We all know how the game industry, or for that matter any industry, goes. Someone comes out with a groundbreaking product, and for the next two years everyone tries to capitalize on its success and to make it a little better in the process. Doom begot Duke Nukem, Witchhaven, and Risen of the Triad; Dune II spawned Command and Conquer, War Wind, and Warcraft; and Myst... don't even get me started. So it would seem that if a game is particularly well received, it's a given that it will be further explored by other developers - as they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. So why is it then, that although most gamers agree that the original X-COM and its follow-up title were two of the best strategy games ever released, that no other company attempted to design games with a similar play engine? To make matters worse, in an attempt to replicate Command and Conquer's success, even MicroProse abandoned what was one of the best strategy game formats ever created. Fortunately, someone noticed the error. With its latest title Soldiers at War, strategy game veteran SSI is attempting to pick up where MicroProse left off, by releasing a simple but flexible turn-based combat game that will satisfy a fan base that has been left waiting for years.
Although the interface and engine use X-COM as a starting point, that's where the similarity ends. Instead of taking on enemies from the future, gamers will take on those of the past. As the leader of an Allied squad in WWII, you must take on the Germans on their home turf as you try to fight your way to victory. In order to win the campaign you will have to take your squads through 16 different missions that are loosely based on historic battles in the European theater. Before each mission you will select your up-to-eight-member squad from a pool of available soldiers, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. This pool represents all of the soldiers that will be available to you throughout all 16 missions, so it's very important that commanders try to keep their troops from getting killed or injured if they hope to finish the game. Life's not all bad though, as soldiers can also be promoted for exceptional performance in battle. Weapons include everything you'd expect to see in a good WWII film, from machine guns and pineapple-style grenades to the more visually pleasing flamethrower. Larger weapons can be commandeered as well, and no experience in X-COM can prepare you for the sheer pleasure of staring down the barrel of a tank at your soon-to-be-pulverized foes.
Soldiers at War promises to be one of the most entertaining strategy games released in a long time, not just because it is bringing back a genre that has been conspicuously absent in past years, but because of the developer's terrific attention to detail. From solid graphics that are far better than what you'd expect from a strategy game to realistic voices and sound effects, every effort has been made to immerse you in your environment. The company is also promising the inclusion of a multiplayer mode that will let up to four players compete by LAN or over the Internet. Keep your eyes on GameSpot in the upcoming weeks for an in-depth look at the weapons, enemies, and missions of this exciting new title.