The Gamestop Expo delivered a lot of what we've expected to see in better game cons--fresh builds, a gamut of games running from heavy-hitters to silent killers, and merchandising. Lots of merchandising. We were on the floor to find the gems in the rough this year, and we came across Sudden Strike 4--one game of which we sadly hadn't played the previous three iterations. We spoke to Lindsay Schneider of Kalypso Media about the game.
"It's all based on historical events, twenty of them, from the attack on Poland in 1939 and the fall of Berlin in 1945." There's an extreme importance placed in remaining true to history. Players can still win or lose battles, but those do not affect the course of history in the game (it would be a very different game if that were the case). There's a return of tried-and-true mechanics to this RTS game, including how environmental factors can affect loadout and battle recon. Snow makes battle visibility more difficult, rain causes mud which, in turn, slows down troops and tanks, and other factors that can change the course of battle. I jumped into a snow-laden map and blindly moved a friendly soldier near a troop of enemy tanks. He shortly met his ancestors after that blunder.
The map we fought in was unique--we were already fortified against the coming enemy invasion. Trenches were freshly dug and gunnery stations were deployed so our troops could fire at will when enemy tanks were in range. It was a fairly easy fight, but we think the software build was set to an introductory map to get familiarized with the unit functions.
We were curious about how unit production functioned in the game, but Linsday was quick to answer. "There's just a set amount of infantry in each level, you can't generate new ones." That's when the nature of the game came apparent--it isn't focused on unit and base production. Instead the game is rigorous on throwing a curveball at the player, setting up the chess pieces on the board and watching the aftermath of how you play with what you're given. Neither is it built on pure strategy alone. It's true 20 soldiers attacking one soldier has an advantage, but sometimes luck plays a factor. Soldiers are likely to miss in snow, increasing opposing infantry luck. It's likely that a lot of battles will favor victors that focus on the minutiae in strategy over macromanagement, since a great bottleneck in this kind of strategy game is the limitation to what reinforcements are on the map. It's not a matter of pumping out more units than your opponent can gather.
"Each mission you can deploy what general you want, and each general has strengths and weaknesses," Lindsay went on. The general we picked allowed us to throw grenades at the tanks, making quick work of them. Other generals increase medic capabilities or provide higher firepower against enemies. That's an aspect that seemed to us would be a strong factor in multiplayer (up to eight players, by the way)--instead of tanks versus infantry, it's tanks versus grenadiers.
With stronger thought over macromanagement and survival over resource gathering, Sudden Strike 4 is more like a game of chess than most RTS games on the market. It's a shame we couldn't compare the fourth installment with the other three to see what improvements have been made. The series has changed many development hands since the first game in 2000, and we'd like to see how three previous releases and sixteen years of changing development conventions might have taken this RTS into a strong round of improvement in the hands of Kite Games. Sudden Strike 4 is set to release Q2 of 2017.