Sudden Strike 2
Well, get your shoes on - the sequel is here and it's a worthy successor in every way. I'm sure you know the drill (sorry) with military strategy games now. Your army, consisting of various types of troops and units, faced against one or many opposing armies in a bid to complete an objective or two. Sudden Strike 2 focuses on a campaign-led singleplayer game, much like the first installment.
Five campaigns are available, which include the German, Russian, British, American and Japanese campaigns, all ranging in difficulty. They are in chronological order in the game menu, but the manual advises that if you are new to the Sudden Strike series, you should play the two easiest ones first. This should not be a problem however, because hidden away in the scenarios menu (separate, one-off missions) are two tutorial missions, which teach you the basics of troop control, artillery bombardment and the advantages of using your surroundings. The first thing you notice when loading the game is that everything seems a lot neater. The menus are more straight forward, arranged better and it just seems to look nicer than the original. The in-game graphics have not changed much from what I can tell, still the same old 2D isometric view and still the same old bitmapped units. However, this doesn't detract from the gameplay at all, you'll be keeping your eye on the enemy more than the scenery. One thing you will notice is that the scenery is more complex - the limit on buildings is now increased by a factor of 4, so creating huge towns is quite possible. And then you can blow them all to rubble, since anything and everything can be reduced to it's component parts - bridges, trees, bunkers etc. If you prefer the steamroller/carpet bombing technique, there's room for you!
Of course, you can't win a war without vehicles. Fortunately for you, there is a heaving mass of them within Sudden Strike 2, covering all possible uses. You can use anti-infantry vehicles, tanks, anti-tank vehicles, jeeps, trucks and all sorts of other tracked and wheeled deathmachines. Also, the fact that you can capture and use airfields is put to good use, especially in the singleplayer campaigns. If you don't like flying, why not take the train? Sudden Strike 2 allows you to use trains to full effect, attaching additional carriages that can carry anything from troops to anti-aircraft cannon.
Also, boats have been introduced to allow you to cross rivers and lakes, and you even get to control destroyers (and the opposing shore defence cannon). Kamikaze boats and tanks,V2 rocket launchers and an extremely powerful 1-shot howitzer all await your command.
The unit limit per map has also been increased - it's possible to have over 1000 units per scenario, which can lead to some pretty frantic battles as you scoot about the map giving orders like a madman. If there's one thing that you learn fast while playing Sudden Strike 2, it's the value of ammunition before troops. It's better to fire off your artillery into the enemy position than to send in men or equipment and hope they do the job. This game is not about rushing blindly in and swarming the opponent, it's about carefully making your way forward and letting your shells do the work. What with the amount of buildings and intelligence of the computer players, you have to maintain a good strategic view throughout the battle. It's no use thinking 'sod it' and sending 50 men headlong into an officers field of view - they'll be dead before they reach him. A good analogy would be rock-paper-scissors; infantry can take artillery positions, artillery can annihilate armour, armour can mow down infantry. Knowing when and where to use each, is the key.
Another gripe is that I couldn't find any way to stop a selection of infantry from grouping randomly after a movement. If you have upwards of 20 men selected and give them a move order, they could be spread up to a screens width apart. While this may seem sensible in a real war, it makes precision movement very tricky. This is slightly compensated for though, with the new crawl order. One good point however is the addition of a difficulty setting, which makes it easier for first time players and increases replayability.Overall, i'm quite impressed with Sudden Strike 2. It's managed to carry forward the same style of gameplay and even improve on several aspects. Multiplayer is still there and is better than before thanks to the new unit limit, and the map editor is back. Previous maps created with the Sudden Strike editor will not work with the sequel, but considering the popularity of the game, it shouldn't take too long for new maps and missions to emerge.
If you like your strategy served with a good portion of authentic background, coupled with realistic units and real-world locations, Sudden Strike 2 is for you. It's not Warcraft 3, and it certainly isn't Red Alert, which makes it all the more refreshing to see a real man's RTS once more.