Blitzkrieg: Rolling Thunder
Genre: Historic Real Time Strategy
Publisher: CDV Software
Developer: Nival Entertainment
Release Date: December 01, 2004
Blitzkrieg: Rolling Thunder is the latest installment in the Blitzkrieg series, a stand-alone expansion of the Historic Real Time Strategy variety that realistically follows the campaign of General George S. Patton during World War II. The game boasts an impressive amount of attention to detail. The units are realistically displayed even down to the specific weapons used by individual infantry units. I can see the appeal of a title such as this to all the armchair generals out there who are real WWII enthusiasts, and I think that the game is specifically designed with those people in mind. Unfortunately, as a pure RTS the game is plagued by many problems which can be very frustrating at times.
I have never played the original Blitzkrieg or the previous expansion Blitzkrieg: Burning Horizon, so I cannot really compare this game to those that came before it. It doesn’t require you to own the original Blitzkrieg to play, but I assume that if you liked Blitzkrieg you’d like this game too. It contains an 18-mission campaign that follows General Patton around Europe and northern Africa alongside 8 new single player missions, and has many new units which allow for even more realistic historical reenactments.
Blitzkrieg: Rolling Thunder has a pretty steep learning curve, as it is very difficult to beat the computer, even on the normal difficulty setting, until you’ve learned how everything in the game works and get a feel for using all of the resources at hand to accomplish the mission goals. Each unit has a wide variety of abilities dependent upon that unit’s type, and there are a wide variety of unit types such as tanks, artillery, supply trucks, infantry, and snipers. The game drops you into a map with a large army of diverse units and provides you with a list of objectives, some mandatory but most optional. Only by using good strategy will you succeed, and the better your tactics the better your shot at accomplishing all the objectives.
The tools at your disposal provide for a wide range of tactics and strategy. You can call for various forms of air support, such as bombing runs, fighter cover, ground support, and paratrooper drops. You can dig trenches, create obstacles, and plant mine fields. You can target points on the map with artillery fire, and sneak around with sniper units picking off enemy officers and gun crews. The choices are yours to make, and the outcome, win or lose, depends on whether you make the right ones.
Units in the game die rather easily, which is better for the enemy than you, as their side normally starts the map with several times more guys than you do. Lose too many troops and finishing the mission becomes all but impossible, so be sure to plan your actions carefully before doing anything rash. Grabbing all of your tanks and telling them to attack in the enemy’s general direction is just about the fastest way to lose (I argue Alt-F4 still edges that out, though barely). The game practically requires you to use recon planes and scouts to get a feel for how the opposition has set their forces up, and expects you to take advantage of long range attacks such as howitzers (which can bombard targets within a range that’s over half the map although not with exceptional accuracy) and heavy bombers (carpet bombing is your friend) to soften the enemy up before the tank blitz wipes them out. The focus on strategy and tactics really makes you feel like a general planning out a war campaign and not like a small child playing with little green army men. This is probably the part of the game I liked best.
The main problem I had with Rolling Thunder, once I learned how to play, was with the controls – mostly with the responsiveness of the units when I’d issue them an order. I’m used to RTS games where selecting a unit or group of units and telling them to move somewhere or attack something has immediate results. With this game it always felt like my orders had some lag associated with them. The pathing when moving several units simultaneously is absolutely horrid. I actually had a group of five units get stuck because they couldn’t figure out how to get around each other. It’s the little things like this, the lack of polish, that combine to create a frustrating experience in a game that otherwise has a lot going for it.
Historical aficionados will enjoy the attention to detail. The game even has a complete encyclopedia of all the tanks, artillery, and trucks used in WWII complete with details and historical facts. The greatest strength this game possesses is its ability to put you in the general’s seat, giving you the tools you need to create your own strategy and tackle the missions in any way you choose. It rewards you for doing things well, and punishes you for failure. It’s very easy to lose, and difficult to win, but that just makes victory all the more savory.
The graphics are nothing spectacular, but that’s acceptable since this game is using the same engine as Blitzkrieg, a game released well over a year ago. Units and objects in the game are all 3D rendered over a 2D landscape. Unit animations are pretty good, with tanks and artillery recoiling when they fire, however the explosions are a little lackluster. While the ground units look decent, the planes are ugly in comparison. This isn’t horrible, since you see ground units all the time while planes are only on-screen for a short time, but it does go back to the idea that the game lacks polish in some areas.
Sound effects are tinny and not very good in general. Tanks and artillery don’t pack the throbbing punch you’d expect when they fire their huge guns. If the game is supposed to realistically recreate historic battles, I want to feel like I’m in the action, and the sound just doesn’t deliver. The music is orchestral and appropriate for the time period, if not particularly memorable.
So you have a Historical RTS that’s good at some things but not great. The World War II buff inside you is going to love it, but it definitely is not everyone’s cup of tea. This game feels like Command & Conquer meets the History Channel. It rides the thin line between historical accuracy and action-packed excitement. It isn’t going to mind-numbingly bore you with micro-management, but first you have to get through the learning curve. If you like this type of game, I’d say this one is worth playing.
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