Silent Storm Updated Hands-On Preview

We take another look at this explosive World War II strategy game from Nival and Encore.

As you may know from consulting our previous coverage, Silent Storm is a turn-based strategy game that takes place during World War II. The last time we covered the game, we provided a general overview of it by describing how it looks, how it plays, and so on. This time around, we've been able to play through a good portion of the Allied campaign (as the game features campaigns for both the Allies and the Axis Powers), so we'll take a more in-depth look at some of the characters, skills, and weapons you'll find in the game.

Your team tracks the involvement of Helmut Koch in a secret organization.

Silent Storm is a turn-based strategy game in the same vein as Jagged Alliance and X-COM. You command a squad of soldiers in different missions, and these soldiers have action points that determine what they can do in a given turn. Moving and shooting require you to spend action points, so you often have to decide whether to fight or flee. In the Allied campaign, you play with an elite squad of six soldiers in a special operations investigation. You first create your character, and then you build your team by adding five other members from a preset pool of characters. There are six character classes in the game, so you can have one of each in your team if you wish. There are three to four characters for each class in the pool, so you have to pick team members based on your preferences. For example, one medic may have a higher medical skill than the others, but he or she may also have fewer action points than the others. This character wouldn't be as much of a help on the front line as the other medics, so you wouldn't want to hire him or her if you plan to use every character in your assaults.

The skill tree is what truly diversifies the classes. Each class has a unique skill tree with several branching paths. You can get a new skill every time you gain a level, but you'll never be able to get every skill in the tree. Again, you'll have to choose which skills will best fit your playing style. Take the medic, for instance. One path makes your medic a more efficient fighter, while another increases your medic's ability to treat wounds. If you prefer to take your time and carefully complete each mission, you may be able to finish each one without sustaining any serious injuries to your troops. In this case, you wouldn't need an exceptionally good medic. You might, instead, opt to improve your medic's fighting ability to deal more-damaging critical hits--a random occurrence in battle that inflicts an exceptional amount of damage on enemies. In any case, when a soldier's vitality points are reduced to zero, he or she is merely rendered unconscious. You can't revive characters during the mission, but they'll be alive and kicking in the next one.

With enough action points, you can do almost anything--like unloading a submachine gun into a German soldier's face.

The Allied campaign follows the investigation of a captured German agent. You go from mission to mission seeking clues about his role in a clandestine operation. But you quickly discover that he is involved in a secret group that isn't affiliated with the Germans at all. In fact, the group seems to be playing both sides of the war for an unknown purpose. Furthermore, the group has been abducting scientists and gathering technology. Your investigation takes you all the way across Europe. You search houses in England, infiltrate factories in Germany, and look for missing scientists in remote regions in Russia. The environments vary in each mission, so you need to prepare accordingly. If you think you're going to fight in an open landscape, then perhaps you'll want to equip rifles, because they have a longer range. However, if you're fighting in a factory, submachine guns may be a better choice, since they're compact and can deliver short bursts of fire.

Silent Storm appears to be a pretty long game. Each mission can easily take an hour or more to complete. We've logged in more than 15 hours in the Allied campaign, and the end still isn't in sight. The game presents you with several assignments on a map of Europe. You can choose which mission to play in any order, but sometimes it's advantageous to complete one before another. The pacing seems to work well, too. At one point, it seemed that our characters were becoming a bit too powerful, but then we discovered that the secret organization had been building armored suits called "panzerkleins." There are Allied and Axis panzerkleins, so, presumably, the secret organization is pitting the two sides against one another. We were actually able to use the panzerkleins after discovering a few in a warehouse. These suits of mobile armor seem extremely powerful, and they can even be equipped with special machine guns, rocket launchers, melee weapons, and other offensive gear. One enemy soldier ran right in front of our panzerklein and unloaded a barrage of MG 42 fire to no effect. We swung a giant, mounted saber and made short work of him, however. Yet we weren't able to enjoy our superior firepower for long, since we later found ourselves up against enemy panzerkleins. Still, these powerful armored suits are bulky and can't be used indoors, so even withthem in your arsenal, you still often need to depend on your team's skills and weapons.

I am a Soldier!

Silent Storm's character classes actually seem more like templates than strict sets of rules and abilities. Each class can equip every weapon, use medical items, pick locks, and so on, but some classes are better for doing certain things than others, due to specific attributes and skills. Let's take a look at the six classes and the unique skills that each class may acquire over the course of the game.

This snowman isn't a playable class, but Silent Storm provides you with plenty of other options.

