Enough Real-Time-Strategy to be accessible and enough Simulator to be historical.
Kite Games’ Sudden Strike 4 sits in the middle between a tactical RTS game and a realism-focused Tabletop Simulator, trying to capture the best of both. The end result of this mixing is Sudden Strike 4, which manages to be fun yet frustrating at the same time. It captures the historical feel of the era without dragging it down with the excess realism we see in more Simulator-focused games, aiming to balance fun with historical accuracy and realism.
Due to the realistic elements of the game, it’s not an easy RTS (such a thing doesn’t really exist anymore anyway) to pick up and master. The game focuses on micromanaging each unit, but the game isn’t designed well enough for these moments. These frustrating moments don’t detract enough from the overall opinion of Sudden Strike 4, which manages to be a thoroughly engaging strategy game.
It’s quite unique for a World War 2 game to have such a deep and relatively historically accurate campaign. Campaign missions in France in 1941? The invasion of Russia? That’s definitely different and very much appreciated. There are some moments that don’t entirely line up with history (the scale of the D-Day mission feels off for example, while the Battle of Kursk has the Germans on the defense instead of offense, like what happened historically).
Having a thorough understanding of World War 2 is really significant advantage in the campaign, which is a great touch. For example, in the German mission at Arras, the player needs to advance forwards until they run into British Matilda II tanks. The player then retreats, and holds off successive British counter attacks with 88mm flak guns: exactly as it played in real life. These small moments in it capture a more indepth look into World War 2 than most, which tend to focus entirely on Stalingrad and D-Day onwards.
Kite Games definitely has no qualms with implementing a complex campaign either. Most missions have several objectives and take around 40 minutes to play out properly and the objectives change as the mission progresses(no plan survives contact with the enemy it seems). The first mission for the US campaign for example has the player commanding the airborne attack prior to D-Day, followed by commanding the actual invasion on the beaches, then taking that invasion inland: all within the same mission.
The flaw with these missions is that very often you just simply can’t lose the game. You don’t construct new units in this game, but the campaign gives you a steady stream of reinforcements to keep you going. This said, you still need to be quite vigorous and careful with your units or you’ll end up in positions where you simply can’t win with the troops you have left: namely from running out of tanks or infantry. The lack of an autosave feature in the campaign is also unforgivable, especially with how long the missions are and how tedious they can get.
Sudden Strike 4 has some weird gameplay elements, and some very frustrating ones. The nature of the game demands micromanaging; each tank needs to be facing the right direction; the artillery needs to know when to fire; the infantry need to be in cover. All of these elements demand equal attention; choosing to lazily group units together and throw them forward is a guaranteed way to lose most of them in a single stupid attack.
The realism factor does get tedious however–moving artillery guns or anti-tank guns around the map involves hooking them up and then driving them into position. Tanks often run out of gas at the most annoying of times, though ammo is thankfully a concern only for artillery. On top of all of the usual micromanaging that this sort of tactical RTS would demand, there are extra things the player needs to check, otherwise their attack will fall apart for the wrong reasons.
Controlling tanks and units can also be deeply frustrating. Rotating a single tank is a lot more of an effort than it should be honestly, especially since games are decided by tanks. And since Sudden Strike places so much value on the positioning of your units, being able to rotate a tank in place or have it reverse instead of turn around should be the most essential parts of the games UI.
Vision is the other frustrating mechanic in the game. Being able to get good vision on enemy units is entirely the domain of infantry units. Armored cars and jeeps do exist in this game, but they’re basically target practice for the enemy they’re so weak. This means that a level of all arms support is essential for any fight (all arms meaning multiple types of unit working together). Without infantry, your tanks are very blind and they’ll be destroyed by enemies they can’t even see.
Why this is a mechanic in the game is understood (to make infantry useful at all), but how it plays in practice is very annoying since infantry have no relevance outside of this. They can’t damage any tank without a dedicated soldier with a bazooka, they can’t take a position from an entrenched enemy and vehicles can capture points just fine without infantry. Unlike similar games like Company of Heroes, there’s no elite sort of infantry to patch this hole up and there’s no mechanics that reward your troops for staying hidden in grass (beyond the vision they grant).
So, what makes Sudden Strike 4 worth playing then? The historical vibe of this entire game. Whereas most World War 2 RTS games are very focused on a single part of the war (generally the later parts), Sudden Strike 4 explores the entire time period. The sheer variety of units in this are unparalleled for a RTS game; for the Germans you’ll control everything from a Panzer II to a Tiger II, and a whole variety of artillery units and tank destroyers. For anyone who’s a fan of history, this really stands out.
