In the past couple of years, we have seen a resurgence in the real-time strategy games, with a fair number of well-regarded RTS having launched or received major updates and expansions in the past 3 years. Alongside them have been a smattering of tactics games: Steel Division, Blitzkrieg 3, perhaps one or two more. The most recent of these, which launched just a couple of days ago on August 11, 2017, is Sudden Strike 4. This is our review.
Sudden Strike 4 is the latest entrant in the storied Sudden Strike franchise. It is the first game in the series published by Kalypso Media, and is being developed by Kite Games, a different studio than the one which developed the first 3 titles in the series. Being a tactics title, the game eschews base building, resource gathering, and economic activity in general. Instead, the player is tasked with managing and preserving a limited and preset force of units across lengthy and challenging single-player and multiplayer scenarios. Mechanically, Sudden Strike 4 is more similar to Steel Division, Men At War: Assault Squad 2, Wargame, World in Conflict or Blitzkrieg than it is to Company of Heroes 2, Act of Aggression, or StarCraft 2.
Ultimately, I find Sudden Strike 4 to be adequate. Not phenomenal and not terrible, but frustratingly mediocre. The game is packed full of interesting mechanics: grenades show arc and radius when you order a unit to throw them (unfortunately it’s pretty common for infantry to die before they’re able to fire off a grenade), tree lines and buildings block unit line of sight as you’d hope, corn field and tall grass can conceal Infantry ambushes, tanks and other vehicles can skid around if they’re issued move orders while in mud or snow. There’s directional armor for vehicles and a satisfying (if frustrating) repair and healing mechanic: vehicles can have critical damage repaired by repair crews, but beyond that, the player is really limited in actually patching up vehicle hit points. Similarly, when most infantry units are taken down, a medic can stand them back up again, but not restore them to more than about 25% health. It would make for a fraught and delicate combat system if the sometimes sluggish unit responses allowed the player to experience more fractional losses during gameplay. As it is, being out of position and suffering a bad engagement can leave you with most of your units unrecoverably dead instead of injured, meaning the repair and healing systems aren’t really driving the interesting gameplay they feel as though they promise
Many of my complaints about the game feel nitpicky but they add up to an overall underwhelming experience. Which is frustrating, because I really, really want to be able to recommend the game. Real-time tactics is my absolute favorite sub-genre, and the games themselves are few and far between. But there’s really little here to recommend the game over Blitzkrieg, Steel Division, or Men At War.
The game is good looking for the most part, but I was kind of surprised by the absence of a free camera. The camera in Sudden Strike 4 reminds me of the one in StarCraft 2 where I was hoping more for one like the camera in Company of Heroes 2. You can zoom in and out, but your ability to rotate and manipulate the camera is limited beyond this. Also, while at times the camera feels a bit constrained, simultaneously I found the units paradoxically so small and strangely indistinct that they were a bit hard to make out. Infantry especially is very samey, making it quite hard to find all of them (I have a continuous problem with leaving infantry behind, and selecting exactly the units I want always seems harder than it needs to be).
The game does have a resource system of a sort. All mechanized units carry ammunition for their various weapons and require fuel to remain mobile. Ammo and fuel is restored by supply trucks and managed at the level of the individual unit: each tank, half-track or armored car must be refueled individually – fortunately, units carry enough fuel and ammo that this process doesn’t have to be repeated too frequently. The system reminded me strongly of the one found in Steel Division and Wargame, though in Eugen’s tactics titles the process is more automated. Sudden Strike 4 is a much smaller-scale game than Steel Division, however, so the process isn’t too cumbersome in comparison.
The voice work is incredibly frustrating. The developer was obviously working with some budget constraints: you can see this in some of the graphics work in menus, and feel it in the sub-par pathing and quirky unit selection system, but it really slaps you in the face when you’re playing the Soviet and German campaigns. The primary narration of all 3 campaigns uses American accents (though the units themselves appear to actually speak German and Russian), meaning all of the dialogue is jarring, even as the player is taking part in facsimiles of actual historical battles.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. The campaign missions are fun (especially if you’re sanguine about the prospect of accidentally losing half of your fighting force in a single fell swoop and having to restart a mission because of it) and challenging in an unforgiving way. The player is encouraged to replay the battles in a number of ways: playing in certain ways can grant you bonus stars (a la Angry Birds) and can earn the player various medals for healing allies, being efficient with artillery, utilizing grenades, et cetera. There are 3 Doctrines a player can choose from (both in multiplayer and the campaign), each which provide a number of bonuses that encourage a certain type of play – infantry, support, or armor. These Doctrines also change the composition of a player’s units in multiplayer or skirmish matches.
Speaking of skirmish matches, I found these to be frustrating. Skirmish features a territory control win condition, with players being tasked to take and hold 5 HQ structures. Players start with a mid-size fighting force, but with a lack of solid scouting or retreat options, it’s quite easy to accidentally waltz into a large enemy force and be obliterated in short order. With a relatively limited number of units, it’s likewise difficult to hold territory, meaning that matches I played mostly seemed to devolve into a slow-paced race to capture points (since holding them while having enough units to take more was quite difficult). Matches can accept up to 4v4, and I have the feeling they’d be much, much more enjoyable at those numbers. Completely mystifying to me, however, is the complete lack of an AI difficulty setting in the game.
I’ll close as I opened. I found Sudden Strike 4 to be merely adequate. It has a (to me) wonderful array of clever mechanics that promise interesting tactical gameplay, but a laundry list of quibbles ends up draining the glamor from the game. It’s very hard to recommend Sudden Strike over any of the other tactical offerings out there right now, which feels to me to be a shame.
Sudden Strike 4 Review Score: 6.5/10
- Engaging and challenging single player missions
- Exciting feature palette that gives a player a lot of tactical options
- Pretty and detailed graphics
- Fuel, ammo, and repair mechanics add depth to gameplay
- Awkward pathfinding
- Muddy graphics that can make it hard to read battles at a glance
- German and Soviet Campaigns use US Voice Actor for narration
- Mediocre multi-player offerings + limited map selection