A couple of years ago during a meeting in the offices of Nival Interactive in Moscow:
- NI-Employee 1: “People, this can go on no longer ! The last decent team-based, turn-based strategy game was Jagged Alliance 2 and everyone here has finished that about 10 times. What do you say, shouldn’t we try to make such a game ourselves ?”
Employee 2: “Hmm, I don’t know, it’s not like there’s tons of money to make with a turn-based game. By the way, with Etherlords we already made a turn-based game, why not try a totally different genre ? We have the qualities to make a great 3D engine with physics, with that we can easily make a WW2-shooter. At least that’s profi-“
Employee 1: “That’s it Igor ! Let’s make a WW2 team-based, turn-based strategy game with a great 3D engine with physics. That’s exactly what the genre needs my lad !”
Employee 2: “But the money we can earn with a good WW2 first person shoo-“
Employee 1: “Really brilliant idea man. We’ll make big names like the Gollop Brothers and Sirtech disappear into oblivion !”
Employee 2: “But…”
Employee 1: “Who votes to start work on this new turn-based game ?”
* all right hands on the meeting rise except for one… *
Employee 1: “Decided !”
Employee 2: *pfffff*
And so dear gamers, Nival Interactive took upon itself the not so enviable task to get a place amongst the great with Silent Storm. Well, in the team-based, turn-based strategy genre that is. No “Age of Wonders” of “Galactic Civilizations” stuff here. After all, we play with a gang of (maximum) five specialists who have to fullfill several dangerous missions during World War 2.
First you have to choose sides (Axis or Allies) and create a main character which will be used to lead the party and be able to talk with all the NPC’s. During the creation of this person it becomes clear that there’s six classes available (Scout, Grenadier, Soldier, Sniper, Engineer and Medic) and that you’ve got a lot of possibilities to determine the looks (especially the face; it’s not that you can make a ‘Wacko Jacko’ with it but still a véry big amount of other faces )
There’s a very extensive array of specialists and soldiers to add to your team, all with a specific background story and own personality… at least, in their personal files. In-game there is hardly any further story to them and only certain specific oneliners make them content-wise different. Also there’s no personal interaction between different members of the party. The retail-box may brag about the “40 mercenaries from 30 different countries”, if they only differ by class/statistics/voice it isn’t really to call home for.
Dialogues aren’t present too much and when they do happen you don’t have any means of choice. A couple of missed chances because it could have given a bit more weigth to the roleplaying aspect of this game.
You do have some basic statistics, skills and a lot of typical abilities for each class but only with the abilities you can choose something by level because your basic stats remain the same and your skills (shooting, hiding, sniping) will raise automatically by level. Overall there’s quite a lot of variation in these abilities so that you can create more or less unique team members.
Furthermore there’s a wealth in different arms which all have their own stats. Weapons remain, no matter how much you use them, to work without loss of quality. Besides the material which you gather during your missions you can get several things for free at the headquarters (understandable since you’re in service of a coalition of countries who by all means want to win the war). Although you can change the clothing of your character during its creation, this isn’t possible during the game itself. Unfortunately there are no armor, helmets or what so ever to be gotten for yourself or your team members except for the powerful (futuristic) Panzerklein battlesuit around the end of the game. I believe there will be a couple of people out there who would love to be able to adapt ‘all’ their gear and get rid of this sci-fi business.
Both Axis and Allied campaigns exist out of a bunch of missions spread all over Europe as you can see on the interactive world map. Through this map you can return to your HQ where you can re-arm, heal, and get new team members. There’s plenty of missions and they’re very varied, but it does take a couple of hours before you get to see something of the plot in Silent Storm.
You’ll also have to deal with optional, random missions which makes that you’ll always have more than one location to go to. These locations are marked on the sectormap on which your team moves and can bounce on a random encounter.
Random encounter means trouble and you’ll get a 3D view (certainly no fixed camera view, you can zoom in and out) and everything will be real-time until you or your enemy make the first shot. Then the game will switch towards a turn-based mode where lots of game elements will make you think back to the X-Com games or games like Fallout and Jagged Alliance.
