Time to blow up some Germans!
When I first saw this game, I immediately expected it to be the game of 1998. Unfortunately, my feelings are slightly mixed on Soldiers of War, which possesses some fine qualities, but is also somewhat flawed.
The subject matter of the game is World War II - namely, commando raids that occurred throughout the European Theater from the Fall of 1942 to the Spring of 1945. If you play a campaign, the series of battles will take your platoon from North Africa to Sicily, through Italy and France, and across Belgium and Germany to Berlin. Each mission consists of one turn-based scenario with the objective of either eliminating an opposing force, hijacking people or material, or blowing something up. In the meantime, you must ensure that your men do not get themselves eliminated in the process.
Essentially, SSI succeeded in creating a very detailed game. All of the troops, American and German, possess authentic weapons of the period, from assault rifles to small explosives. There is even an online encyclopedia to explain the use and background of each device. Additionally, the soldiers who are trained in the use of certain weapons over others tend to perform better when they are using those specific rifles or charges.
The graphics are done very well, as would be expected from a game by SSI. Each of the game's functions produces a realistic battlefield sound to heighten the sense of war realism. The designers claimed to have constructed the program in such a way to simulate a Hollywood-style battle. In doing this, they have largely succeeded, by using elements of suspense (you cannot see all of the enemies), explosive firepower (each weapon does its own unique form of damage), and the bending of certain boundaries of realism.
Unfortunately, while the game is definitely not a waste of money, it does have a few flaws which keep it from being great. First, the entire concept appears to be a carbon copy of a game that appeared a few years ago, X-Com:UFO Defense. In that game, like this one, you control a platoon of men armed with certain weapons who in a turn-based environment walk across a game map and into darkened (unexplored) buildings looking for enemies to kill.
Second, while X-Com was an extremely popular game, it was also the last game before the onset of the real-time genre led by Warcraft and Command and Conquer. Gamers found these games exciting, and for good reason. They were war games that did not allow you to sit back and consider your next move. They forced you to act as an authentic commander would, quickly, usually without much information, and in a situation that punished those who were not sufficiently decisive.
And so this fact is Soldiers At War's major stumbling block. Such a thing can be dismissed in strategy games involving larger units, where one player's turn could easily translate to an entire day of battle in real life. But this is a commando raid, a short but violent skirmish where mere seconds can make the difference between success and failure. The game attempts to circumvent this fact by suddenly switching to an almost real-time mode in certain situations. These can occur when you suddenly move a soldier into a spot that is within an enemy's line of sight. This is unnerving when you did not know the enemy was there, but even more so when the game's turn-based engine lulled you into a sense of false security.
The game's interface is somewhat bulky, though admittedly the designers did their best to integrate the enormous number of functions into some sort of cohesive menu system. Everything is point-and-click, including the myriad of buttons that pop up whenever you flip to the menu screen. However, the designers did put in pop-up descriptions of each button, which is extremely helpful in this case. Nevertheless, there is still some streamlining that could be done.
Additionally, while the game graphics are nice, the animated sequences between the campaign scenarios are terrible. They are very cartoony, with mouths that move apart from the rest of the face. Put another way, this technology was cutting-edge in 1993, but looks a little dated in 1998. Of course, despite little more graphic enhancement than 1994's X-Com, the game still requires a Pentium 120 with 16 MB of RAM and 165 MB on the hard drive.
Finally, the missions tend to be slightly vague. If I am supposed to eliminate a certain group of enemies that hold an objective, the game should end when that objective has been secured. However, after doing this, the game makes you waste the next hour or so going back into the town you just came from, looking for that one little German who hid in a corner of the fourth floor of an unknown building. Only after nailing his cowardly (and extremely hard-to-find) behind is the scenario won.
All together, Soldiers At War is not a bad game. Were it more streamlined with slightly better graphics, it could be the game of 1998. I am betting that turn-based tactical combat has run its course, with the real-time genre here to stay. ( Let's hope not...-Ed.)