Developer: Best Way
Release Date: June 01, 2004
Buy 'SOLDIERS: Heroes of World War II': PC
A Bridge Too Far…
Codemasters has been busy at building a stable of authentic military and racing simulation games over the past several years. If memory serves I believe it was Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis that was the first Codemasters game that I played. Since then I’ve enjoyed their Colin MacCrae WRC and TOCA (Pro Race Driver) racing games. If there is one thing Codemasters can claim, it is an uncompromising desire to produce games that accurately reflect the chosen vehicle and immerse the player into that world, bumps, bruises and all. 1C Company, the guys who brought you one of the best flight simulators of all time in Il-2 Sturmovik, now brings you Soldiers: Heroes of World War Two under the publishing banner of Codemasters. With Soldiers: Heroes of World War Two the player is put into a detailed and hair raising wargame unlike any other I’ve played.
It comes as no surprise that Soldiers: Heroes of World War Two (herein referred to as Soldiers) attempts to realistically portray warfare on a tactical level with World War Two’s European Theater as a backdrop. The premise of the game is that you are in command of elite soldiers that possess specific skills and equipment to perform specific tasks such as driving a tank or knocking said tank with a bazooka. The story is told from a three dimensional isometric view somewhat akin to Jagged Alliance or Commandoes only 1C allows to you scroll, pan and zoom in and out. The graphics engine scales the units accordingly and provides a vivid image that even a modest system can handle. Sounds pretty standard doesn’t it? Doesn’t seem to include much innovation or originality does it? The formula also doesn’t sound like typical 1C or Codemasters design, however…
1C has gone and done something with Soldiers that I haven’t seen done before. 1C has tried to blend real-time strategy elements with third person role playing adventure feel. The results of this daring hybrid are a game that allows you tactical flexibility and direct command over your soldiers and assets however at the cost of a very high learning curve. There are two distinct command schemes to this game, the tried and true click-drag-point method of ordering a task force to an objective and then a much more personal and individual model that allows you to take direct control over a single unit to perform very specific tasks. The results are a very detailed and determined means of game-play that borders almost on obsessive-compulsive.
The game is broken down into American, British, Russian and German campaigns and each campaign is a story driven affair from some realm of the European Theater whether it is off the coasts of France prior to D-Day or within the meat-grinder of Stalingrad the year before. Overall there are about thirty missions to battle through and while that may seem short, once you get into each mission you’ll find that there is more than enough gameplay here.
The graphics engine relates an environment flush with ambient detail and depth. The engine is capable of producing realistic night and day environment with meaningful light sourcing and water effects. The three dimensional terrain also serves a functional purpose in terms of maneuvering and ballistics. Moving your units around a hill hides them from view, crest that same hill and your fires will find a longer range against the disadvantaged targets below. Not everything is traversable and rocky ledges or cliffs can funnel you or your enemy into bottlenecks perfect for ambushes.
Mission environments range from the rocky coast line outposts to densely populated urban terrain and all of it is modeled in exactly scale and detailed with good texture maps. Within these environments you will find equipment and supplies that you will need to complete your objectives such as ammunition and fuel. Your soldiers can pick up weapons off the ground and use the terrain or buildings as concealment or cover. These terrain and environment details coupled with a sizable map allows the player to perform interesting maneuvers however all the best laid plans go to waste once rounds go downrange.
What makes Soldiers so compelling is also what makes it so maddeningly frustrating. There is no base building or unit requisition as in other real-time wargames. Reinforcements are sparing and every solider counts in this game. Mix in the narrative style briefings and you will find yourself in a trial by fire where there are no expendable units. It’s not like you can send out a scout or two to check things out and shrug your shoulders if you gets waxed. This is not necessarily bad as this high price forces the player to think and coordinate assets much like a real company commander would, however many missions use a timer or require speed and without a thorough briefing or intelligence report on your upcoming mission then speed gets men killed and if you are going to get your men killed then you want to sell them off at a premium in this game.
The direct control scheme of Soldiers is good and allows the player to make up for any pathfinding or targeting issues a unit’s AI may have. You can use the direct control method to get your unit into place and target a specific object or unit with relative ease, however transitioning from direct control to an RTS of point and click makes for a not so smooth switch. Memorizing the various keystrokes or hotkeys for different actions for different units in different contexts is a challenge in it of itself. Due to the complexity of the game’s terrain, soldiers and vehicles behave different in different circumstances. You can make a soldier run, creep, crawl, paddle or swim but you must determine which means of locomotion you want. Aiming a soldier’s weapon directly takes more time as you have to pinpoint what you want to shoot only after the soldier’s reticule settles down. Again, this is realistic but painfully so. Imagine: while you’re carefully positioning your sniper into place your assault assets and units across the map are discovered and fighting ensues. Switching from one region to the other and from one control scheme to another is taxing at best; and if you’re the type of player to skip tutorials and chuck the manual into the trash, well then you can figure that out on your own.
Things liven up with the co-operative aspect of the single player campaigns. You can team up with up to four players over a LAN and perform you mission as a team which makes for some compelling action. The problem is that LAN set-ups are not so common and the lack of a competitive mode is a turn off for most. Even still, this game screams co-op mode all over as you can have small task forces detailed out to specific players where you can micromanage your troops to your heart’s content.
All in all, Soldiers is an admirable effort to evolve the genre of RTS wargames. At times Soldiers plays more like a 3rd person action RPG, but that’s not a bad thing. I originally felt that Soldiers does both RTS and action RPG at the same time, only neither one very well. That would be unfair as the nuances of this game reflect the uncompromising nature of Codemasters’ philosophy on gaming and the creative ingenuity of 1C. It would have been very easy to do a straight forward RTS for WW2 but 1C and Codemasters wouldn’t settle for such mediocrity. For that much, they should be commended. Spend the time learning the game and mastering its complex control schemes and you’ll be rewarded with a great adventure of a wargame.
Score : 8.4/10
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