No
FOV Slider: No
FPS Lock: 120+
OS: Linux, Windows
CPU: Intel Core i5 3.2 GHz
AMD FX 3.8 GHz
VGA: Nvidia GeForce 1050 Ti
AMD Radeon RX 470
RAM: 8 GB
HDD: 12 GB
DirectX: 11
Controller: Full
Mod Support: Yes
VR: No
FOV Slider: No
FPS Lock: 120+

The Case

Sudden Strike 4 (SS4) is Kalypso Media’s and Kite Games’ sequel to Sudden Strike series, which originally released seventeen years ago. With two following games being released in 2002 and 2009, the series gained popularity for having far greater realism and deeper simulation than most other RTS’s of the time. The Sudden Strike games also ditched the usual resource collection and base building mechanics seen in games like C&C, instead giving you specific units at the beginning of each mission, with occasional reinforcements.

Missions and campaigns followed actual events closely and ultimately the Sudden Strike name gained a reputation for its high difficulty and reliance on careful strategy, and attracted many “veteran” RTS players to the series. With such a treasured history, and with many modern rivals (Men of War, Company of Heroes, Blitzkrieg 3) can Sudden Strike 4 still satisfy its existing fanbase, and can it compete with the many other WWII RTS’s already on the market?

The Trial

SS4 sticks close to the formula of its predecessors: focussing on unit realism and goal based missions, with surprises appearing during missions and the occasional reinforcements too. It manages to add a certain amount of uncertainty, even to scripted missions (at least for the first time you play them). The campaign is let down slightly by the quality of the voice acting; having Soviet commanders give you a mission briefing in an American accent is a little off-putting. Overall graphics in SS4 are modern looking and well designed; the detail in the units, environments and maps, all show how much love has gone into it. The UI also has a number of modern features that help make gameplay more intuitive and easy. Mechanically SS4 seems well made: there were few animation bugs during the beta but they all seem to have been fixed. SS4 plays smoothly even on the highest graphic settings and has no trouble adapting to modern resolutions like 21:9 and, with the exception of multiplayer, (which I’ll get onto later) seems to be an all-round, well made game.

Swarming is a valid strategy.

There is a balance in RTS games between the number of units, and the complexity of the tactics you can employ. Generally speaking, the fewer units under your control the more complex the tactics and the more micromanagement you will be able to manage (obviously above a minimum number of units). The reason for this is simply because it’s too time consuming to micromanage large numbers of virtual soldiers. The Men of War series is even more in-depth than the Sudden Strike games, but it gets around the problem of micromanagement by letting gamers pause and take as long as they want giving orders to units. For this reason Men of War is arguably more of a Turn Based Strategy without the turns than a Real Time Strategy. Company of Heroes, and similar games, generally stylize their units more making each one more distinctive, and puts them into squads. Squads can be made of up to twelve units (Dawn of War style), and can be controlled by selecting just one of them. Sudden Strike 4 has tried to adapt micromanagement to a game with a large number of units, not by using squads, nor by the use of time manipulation, but simply by streamlining the UI. While this works in some missions, SS4 can still become tedious when you have two dozen or more units to control.

Despite the time consuming nature of using complex tactics, the missions in SS4 are very well paced. You will be given clear objectives at the start of each mission and even if you tune out for the mission briefing, the maps also have clear markers for you to follow. Missions are scripted so that means new events may happen when you complete an objective, it also means that if you want to slow down and give careful instructions to every unit, it’s usually possible to do this knowing that nothing unexpected is likely to happen before you complete an objective. There are some exceptions to this: some missions may see you defending a convoy that is not in your control, and sometimes enemy attacks are time based rather than objective based (but you are given plenty of warning before these start). Even in the more time sensitive missions you are never under a huge amount of pressure. You get to set the game pace, you get warnings of attacks, and you decide when to take objectives. What the missions don’t do, is slow down the pace during combat.

Choose wisely commander...or not.

Missions in SS4 all have three “difficulty” modes: Easy, Normal and Challenge. Challenge mode can only be unlocked by earning three Stars during the same mission (I’ll explain Stars a little further on). Rather than offering a “higher difficulty”, Challenge mode gives you a set of extra objectives for the mission: from new targets, to completing missions with units intact, or giving you a completely different set of units for the mission. Easy difficulty is a good place to start if you’re not familiar with the series, but it does demand a certain amount of competency with RTS games already. Normal difficulty assumes that you are a RTS veteran with good tactical abilities and an understanding of Sudden Strike games. In other words it’s not impossible, but you may struggle on your first attempt with each mission. There are 21 missions altogether in SS4, seven per campaign. While that isn’t a huge number of missions, there is a large amount of variety in the missions and they’re all well designed and interesting to play. With the addition of Challenge modes and mission Stars, there is plenty of incentive to play each mission again.

All campaigns in Sudden Strike 4 (German, Allied and Soviet) offers you three commanders to choose from: Support, Infantry and Armoured. Each of these commanders come with a range of abilities and buffs such as: enhanced repair, extra grenades, “super” units and more. However, only a few of these abilities will be unlocked at the beginning of a campaign. More abilities can be unlocked by earning Stars during missions, and spending them on your commanders. And to get these Stars you must achieve various accomplishments, such as headshots or stealing enemy vehicles, and generally just inventive and skilled gameplay.