It has to be said: it’s refreshing to be able to experience a game like this after so much time. Silent Storm certainly doesn’t disappoint on the strategic level. Maybe you can complain about the long turns of the enemies and friendly soldiers (which you can’t control) but I don’t really quite see how this could be prevented, it’s part of the genre and certainly is present in aforementioned turn-based games aswell. Furtermore it’s, also due to the good interface, purely fun; bodies can be taken and dragged away, all weapons that are used by an enemy can be found after he was killed, stationary machine guns just beg to kick some major ass, stealth is very much encouraged, you can also hear opponents behind walls and adapt your strategy for that and aiming on different parts of the body is also an undenyable feature of this game. What is irritating however, is the fact that you sometimes still have to click too much on a character to direct it to somewhere else. It’s like after having clicked five time still nothing happens on the shown path.
A decent AI is also present. Sometimes you’ll see a couple of errors but overall the enemy gives enough of a challenge and the friendly forces have a decent enough AI (the take cover in a smart way for instance).
Action points need to be used carefully to interrupt the enemies turn if need be of to quickly take cover after a wall although that last one won’t always be that safe as this game uses a completely destructable environment and you will have known that. In the beginning, when you don’t use any grenades yet and just shoot around you’ll notice that windows can break and that pieces of the walls can be shot but that’s only silence before the storm. Once you’re working with your grenades and the Panzerfaust the environment truly changes into a warzone. It’s definitely not an ordinary “showcase” of the engine’s possibilities but truly adds to the fun. The changeable environment gives lots of strategic possibilities aswell as practical ones; if you don’t have a lockpick to open a closed door you can just shoot it to pieces.
This all is displayed by a very good 3D engine, from the models to the weapons effects, it’s all displayed in pretty high quality. The reproduction of the weather is equally sublime and the light effects during the nightly missions make the graphical pleasure complete.
The physics however, contribute even more to the fun you get when you send an opponent to the hereafter. They drop realistically and fall down when they for instance were standing on a stairs or balcony. Bullets also behave “real” as they sometimes dare to ricochet. The blood marks on dead bodies really look top-notch and since all bodies remain at their positions you’ll have a real slaughterfest after combat.
There are some clipping problems from time to time (bodies laying in each other) aswell as some troubles with certain videocards apparantly (as well as some crashbugs).
The system specs aren’t really “mild” for a turn-based game and even on heavier machines the framerate dares to drop down but Nival Interactive has currently released a patch (1.2) ready which should solve these and other problems.
The musical aspect is pretty good. There’s a lot of atmosphere in the music which certainly doesn’t disappoint. Sometimes there could have been a bit more action in the tracks but overall they are at high level, not something you can say of the voice-overs. These tend to irritate from time to time but you get used to them and in the end it becomes clear that it aren’t the voices itself but what is said and when it is said which annoys. As we’ve stated before, your team members have certain predefined oneliners at their disposal but they use them not only at certain occasions but also at certain “dead” moments when they aren’t necessary at all. After having heard a useless “’With experience comes wisdom’ for the 100th time it’s clear something more could have been done here. Still, it isn’t all that bad on the sound part as the many sound effects are truly breathtaking. Depending on which type of material a bullet will hit you’ll hear a different sound. The same can be said of a bullet that goes through a wall and then “stops” somewhere as you’ll hear 2 suiting sounds. Nival really deserves credit for this.
You can try out a different difficulty level than “normal” (“hard” or “impossible”) but it’s sad that the things that make these levels different (f.i. carrying unconscious people out of combat zone, the amount of medical aid that can be given between missions) cannot be set by you yourself. It would have only improved the amount of possible adjustments.
Don’t forget to check the settings for a custom game before starting up a game as you’ll be able to choose that you use action points by opening your inventory during the combat part and such.
For those that feel called to make a mod or custom mission/campaign there’s a map editor included (which you can only use if you’ve got MSSQL server installed, which is located on one of the Silent Storm cd’s). Although the editor isn’t as accessible it won’t surprise us if in the near future some pretty nice mods and missions will be released from the community.
One last sin however; the possibility to interaction with other Silent Storm fans is absent as there isn’t any multiplayer mode. A small disappointment because games like Laser Squad Nemesis and Massive Assault have recently proved this to be very interesting.
Conclusion : Nival Interactive has forgotten to get rid of some beauty errors but those won’t keep you from at least giving this game a chance (or from trying the demo). The graphics, the destructable environment, the physics, the sound effects, the non-linear campaign and the many strategical possibilities make it a very enjoyable game and even one where the long life span is generated by the random missions and the campaign which takes quite a long time to finish.
In the end though, Silent Storm is a game that asks for more and it doesn’t really add that many new features to the genre. Especially on the side of roleplaying there’s much more to do with the personality of your other team members/npc’s but don’t have a doubt; this game is definitely worth checking out for every self-respecting turn-based strategy fan.