There’s also a great deal of latitude in how each mission goes about. You can capture enemy tanks and use them to fight alongside you. You can bombard the enemy from afar before closing in. You can control individual tanks so they always win their fights with enemy tanks. Personal preference matters a lot to this, as does adhering to actual military theory. Instead of applying typical RTS stratagems, Sudden Strike 4 operates on its own principles. It’s refreshing in an otherwise stale genre.
Beyond the setting though (which means nothing if the game isn’t enjoyable to play), Sudden Strike really nails the role of a realistic Tactical RTS game. Beyond the tanks and soldiers who make up the army, there’s the repair trucks, the medics to revive downed units, supply trucks to refuel your tanks mid mission. All of these features don’t overwhelm the user with too many things to care about, but do add a lot more depth to the game.
While this does play like a tactical game (see Company of Heroes for a great example of that type of game), it goes for a more bare bones approach. There is concealment, which hides soldiers from sight, and buildings to take cover in, but these aren’t huge items.
Instead, Sudden Strike 4 focuses more on rewarding the player for micromanaging their units and positioning them well on the battlefield. Knowing a good defensive position or flanking one are the moves that decide a battle, instead of moving your units from one bit of cover to another.
The lack of a solid skirmish mode limits the replayability of this game though. There is a Skirmish mode, but it’s so bare bones that there’s barely anything in it. 4 maps and a very confusing set up with them means playing against the AI is limited entirely to the campaign. These skirmish modes are also very confusing on how they operate, and seem to be decided by whoever manages their death ball of units better in one fight, since the recruiting of new units is barely relevant at all in this mode.
The campaign has to pick up the slack from this then. It does so by being very long and engrossing, and becoming quite intense at points. The Legendary Commander system helps with this. Each mission earns you points, which are then invested into upgrades from one of three Commanders. There’s three: Infantry, Armor and Support, and investing in one does not come at the expense of another so the player can switch between them without any penalty between missions. It’s a solid system, though repeating missions with different Commanders won’t make a huge difference on how the missions play out.
The issues with the Multiplayer side of things are the same that happen with the singleplayer skirmish missions. They’re basically entirely decided by a single battle and there’s only a handful of maps. There’s some potential here for combined arms and grand battles, but the maps still felt too big and the co-ordination too much to ask for most to make this a worthwhile endeavor. There is a real missed opportunity here for some seriously fun co-op missions (similar to Company of Heroes 2), but what is here is very lacking.
Performance & Graphics
Graphically, Sudden Strike 4 is stunning. The leap between this title and the last iteration in the Sudden Strike series–the difference feels night and day. They feel on par with the original Company of Heroes game, which is a bit outdated now, but the title looks great and didn’t present any graphical or performance issues during the review. The requirements are fairly light as well, but a toaster won’t be able to run this (you’ll need an actual gaming computer).
World War 2 games require a certain amount of grand, imposing music to capture the right atmosphere of a war game. You’re fighting off the tyranny of Nazi Germany, defending the free world against the Huns–the music needs to reflect that. Sudden Strike 4 understands that; it’s the sort of music that plays throughout the entire game.
It does however, have faults with its audio. Several sections of audio glitch and don’t play, leaving only the subtitles. There’s no in-game cinematics (or cinematics at all actually), only tactical maps with voice overlay. When those suitably accented voices disappear, the magic starts to fall off. A really basic error that undermines the game.
Sudden Strike 4 feels like the game designed for history buffs and fans of simulator games, and anyone outside of those two subsets of gamers will really struggle to enjoy this. This entire game is built around micromanaging the units in it, since they’re generally too stupid to figure it out on their own, and so the player needs to have patience and the ability to micro multiple units to find the fun in this game. If they don’t, then its not very fun.
Overall, this was a very fun game to play. Slowly working through several long missions is very enjoyable, even with the vision issues and how painful controlling an individual tank can be.The freedom of choice each mission involves is fantastic, as is how intense the campaign is. That the entire game is the campaign modes is a huge oversight by the developers, because it severely limits how much this game has to offer. It’s recommended to anyone who loves World War 2 and anyone who loves a good simulator game.
Sudden Strike 4 can be purchased on Steam for $50 USD.