Engineer
The engineer is the Swiss Army knife of your team. An engineer is adept at picking locks, setting and detecting traps, and driving and repairing panzerkleins. They aren't the strongest fighters, so you don't want them to be alone with a group of enemies, unless, of course, you're inside a building. This is because engineers can booby-trap doors by rigging them to explode when enemies open them. Engineers have the following unique skills:

Second Skin: Removes the penalties for wearing panzerkleins.
Appraise Panzerkleins: Lets engineers see the health of enemy panzerkleins.
Trap Sense: Lets engineers more easily spot traps.
Difficult Trap: Engineers set traps that are more difficult to spot.
Master Engineer: Lets engineers use any engineering item.

Grenadier
The grenadier is your expert in explosive projectiles. Grenadiers can throw grenades farther and with more accuracy than anyone else. They can also wield rocket launchers more effectively. This class comes in handy against large clusters of enemies who attempt to spread out and surround you. One simple frag grenade can take care of multiple enemies at once. Grenades can be lobbed over walls or into rooms to handle hidden enemies. Grenadiers have the following unique skills:

Increased Throw Range: Lets grenadiers throw grenades farther than any other class.
Good Throw From Any Pose: Allows grenadiers to throw grenades well from any position.
Fast Throw: Reduces action points for throwing grenades.
Grenade Master: Allows grenadiers to skill-specialize in grenades.
Better Grenade Timing: Grenadiers become better at timing explosions.

Medic
Sometimes your enemies get lucky. When they do, medics can treat wounds caused by gunfire and explosion damage. Only a master medic can use some of the more advanced healing items. However, medics are among the weakest fighters in the game, so unless you increase their fighting skills, you won't want them to engage enemies in a straight fight. Medics have the following unique skills:

Perfect Medicine Knowledge: Allows medics to use any medical healing item.
Faster Critical Healing: Lets medics treat critical conditions faster.
Little Blood: Eliminates the bleeding condition that is caused by healing.
Better Critical Severity: Allows medics to use anatomical knowledge for inflicting better critical hits.
Know Enemy Health: Lets medics see an enemy's health level.

Scout
As you would guess, the scout is best used to explore the map. Most missions begin in the real-time mode. You can use this opportunity to hide your characters out of sight so that you can have your scout sneak around the map. As a result, you can gain valuable information about enemy troop placement, and you can learn where mission goals lie. The following skills may help you do this:

Run For Your Life: Increases enemy shooting penalties when scouts are running.
Stealth Run: Makes scouts quieter when running.
Better Hearing: Allows scouts to detect enemies at a greater range.
Increase Sight Angle: Scouts can see more.
Solo: Scouts are used to being alone, so they get an attribute bonus when there are no teammates nearby.

Sniper
Snipers prefer to keep their distance and tend to take out their enemies from afar. A well-placed sniper can single-handedly protect your team members and can provide covering fire for them. Snipers can distract enemy forces while your teammates quietly flank them. Sniper rifles also let you spend a few turns aiming, thus increasing your chances of scoring a hit. Any class can target specific body parts, but snipers can really take this to the next level. In fact, one of the quickest ways to get rid of an enemy is to attempt a 100 percent probability shot by aiming for the enemy's noggin. Snipers have the following skills:

Always Inflict Ranged Critical: All snipers' ranged weapons cause critical damage.
Increased Sight Range: Snipers can see farther.
Increased Sight Angle: Snipers' improved peripheral vision wards off ambushes from the flanks.
Master Sniper: All snipers' shots deal more damage and cause more severe critical damage.
Faster Shots: Snipers require fewer action points to shoot.

This guy probably should've read the "sniper" section of our preview.

Soldier
The soldier is your ace weapons expert. Pistols, rifles, and machine guns are all used effectively by them. Soldiers with machine guns seem especially useful because if you shoot 20 rounds of ammunition in a single turn, you'll find that you're bound to hit somebody.

Increased Ranged Damage: Soldiers' guns inflict more damage.
Longer Short Bursts: Adds a bullet to soldiers' burst fires.
Machine Gun Specialization: Soldiers specialize in the use of machine guns.
Reduced Recoil: Soldiers exhibit increased accuracy.
Controlled Long Bursts: Soldiers stop firing when enemies die.

