If there's one genre we've always missed on consoles, it's strategy games. Requiring a fair amount of foresight and planning, strategy games have always provided a nice counterpoint to the faster, more action packed games out there - and yet on console, they've always been few and far between. Even the advent of the Wii and Wii U, one of which brought a pointer controller (giving you a ready made mouse-like control scheme), and the other of which added tablet-style touch screen controls, couldn't spur the genre on, meaning anyone looking for strategy game fix had to head to PC instead. At least, until now.
Partnering with upstart studio Kite Games, plucky publisher Kalypso look set to continue their one man crusade to bring strategy games to console (or at least, the Playstation 4), and in doing so, they're bringing back one of the biggest names of the golden age of PC real time strategy games - Sudden Strike. Described by the studio as a "tactical" strategy game, meaning "no base building", Sudden Strike is a game set in the midst of World War 2, and puts you in charge of a group of units, as their commander. While most strategy games follow a similar pattern - build a base, spawn a thousand units, trash the enemy base - Sudden Strike always took a rather different approach, as you started out with a limited number of units, so every single life mattered. And Sudden Strike 4 looks set to be no different.
As Denisz Polgar, lead programmer on Sudden Strike 4 explained, "We aimed at bringing back the original experience of the Sudden Strike series, with a really fresh and modern look to the game, not only in appearance, but also in terms of UI" - and from what we saw at recent games show, gamescom, he's not joking. On the surface, Sudden Strike 4 looks set to tick all the boxes - there's three campaigns to play through, about 20 missions to try your hand at - and, if you know your WW2 history, there'll be plenty of familiar scenarios to get stuck into too. We counted missions based on Stalingrad (so expect lots of tanks), Operation Barbarossa, the Battle of Prokhorovka, Battle of Arras, the Falaise Pocket, the Battle of the Bulge, and the ifnamous Market Garden - a daring, if disastrous effort to drop thousands of paratroopers into the Netherlands, and disrupt German manufacturing.
Once you see the game running, it looks the part too - burnt out buildings abound, flickering headlights sending shadows darting across the horizon, and everything you see is destructible. Buildings can be razed to the ground with cannon fire, artillery, or the game's ever useful air strikes. If you're feeling more strategic, you can even order troops to hole up inside, giving them some much needed extra protection from enemy fire, and a better vantage point - how you choose to proceed through the levels is entirely up to you.
There's an emphasis on authenticity here, instead of punishing realism, and the developers have done their best to create a game where everything behaves as you'd imagine it would, and you could put your real life strategies and knowledge to good use. Tanks have different thicknesses of armour, as in real life, with thicker stuff on the front than on the sides or the rear, making flanking important; any ground troops you find may send up a flare should they spot you if you don't deal with them in time, calling in reinforcements; while even the weather itself can have an effect on how the battle plays out, as rain makes fields muddy and boggy, slowing your vehicles down. "We wanted to make sure the player always has a game to play, and the units don't just do everything for themsevles", Denisz explains, giving the example of troops in a tank. You have the ability to set your troops to either keep their heads down inside the tank, or tell the commander to stick his head up through the hatch. If you go with the former, you don't risk losing your commander to stray fire - but you also won't be able to see anywhere near as well, letting enemies sneak up on you. If you want to go one better, you'll send lone troops up ahead on their own, as outside of the tank, they'll be able to hear enemy units coming well before they see them...
And although you may not start with much in the way of units yourself, you can still make use of Sudden Strike's best trick - the ability to capture enemy units. Seeing as we're not very good at strategy games, one of our favourite memories of the original game was ending up being left with only a handful of troops. Spotting a German gun emplacement, we took out the troops that were manning it - and then dragged the gun through the level with us, quickly setting it up whenever we had a tank or anything to take out. As reinforcements are limited, recycling enemy units like this is a key part of the gameplay, and just one of the things that makes the game so very, very cool to play.
Seemingly, Kite Games are keen to stick to the winning format the original Sudden Strike developed, although they have added their own touches to the game. For starters, the interface has been redesigned, particularly on consoles - on PS4, the game will automatically group units into smaller fireteams to make it easier to switch between them, although you can still select them all individually if you'd prefer. Secondly, before you start each mission, you'll be given the option of choosing a commander - something that gives you a chance to tailor the game to your liking. Each mission will give you the choice of at least three commanders - in the Allied campaign, you have the choice of either Patton (skilled in armour, like tanks), Montgomery (infantry) or Bradley (support) - and each comes with their own set of abilities and strategies you can deploy - the option to fortify your tanks with sandbags and "dig in" being just one of them. The better you do in missions, the more points you'll earn, which can be spent to unlock new upgrades and abilities for your generals - although if you ask us, this does sound like a rather unusual, arcade-like addition for a series that's otherwise all about the authenticity.
Still, as the only WW2 strategy game coming to consoles, Sudden Strike 4 already has us interested, and if it even comes close to capturing the unique feel and pace of the original games, it'll be something very special indeed. In fact, perhaps the only other question dangling over it is whether the battles will be as large scale as we're used to. As previous games in the series were 2D, they weren't exactly all that visually intensive, so it wasn't uncommon to see dozens, if not hundreds of units on screen at once - particularly infantry. None of the screens we've seen of the game show anything quite like the amount of units we'd previously come to expect - but we'll be keeping our fingers crossed. After all, Kite Games certainly seem to be going down the right path.