Halt! Friend or foe?
The game itself is comprised of campaigns and single missions. The former allows you to begin a conquest of a certain area with any of the 3 sides featuring, while the latter is designed for a quick play if time is lacking. I use the term quick loosely, because every mission in Sudden Strike is not what you would call quick at all. The main focus here is strategy with a given force, not build your own force and win with it, which is featured in so many RTS games. In a way, it's more challenging because once all your mobile units are dead, you can't just build more. Sudden Strike certainly teaches you to treasure your units as if they were your own brethren and as such, not send them screaming into battle like possessed 100 metre runners. No, instead you are forced to out think, out manouvere and out gun your opponent. And it's really quite tricky. Of course, no desktop commander can do very well without a good control interface, and thankfully you won't find this game lacking. It's somewhat different to the stand RTS design, and instead opts for a "right-mouse button does everything" arrangement, with the left button being stuck with select and deselect. It doesn't detract from the game in any way, but it just takes time to get used to after years of Red Alert!After mastering the controls, I discovered the ability to queue orders. For example, it's perfectly possible to issue a string of commands to a truck to pickup an artillery piece, unload it somewhere else, unload the troops and move off. All done via a simple shift + right mouse combination. Very handy indeed. The first campaign mission greeted me with a nice voiced briefing. The accents for all three campaign mission briefings are passable, with the possible exception of the Russian voice being just that bit wonky. Not that I speak to Russians often.
Anyhow, after proceeding onward from a very quick loading screen, the main game window appeared. In 1024x768 (resolution being the only video option available to change), the graphics appeared very detailed and nicely drawn. The units themselves are sprites but are very well animated, especially the explosions and animations. The only drawbacks I discovered were that you cannot identify the type of the trooper unless you hover your cursor over it, upon which the name is displayed in the status bar. Also, the units are not highlighted in any way, so finding them under scenery is very tricky. Group select works, but if you want an individual unit it might be hard finding it. The units are not stupid though, they will take cover if fired upon (or ordered to do so by you), and buildings, trees, hedges, rocks and walls all provide cover for your miniature warriors. Using units as "spotters" for artillery also works, so for example, hiding an officer with a longer sight range in a treeline will allow him to see enemy positions. If you have a Howitzer or equivalent, you can then lob shells right into the enemys ammo dump, warehouse or toilet without risking a single man!
The vehicles are my favourite part of the game. The variety is vast and they all act as I imagine they would in real life. Tanks are slow and very powerful, trucks and jeeps can carry troops (but you can't tell what's in them unless you actually click on the truck/jeep) and artillery is supremely powerful. And I believe this is what the game is about; using the infantry to clear up after bombarding your enemy to smithereens. If you have artillery available, use it! Without support you will find your men dying left right and centre, while the enemy laughs evilly from within his bunker. Replace those men with a tank or two and just watch Mr Bunker die! After playing several missions and a large part of a campaign, I can honestly tell you that it's quite similar to two games. First, Commandos, because of the graphics and the style of play. Losing units is not something you want to do very often, as usually you need most of your men intact to achieve anything. Secondly, Microsofts Close Combat also bares similarities, due to the small units and tactical requirements. Don't judge this wrong, Sudden Strike is not like either of these two, but instead it borrows good ideas and features from both and amalgamates them into a lovely 314mb install. It's not like Red Alert 2 much at all, and is rather at the other end of the RTS genre.
Multiplayer is of course available, and although I was unable to test it with anyone, it does look superb. You can't pick your starting units as they are designated by the map chosen, some of which are very big indeed. In the upcoming expansion pack I expect multiplayer will be expanded even more, including new maps and units. This should definitely keep you going though!
If you like ordering troops about and you're fed up of the current line of strategy games, check this out right now. With the vast amount of troops available, the massive amount of missions provided (the second CD is purely missions!) and the opportunity to use real world war equipment, this should not be missed by any strategy fan.