Soldiers: Heroes of World War II
Russian developers are on the move and are becoming as professional as their Western counterparts: they turn out one game after another and many of them turn out to be great. It should be no surprise that I was excited to get the review-cd of Soldiers: Heroes of World War 2. Would this game turn out to be as innovating and ground breaking as promised by Best Way and 1C Company? I was soon to find out!
The structure of the game is quite classic: four campaigns (Russian, British, German and American) each featuring 5 or 6 missions with a few extra bonus missions to back them up. One can choose the difficulty level for each mission separately and this will turn out quite handy. A lot of gamers will find it hard to finish the levels at the beginning, but once you are used to the gameplay you can still turn up the heat if you like to. We can’t really say what genre Soldiers belongs in, rather it is a blend of different game-types. Just picture the gameplay of Commandos with the graphics and controls of an RTS, spiced with the strategic depth of for example Jagged Alliance. Add to this a nice and engaging storyline and you should have quite a correct view of the package.
Let’s start with the beginning: the training missions. Aside some minor flaws these are all very fun and show you a short but comprehensive overview of the most important aspects of the game. Not only does it give you the right feel from the first seconds, it also introduces the biggest innovation compared to your classic RTS: ‘direct control’. One can send his units about with the famous Point&Click method or you can choose to control one unit at a time yourself. You do this by making use of the arrows to make them run or drive in the appropriate direction and using the mouse to point the sights on the enemy. It instantly sucks you into the action at hand and it’s just so rewarding to snipe that unsuspecting guard or reduce the cosy house of an innocent civilian to rubble with a Sherman.
The campaign itself has great atmosphere and is very attractive to play. At the start of each mission you receive a fixed number of vehicles and soldiers. The more than hundred different units and weapons should be sufficient to guarantee some variety. Make sure to search the battlefield for weapons left behind by the enemy since often you take the men and the equipment with you to the next level.
As you might have suspected in the mean time, resource-gathering is absent in Soldiers. This clearly indicates that this is not an RTS-game like C&C: Generals or even Warcraft3. Nor does the fact that you have to take into account the number of shells left in your tank, that you have to supply vehicles with gas, and that your soldiers can only carry a limited number of weapons and ammunition. Hell, if you like hectic gameplay and casting bloodlust, you should look out for something else.
The most memorable feature of Soldiers is of course the impressive 3D-engine. It not only displays beautifully detailed units and landscapes but at the same time allows unlimited fun. One can rotate and position the camera freely and you will do it often, if only to look at things exploding and changing by your own doing. Everything is interactive and can be destroyed: crates and soldiers fly around after an explosion, tanks are realistically thrown on their side by the impact of a shell, trees catch fire due to a burning truck nearby, houses collapse because of you driving a Panzer in a side wall, etc. Imagine all this and next to that the excellent animation of soldiers and units and you’ll know how you will enjoy every encounter in the game. You can even shoot through the windows of a building without damaging it and surprise a Tiger by unexpectedly bashing an armor-piercing shell in it’s side.
And the sheer fun is not over yet: soldiers position themselves in order to make use of the cover of trees and corners, you can burn a tank until the crew makes a run for it, enabling you to capture it. You can defuse mines and use them in an ambush etc. The possibilities are endless and that makes the strategic gameplay very engaging and attractive. Forget taking on the enemy head-on, you will die a certain death. Rather think of a strategy beforehand and attack those tanks from their rears.
The AI of the opponent is most of the time satisfactory (they’ll try to flank you!) and your own men are smart enough to take care of themselves. One time I had positioned three of my soldiers in a building, each covering one side through a window. Without me clicking once they annihilated at least 20 men. Such a pleasure to sit back and look at them while they duck, peek and jump out at just the right time to shoot the enemy.
The sound is satisfying overall but never gets to the level of the graphics. The score is somewhat too repetitive and you’ll switch it off quite soon. The effects are quite cool and crisp but the comments of your men will wear out quickly due to the frequent usage of the same sentences over and over again. Nevertheless, it gets the job done and fits the overall feel.
But not everything is as good as it sounds. There are quite some details that sometimes come in the way of the fun: there is no info on the weapons or units, you are not warned when a tank that is somewhere on the other side of the map is under attack, the mini-map is not clickable, there is no quick-save button (you’ll curse for that mistake, trust me!) and sometimes the AI behaves kind of stupid. Like when my good friend and overall Heroe Sergei was mowed down by a teammate who thought he could finish a tank by shooting with an MG42 against a building in front of the tank. You’ll have to be prepared for a lot of ‘mission failed’ messages and even more trial&error. Patience will be your strongest allie to help you finish the game!
Once you have reached that stage, you’ll be ready to take on the bonus missions, the cool co-op mode and you’ll notice that the mod-community is actively working on new missions.
Soldiers: HOWW2 is a strategic game, full of possibilities and blessed with a magnificent 3D-engine allowing a previously unseen degree of interactivity. Despite some minor flaws and loose ends in the details this game is great for everyone who loves slow but detailed gameplay with considerable depth and who is not afraid of a challenge. It also invigorates the RTS- and strategygenres who were in dire need of some innovations, which is a reason on itself to support the game. However, gamers who only want to produce units as fast as possible and rush the enemy should leave this game on the shelf. Everyone else: you won’t be disappointed.