Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Developer: Silver Style Entertainment
Release Date: October 22, 2002
It was November 10th 2004, when the 'Spontaneous Genome Degeneration Syndrome' (SGDS) appeared for the first time. Local news reported a strange illness in Tokyo, but no one recognized the severity of the problem. The first patient died about two weeks later, and because of the uncontrollable tissue growth, didn't even look human anymore. Back in the the early '70s, the Russians were building military bases all over their territories, also containing research labs. Officially, the scientists carried out cancer research. Few knew the truth: these scientists were busy researching biological warfare. Then, to combat global terrorists in the year 2004, the Americans, Europeans and Russians began exchanging their knowledge of biological and chemical weapons. Ten years later, as the leader of a small group of survivors of an apocalyptic inferno, it is all a matter of your personal tactical and strategic abilities. Find your place in this new world and discover the secret behind the destruction of mankind. The most powerful weapons of the past will aid you to build a new future. But keep your eyes open! If you underestimate your enemy, mankind will perish forever.
The game starts off with a tutorial to make people familiar with the game and the ways of controlling your squad of soldiers, and already that is where the first disturbance in the force occurs. Since the game is 3D, getting used to handling the camera controls turns out to be a major chore in the early version, and it seems like Silver Style read our minds since in the updated beta version, they had added an auto follow option (spacebar) that makes navigating the maps a breeze, since it just follows your squad while you can still control in a 360 degree angle. Big relief on our part!
You start the game with a team of four, and each team member has a specific field he/she specializes in, from a demolitions expert to a medic. As you move along, you expand your team (up to 12 people) by taking in people you encounter on your various missions who want to fight alongside you. You will have to wade your team through a whopping 23 levels (and eight multiplayer maps) spread over about a dozen campaigns, mostly set in large outdoor maps. Your missions are mostly recon and gathering intel on what's out there, scouring the area after being away for 10 years. The setting makes me think of that Luke Perry series on television, Jeremiah.
Your HUD is pretty simple, and most of the screen is used for actual game view. In the top left, you have a bird's eye view of the entire map, showing your current position and a radar ping (it resembles a sonar and sends out a beacon) originating from your next objective, so that even when your objective is not in direct sight, you still know in which direction to travel. That very same map view lets you zoom in and out, and by clicking on a certain spot, your main screen will automatically show that location. When you came into the vicinity of enemies (be it enemy soldiers or a pack of wild animals), the mini map will also indicate such and represent those with a red dot while being marked by a yellow flag on the actual game screen.
The bottom of your screen will display your current team and gives you instant information about their actual function (medic, commander, demolition), their health, their active weapons, and armor. Once you click on one of your team members, a window will pop up on the left side of the screen, giving you more detailed information about him/her, such as backpack contents, extra ammo, etc.
Transferring items from one team member to the other is done by a simple click-and-drag from the personal inventory to the squad member icon on the bottom of the screen. Holding Shift + right-click will let you select multiple tasks for your character to perform consecutively once you are done with the selection. For instance, if there are several boxes of ammo to pick up, you hold Shift + right-click on all objects, let go of the Shift key, and your selected character will pick them up. Another shortcut function is Ctrl + right-click to attack from a large distance (throwing grenades for instance).
The game also has some minor RPG, since your characters gain more experience by completing missions/objectives and you can upgrade your characters between levels by giving them hormone treatment (to increase their life energy), "make" med-kits or "fly" drugs (to temporarily increase their perception in battle), making them even more deadly and effective in the next at-bat. Not only can your squad be upgraded, but your vehicles can also be repaired or upgraded between missions when you return to your base camp, giving you the opportunity to fix man and machine. You are given 24 hours to fix things, each action eating away several hours, depending on how serious the "fix" is. Adding new machine guns to your humvee or equipping your team with heavier weapons ... it all costs time. Of course, you can also purchase new vehicles or swap current ones with one of the total 29 vehicles available, as long as you have enough credits to do so. Some of the weapons you can toy with are a crossbow (for silent kill), mp-5, Uzi submachine guns, pistol, benelli shotguns, dragunov, Panzerfaust, etc., and vehicles ranging from jeeps, humvee's or trucks to several different tanks, helicopters and jet airplanes.
