Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Release Date: May 30, 2006
With the Codename: Panzers series, Hungarian developer Stormregion established a reputation within the RTS community for solid World War II strategy gameplay. Although it isn't a part of that series, Rush For Berlin certainly shares many of the features responsible for the addictive fast-paced strategic action of the Codename: Panzers series.
The action takes place in the final years towards the end of World War II, 1944-1945. With German troops overextended and on the run, the Allies are racing towards Berlin from the west as Russia's Red Army does the same from the east. The single-player mode features campaign action in Western, Russian, German and French theaters of operation. It also features the ability to step into some Nazi boots and play as the embattled Third Reich defending the capital from marauding enemies. You'll be able to rewrite portions of history and indulge your imagination by playing out alternative "what if" scenarios. Each mission is preceded by a short historical overview detailing the current situation. The briefing is delivered via a short video sequence where you'll get your main and secondary objectives which are also liable to change during the course of the mission, depending on circumstances. Each battle is neatly framed with full motion video cut scenes voiced in the native language with subtitles for added authenticity.
Rush For Berlin features a souped-up version of the Gephard graphics engine that made Codename: Panzers look so appealing. The diverse terrains, from the pale hues of frozen tundra to the rusty tones of the great Russian steppe, are painted with crisp brushstrokes. Small ambient details like waving flags, water reflections or rustling greenery mean they're not just static backdrops for the action. The crumbling edifices of war-torn buildings are painstakingly reproduced in all their decay and can, more often than not, house troops for added protection. When the bullets start flying, the graphics hold up delivering billowing clouds of smoke, flying debris, the small flash of muzzle fire and the arcing trail of a rocket-propelled grenade.
Quite a lot of the environment responds to the action with tanks crushing trees in their path and artillery shells tearing through walls. The night- and daytime effects and various weather phenomena are more than just eye candy impacting the gameplay in subtle ways. When it rains, the low-hanging misty clouds will obscure the action slightly at remote zoom levels while heavy thunderstorms will darken the battlefield and reduce visibility.
Part of what contributes to the appeal of Rush For Berlin is in its reworking of traditional RTS dynamics. While streamlining some aspects, it also adds considerable depth and complexity to others. The developers have attempted to emphasize the time element of RTS. Instead of the tedious repetitive act of collecting resources, they are generated automatically at a set rate, making time an important element to plan for in your strategy. Although it functions in much the same way as a harvestable resource, there are some slight differences. You'll have to actively respond to the mission circumstances in making your decision on what to build next. Will you build the lighter standard infantry or invest almost twice as much time building a more powerful Panzergrenadier? Of course, you'll have to factor in that you only have a few minutes before the Nazis blow up that industrial furnace you're supposed to be defending.
The hero system where officers and other special units gain experience in combat towards learning new skills injects a small degree of role-playing into the mix. These skills are diverse and imaginatively implemented. The Russian officer's comical "Double Portion of Vodka" skill gives troops a morale boost while the British SAS officer can call in paratroopers on his position. While not included in the preview build, the final build promises a range of fun tricks to try out, including the political officer's ability to call a propaganda leaflet drop to demoralize enemy troops. This system will require you to pay careful attention to the micro details to utilize and defend your powerful elite troops so that you can carry them on to your next battle.
You'll be spoiled for choice in the number of different units you can build, and in addition, there is a breadth of diversity between different nations' troop units. In total, Rush For Berlin promises over 100 different troop types, meaning it will take you some time to figure out the unique strengths of each. Alongside the standard artillery foot soldiers, there are sappers, snipers, medics, a range of authentically reproduced vehicles, and the riotous shock infantry who comes with a trained dog to plant explosives on enemy units.
The diversity and detail means winning a scenario is not as simple as collecting a massive amount of units together and pointing them in the right direction. Instead, you'll have to employ some creative tactics to balance your firepower, harnessing the strengths of some units to backup the weaknesses of others. Each unit has its own range of sight, but you also have the ability to "hear" your enemy before you see them, since their noisy activity is represented as an icon within the fog of war. This allows the wily strategy gamer to plan flank attacks or divert troops to avoid a confrontation.
Further subtleties, like the way different terrain types can affect troop movement rates, add to the mix of factors you'll have to plan in your strategy. Instead of rushing headlong into firefights, you can use units with a long range of sight to scout the terrain ahead, call in precision tactical air strikes on embedded troops, barricade your men inside gutted buildings and generally employ thinking and tactics to win the day. What's more, some effort has been made to bring some diversity to the gameplay so you won't always be capturing the enemy base. One mission, for example, requires you to guide tanks through the hazardous thin ice of frozen marshland by lighting signal fires. The often multiple mission objectives remove some of the linearity from gameplay.
The rattle of small arms fire is complemented by the deep dull thuds of heavy artillery that shake the screen and capture the sounds of warfare with a satisfying degree of fidelity. The drone of overhead planes or mechanical rumbling of tank treads is not accompanied by a lot of music, except for when the action really gets going and a suitably dramatic soundtrack kicks in. Elsewhere, the somewhat lengthy load sequences are set to rambunctious, patriotic military tunes with drums and brass heralding the glory of the motherland or the might of the empire.
Three different difficulty levels allow for a degree of replayability, and the AI provides quite a sufficient challenge, retreating, trying to outmaneuver your units, and using buildings and terrain as cover. When trash-talking the AI begins to feel a bit hollow, the final build also promises a multiplayer option featuring two new gameplay modes alongside the standard deathmatch and domination choices. From what we've seen, Rush For Berlin is on track to be a tasty morsel for fans of the genre and series to chew on until Panzers 2 arrives, but it is also a relatively apt and uncomplicated introduction to the genre for those gamers who might be wondering what all the fuss is about.
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