Two strikes, but not out.
Realism in strategy gaming has taken a backseat to whimsy. From the sci-fi exploits of Ground Control to the otherworldly beauty of Sacrifice, the genre has been inundated with fantastical settings, leaving those with a taste for historical accuracy a bit unsatisfied. Real guns and real scenarios just don't seem to be a very high priority.
Enter Sudden Strike. A European import, Sudden Strike is a World-War II real time strategy game that allows you to play as the Germans, the English/Americans, or the Russians in a variety of carefully detailed environments. Like many of the other titles published by Strategy First, the game breaks with several of the standards of the genre - something which is sure to upset purists and grognards while still creating a fun, engrossing experience.
In many ways, gameplay in Sudden Strike feels more like a complicated form of chess than a real-time strategy game. Each mission begins with a fixed number of units pre-positioned on the map. Although the units are beautifully rendered, the rules that determine their movement, firepower, and defensive strength are more closely tied to the laws of game mechanics than to realism (it seems that just about anything can kill just about anything else with the right timing). In addition, the game focuses purely on troop movement and combat, without the additional "distractions" of resource management or production.
None of this necessarily leads to a bad game. With apologies to the armchair generals who want to turn their laptops into little Pentagon Situation Rooms, the purpose of any game is to create a framework of fair rules that offer balanced challenges and reward creativity (while hopefully being fun). Sudden Strike manages to do this quite well. If you are willing to replace the logic of real-world combat with the logic of the game, you are in for a good time.
The graphics alone are one reason. The environments beautifully recreate a nostalgic, 1940's Europe. Individual soldiers, vehicles, buildings - everything looks great (even when it's getting blown up). The engine is 2D and isometric, so it should run fine even on unaccelerated laptops. On a mid-range system, it performs flawlessly even with hundreds of units on the field.
In addition to the eye candy, Sudden Strike offers more missions than you are likely to ever finish. There are three large campaigns (one for each nation represented) and a plethora of additional missions included on a second. Considering the size of some of the maps and the temptation to play them over to try different strategies, Sudden Strike offers considerable value for your gaming dollar.
This does not mean that Sudden Strike is perfect. The interface, although effective once mastered, could use a more thorough introduction and tutorial. Anyone wanting to even experiment with the game should read every page of the sparse manual.
In addition, the poor unit pathfinding in the game may cause you to shout the occasional (or even frequent) expletive at the screen. A good real-time strategy game sort of requires that the units have a decent AI, and the pathfinding aggravations make the units function like lost little puppy dogs.
Finally, there really is no excuse for not including random scenario generators and a campaign editor with a strategy game. These have become staples in the genre and really up the replay value. Sadly, neither is found here.
Yet Sudden Strike is still worth a look. Even if you are not a fan of the period or prefer more traditional RTS games, you will probably find that the challenges offered by the diverse campaigns will suck in more of your time than you expected. If you are a World War II buff, or someone who is looking for an RTS game that focuses exclusively on combat and tactics, then Sudden Strike is for you.