All actions in the game are performed via right-clicking, whether you're moving to a certain location, occupying vehicles, or simply "seeing" the options or actions that a certain item/unit has. When you right-click and hold, an on-screen selection menu will pop up. For example, if you want to heal a team member, you select your medic, move the indicator to whoever you want to heal, right-click on that unit and hold, which will pop up the actions for the unit, including a red cross to heal. The same goes for your demolition character: select the unit, drop the explosives, right-click and hold over the dynamite, which will pop up the actions, select activated, which will let you set the delay timer, and then RUN! You and your teammates are quite an impressive bunch, they can kneel, hit the dirt, climb walls, and all sorts of acrobatics. Each character has a primary and secondary weapon and a throwing slot (grenades, molotov cocktails, etc.) at their disposal.
If all of that is not enough, Silver Style decided to add a VERY powerful and easy-to-use editor with the game -- the very same editor the developers used to create the game -- so the possibilities are almost endless. Everything that the developers used on the single and multiplayer maps will be available in the editor so you can use the dozens of options that come packed with the editor itself or go as far as importing your own creations made in 3D Studio MAX. Not being very handy level designers ourselves, we let the SSI people show us how easy it really is to get started and, even for a beginner, I don't see why it wouldn't be possible if you want to invest a little time. The editor is a very good idea, and Silver Style really has gone the extra mile to pack it with loads of goodies and make it really easy to create simple or complicated maps. If you have a rugged terrain that you want to pack with trees, the editor automatically adjusts the density and the height of the trees as you ascend hills or mountains (staying in cue with the fact that the higher you go, the less vegetation you have in real life).
The game is in full 3D, giving you a very beautiful result when you just look around on the maps. All objects, characters, and buildings are nicely detailed, and you can get a good closeup on everything when zooming in, and even when you are zoomed out at the maximum level, everything looks sharp. Most of the maps are huge outdoor settings crowded with all sorts of vegetation, buildings and missions will alternate between night and day, have various weather effects such as rain and snow, and other little additions to make the game a rich experience.
As soon as you encounter the first vehicle (a humvee) that you can actually use, it becomes clear that the developers took their time and spend a great deal on details. To give you some examples: the suspension squeaks when the humvee brakes or departs, the break lights actually work accordingly, the headlights give it a nice extra touch illuminating the road ahead, and when your team gets into the humvee, you hear them open the doors and get in as well as slamming the doors shut and turning on the engine. The manhole for the 50mm calibre gun lets you take a peek inside the humvee, and you can actually see whoever is inside. The humvee leaves tire tracks where it should, and there is smoke coming out of the exhaust pipe. I have a little gripe with the fact that when you make your people board or leave a vehicle, they exit one by one ... if a car has four doors, why don't they exit simultaniously?
The Artificial Intelligence from either squad members as well as your enemies is quite solid all through the game. Enemy AI reacts to noise and situations, as well as your own actions. Enemy AI will call and get support from their comrades, and patrolling enemies are effective in guarding their designated area, making it quite a task for you to infiltrate and get to your objective. When not being commanded as a squad, your team members will make their own decisions depending on their defensive or offensive posture. Varying terrain conditions will influence everything, vehicles will drive slower in snow or muddy places after rain, your units will advance slower in rugged terrain, have better cover in debris and are harder to spot by enemies when laying down than standing up ... everything is taken into account.
At this point, we were unable to check out the multiplayer aspect, so expect it to be covered when we do our full review. Eight multiplayer maps will be included when the game ships so we are looking forward to see what SOA can accomplish when we wage war over the internet.
In the overcrowded RTS genre, it is not every day that you come across a game that has something new to offer, let alone one that is actually ground-breaking, but Silver Style and publisher Simon & Schuster are onto something special here. "Soldiers Of Anarchy" is definitly something else and will raise the bar for future RTSes. We had a chance to check out an early beta, and we were more than pleasantly surprised by what Silver Style's squad-based strategy game had to offer. The editor will certainly contribute to the replay value and longevity of the game, as I am sure many exciting new mission packs will be available somewhere, for free of course. ;) "Soldiers Of Anarchy" is due out in the next week, and I can highly recommend it to all the Real Time Strategy fans out there. It's simply a must-have!