Soldner: Secret Wars Multiplayer Hands-On

We go hands-on with this upcoming game that takes the multiplayer mayhem found in Battlefield 1942 and combines it with a completely destructible environment.


Soldner: Secret Wars

Battlefield 1942 and its newly issued sequel, Battlefield Vietnam, have demonstrated that there's a huge audience for multiplayer action games that not only let you run around a gigantic virtual battlefield blowing away opponents, but also let you jump into a wide assortment of vehicles to carry on the fight. One of the more interesting such games on the horizon is Soldner: Secret Wars. Set in the near future, Soldner will let you fight on battlefields that encompass huge chunks of Eastern Europe. German developer Wings Simulations visited San Francisco recently and gave us the opportunity to finally play Soldner's ambitious multiplayer mode firsthand.

The Abrams main battle tank can make mincemeat of a village.
The Abrams main battle tank can make mincemeat of a village.

The gameplay in Soldner seems a lot like Battlefield 1942 and Battlefield Vietnam. You still run around on a huge map, you've got a huge variety of realistic military weapons and vehicles at your disposal, and your mission is to capture control points on the map. But Soldner differentiates itself from Battlefield in a number of ways. The first is that it's set in the near future, around 2010, so you can take advantage of ultramodern weapons such as the Army's next-generation rifle, the Objective Individual Combat Weapon (OICW), as well as Russian T-80 tanks, British Challenger tanks, and German attack helicopters.

However, using the default server settings, you won't be able to take immediate advantage of all those high-tech toys. Soldner borrows a key concept from the popular first-person shooter Counter-Strike in that you have to use money to purchase weapons and equipment. Since the premise of the game is that nation-states now fight wars by proxy using mercenaries, all of the weapons you use have to be either purchased or scavenged off the bodies of the dead. So at the beginning of a game, you'll start off with nothing more than a pistol and enough cash to buy a decent submachine gun.

You accumulate cash by killing enemies and capturing control points; the more successful you are, the more cash you earn. Killing a few enemies and seizing a control point will usually get you enough cash to upgrade to an assault rifle like the G36 or the M4 carbine. Moreover, in addition to your own funds, your team will accumulate cash in a special pool that you can use to buy really expensive weapons and vehicles. But in order to use team funds, you need to request authorization from the commander. During the game, players vote to determine who gets to play as the commander. The commander has a real-time, 3D overhead view of the battle and can issue waypoints and orders to all the members of his team.

However, this purchasing system limits the availability of most of the vehicles and weapons at the beginning of the match. Players who want instant gratification will be dismayed by not having immediate access to some of the coolest weapons in the game. It remains to be seen how the game will handle such concerns as saving up to buy a powerful weapon or vehicle, only to die shortly afterward and possibly lose treasured items. Also, it remains to be seen how well the game will handle momentum--if a skilled team is already dominating the map, then commissions a powerful M1A1 Abrams tank, that team may make its control of that map that much more unquestionable.

This grunt is packing a Stinger, an antiaircraft missile that can also take out cars.
This grunt is packing a Stinger, an antiaircraft missile that can also take out cars.

Soldner's most unique feature also promises to be its most fun; the game features a fully destructible environment. Virtually everything in the game can be destroyed. Tanks can demolish buildings or blast craters in the ground big enough that infantry can huddle in them for cover. Explosions can knock down trees in the middle of battle, and the threat of falling lumber is very real. Trees can also be knocked down to create impromptu roadblocks, especially against wheeled vehicles. A sniper camping in a tower can have the tables turned if the opposing team plants explosives at the base of the tower and knocks it down. Bridges can be destroyed, creating a water obstacle.

Though the game will feature the option to play in single-player against computer-controlled bots, producer Udett Schaffrath told us that the experience will be very similar to fighting against the bots in the Battlefield games. That is to say, you're not going to mistake the bots for human opponents. The single-player game will certainly be useful to familiarize yourself with the maps and vehicles, but the game is meant to be primarily played in multiplayer.

Wings Simulations has scaled back the number of players that multiplayer will support at launch. The original plans were to support up to 128 in a game. However, the revised plans are to support up to 32 players at launch using the Windows-based server that will be included with the game. The developers then plan to upgrade that later in the year to support up to 64 players. And by year's end, Wings expects to release the dedicated Linux server that will support up to 128 players. The developers are doing some innovative work in making the server very easy to configure and maintain, even incorporating XML so you can administer the server remotely. This means that if your server is at home and you're at work and your buddies want you to adjust the settings, you can do so using a Web browser. Of course, that opens up potential security issues, but Wings told us that you'll use a secure connection and passwords to keep your system secure.

This chain reaction of exploding Ladas demonstrates the game's physics engine.
This chain reaction of exploding Ladas demonstrates the game's physics engine.

The game has advanced quite a bit since we saw it late last year. Frame rates have been substantially improved, and the game runs much more smoothly than before. Schaffrath told us that the developer hired a programmer last year whose sole job was to optimize the game's code, and this new staffer has apparently done an amazing job. Still, we expect that the developer will address what appeared to be stability issues, since in our multiplayer session, our game crashed several times. And hopefully the developer will clarify whether or not you're actually hitting someone with a shot, since the game's default third-person perspective seems to make it very difficult to tell, otherwise. The game has an optional first-person perspective, though it doesn't seem quite as natural as that of other first-person games at this point.

Let's hope that Wings can address these issues before launch. Schaffrath told us that at this point the team is working on bug fixes, balancing, and optimization. Soldner certainly has considerable amounts of potential, and the game's destructible environments will do a lot to advance the genre. Make sure to check out our exclusive video interview with Soldner producer Udett Schaffrath.

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