Weapons and How to Use Them

Silent Storm has a huge selection of weapons, including hardware from the US, UK, Russia, and Germany, along with a few fictitious weapons, such as the laser gun and the panzerklein weapons. You can carry a weapon in each hand, and you can also carry additional weapons and ammo in your inventory, though each character's inventory has limited space, so you have to choose wisely. Fortunately, you'll never have to worry about firepower, as enemies drop weapons and ammo when they die. Consequently, you can get new equipment from your home base before every mission. Silent Storm has no monetary system, so you don't have to horde items to sell in order to afford better weapons. In fact, we often found ourselves looking forward to seeing our latest haul from our fallen enemies just to see the properties on the new weapons that we hadn't seen before. Most of the game's weapons are deadly when used in specific situations.

Even panzerkleins have trouble damaging each other.

For instance, melee weapons and pistols have limited functionality, but they can be essential in some cases. Melee weapons, like clubs and knives, are silent, so they can get rid of one enemy without raising suspicion from nearby enemies. They are especially dangerous when you can sneak around an enemy and strike from behind. Pistols have short ranges, but they require very few action points to fire. This means that you can typically fire seven or more rounds in a single turn with a pistol. In fact, if you're close to an enemy, sometimes it may even be better to run up and fire several shots instead of running the risk of missing from a distance with your primary weapon. Interestingly, later in the game you'll even come across silenced pistols, which are even more useful.

Rifles and submachine guns (SMGs) seem like the most abundant weapons in the game. Rifles are best for long-range encounters and can pack quite a punch. Two rifle hits usually take down most foes, and any enemy soldiers that actually take two consecutive hits and survive usually end up bleeding to death. Scoped rifles are ideal for snipers and for well-placed shots, while automatic rifles, like the FG 42, can turn the tide of a battle. On the other hand, submachine guns are ideal for close-quarters combat. You'll find SMGs like Stens, Thompsons, MP40s, and STG43s throughout the game, and each has different firing modes. All SMGs can be set to fire three-round bursts, or they can be set on full-automatic mode. Some even let you fire single shots. This versatility means that you'll probably end up with an SMG for every character. Later in the game, you'll also find silenced rifles and silenced SMGs for stealth maneuvers.

Silent Storm's machine guns are very dangerous weapons. They can hold a lot of ammo, they can be set to full-automatic fire, and they can dish out a lot of damage. Shooting 20 shots with only a 5 percent chance to hit means that at least one bullet will probably strike the intended target. The bullet will also pass through bodies, so you can even damage multiple enemies if they are standing in groups. Grenade launchers, like panzerfausts and bazookas, have a more limited role in the game. You won't be fighting enemy vehicles, and these weapons are rather unwieldy. They also don't do any damage to panzerkleins unless you can score a direct hit, so they sometimes seem like they take up more room in your inventory than they're worth. Energy guns are actually much better at defeating panzerkleins. These particular weapons shoot a green laser bolt that passes through objects, which means that you may be able to kill off an enemy panzerklein driver, thus leaving the armor intact for your own use. However, this weapon holds only one round of ammunition at a time, so it's not effective against standard infantry.

Panzerkleins seem like brutal killing machines. Allied panzerkleins can carry two weapons--one in each hand. For instance, the standard Allied panzerklein can hold machine guns and rocket launchers, while the scout panzerklein has a lighter machine gun and a large saber. However, panzerkleins have to use weapons specially designed for them, so you can't equip them with your normal infantry weapons. Axis panzerkleins can hold only one weapon, but this weapon is equipped on each arm, so you can get two shots per salvo.

But panzerkleins are no match for a collapsing roof.

Learning how to use weapons properly seems like an important aspect of the game, as does using the game's 3D environments. At one point, we found ourselves able to flank enemies in buildings by ordering soldiers to sneak up to higher levels to take out enemies on the ground floor with potshots. Silent Storm also includes destructible environments that can be broken apart with the right weapon. You can actually bypass locked doors by breaking them down, rather than by picking the lock, for instance. If an enemy sniper is holed-up in a wooden tower, you can neutralize him or her by destroying the tower itself, which usually causes the sniper to fall to his or her death. The game's weapons also let you create alternate entry and exit points to hotspots by shooting out windows or blowing holes in walls. In any case, the computer-controlled enemies seem to adapt to these changes, and they react accordingly.

At this point, Silent Storm seems to have a few rough edges that we hope will be worked out before the final release, though the version we played was more or less complete. The game's translation work seems problematic, especially in terms of its dialogue. For example, defeated enemy soldiers say ridiculous things like "Good night, Mommy!" and "Now's a bad time to not be religious!" Additionally, we also noticed a few frame rate problems in the game's larger maps, but hopefully these issues will be addressed. Silent Storm is otherwise a very promising game that is scheduled for release later this month.

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