If anything it looks good.

There are five Skirmish maps available in the game; four eight player maps and one four player map with the Kursk DLC (part of the pre-order bonuses). This doesn’t seem much but there is a map editor available too and, just few days after release, SS4 now has a new maps available through the Steam Workshop. Skirmish mode overall, has an interesting concept; to give gamers the chance to use strategies and units on their own terms, Kite Games have added a resource and base system of sorts. There is no base building involved, instead, each skirmish map has various capturable locations (between five and nine). Field HQ’s give their owners resources (Oil), while Train Stations and Harbours allow owners to call in reinforcements. Airborne reinforcements are also available throughout a match depending on resources. Field HQ’s also act as the win condition for a map; you achieve victory when you control them all. The skirmish mode setup allows you to pick which army and which commander to use, it also lists all the starting units and abilities each commander offers (All abilities per commander are unlocked for skirmish and MP games). Unfortunately the setup falls short of letting you customize your starting loadout in any other way. The Skirmish mode setup does allow you to select exactly which other commanders you will be playing with and against, but none of the AI opponents come with any other setting so the only way to increase/decrease the difficulty is to increase/decrease the number of opponents.

Kite Games have boasted that Sudden Strike 4 has an intelligent AI which can select targets according to threat levels, armour types and other conditions. It’s true that individually units are pretty smart about how and which opponents they engage, however there is not a lot of strategic flexibility in the AI. The AI can beat you with superior micromanagement and just generally giving orders faster than you, but I’ve not seen much flexibility in the strategies involved; rush the points and that’s all. It’s worth noting that the single player missions don’t require an AI that’s any more developed than this. The scripted nature of those missions doesn’t require it. However, sadly, neither do the skirmish missions. Even after playing against human opponents, very little strategy is required beyond rushing the victory points and hoping for the best. After a bunch of skirmish matches against AI and people, the AI matches were quickest, and the matches I won were over in less than five minutes! Against humans, the matches did last a little longer; a little more depth was possible. But the length of those games was mostly down to Lag (capital L); only one of the five games was even remotely “playable”, with players dropping out of the other games before finishing them.

The Verdict

Overall Sudden Strike 4 is a modern day homage to the series. By giving players a detailed combat simulation, with large numbers of units, and well scripted campaign missions, it fulfils all the requirements that made the Sudden Strike series popular originally. SS4 has modernized the series too, adding a polished and modern feel to it, modern resolutions and a more intuitive UI. However, SS4 has failed to implement an engaging skirmish mode, and failed to implement an even passably playable Multiplayer mode. It’s possible that the map creator and Steam Workshop may salvage some of SS4’s replayability, but right now I’m going to estimate SS4’s lifespan at about 20hrs, which is all you’ll need to complete the campaign.

Case Review

  • World at War: Detailed and varied missions, and lots of historic units.

  • Lawnmower Man: Deep combat simulation.

  • Gotta Get Them All: Mission Stars, Commander Abilities and Challenge all keep the campaign interesting even after you’ve completed it.

  • I Only Eat Purple M&Ms: Finding your sniper in a sea of 50 identical troops is tricky

  • One Dimensional: Skirmish mode was a nice idea, but it doesn’t have enugh depth.

  • Who Needs Friends Anyway?: Multiplayer is just bad, don’t even bother.

3 Score: 3/5
Modern homage to a classic RTS series but only good for single player.

Evidence

  • Graphics: The graphics settings are comprehensive, with over a dozen settings from physics to vegetation behaviour. Many resolutions are also supported including 21:9, there is even a resolution scale option if you have a very powerful GPU.
  • Audio: Apart from some voice acting issues, the effects, music and general sound settings are adequate, The sound settings give options for Master, Voice, SFX, Music and Interface volumes, additionally there's an option to turn the music on/off when using other programs.
  • Gameplay: Plenty of options for UI help, Colourblind modes, Tutorial hints and more. It is possible to select game language for menus, mission briefings, and allied and enemy voices.
  • Controls: There are extensive gameplay control options, plenty of shortcuts for menus and unit abilities. Rebinding keys is also possible for them all. There is even the ability to use a controller, which is unusual for an RTS.
2.5 Score: 2.5/5

 

Sudden Strike 4 is the type of game that appears really good and nostalgic on the surface, especially for those who played most of the Command & Conquer games. However, as you sink more gameplay time into it, the more you start noticing the game’s issues and flaws.

Sudden Strike 4 clearly has a lot of good things going for it; great details to the environment and also offering a great amount of variation in regards to its missions which keep offering players a different level of challenge as you progress. There is also the challenge of perfectly completing the missions you’re given and you also have the opportunity to unlock additional cinematic clips which can be viewed from the main menu. However, most of the strategy elements of the game are let down greatly due to some bugs that happened repeatedly in which your tanks/soldiers/vehicles sometimes do not obey orders or stop doing actions midway for no apparent reason. Additionally, the game at times does a poor job of explaining to you how to actually perform certain actions which leads to heavy levels of unnecessary frustration as a result.

While Sudden Strike 4 has glimmers of true potential, it shows that there was a lot of care and thought placed into it to try and offer strategy fans something more enjoyable, challenging and rewarding. It is let down by a few noteworthy issues that greatly impact the game overall.

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