There's no denying that PC game publishers love seeing their games get good reviews, but not one of them would trade great sales and a large, highly devoted fan base for the honor. Just ask CDV Software, creator of the World War II real-time strategy game Sudden Strike. When Sudden Strike was released early last year, the consensus of reviewers--at least in the lucrative US market--was that it packed plenty of action but lacked strategic depth and failed to offer the realism of the Close Combat strategy series, which it superficially resembled. However, the response was much different across the pond: European reviewers almost universally gave Sudden Strike significantly higher marks than their American counterparts, and the game eventually sold some 650,000 copies worldwide.
Wisely, CDV took the "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" approach for the Sudden Strike Forever expansion disc, leaving the core gameplay essentially unchanged but adding enhanced multiplayer features, new units, expanded theaters of combat, and a pretty powerful mission editor. US reviewers were again lukewarm in their notices, while fans of the original Sudden Strike heaped it with praise and clamored for even more. And while more is precisely what Sudden Strike II promises to deliver, CDV also hopes to ensure that it's not simply more of the same by addressing several of the issues that others found to be so objectionable.
The 40 missions in Sudden Strike II take place during the last half of the war (1942 to 1945), and players will now be able to fight campaigns as the Japanese as well as the Americans, British, Germans, and Russians, with each campaign providing a differing degree of difficulty (in addition to the game's four overall difficulty settings). For instance, the German campaign focuses on the early 1943 counteroffensive that resulted in the recapture of Kharkov, the Wehrmacht's swan song on the eastern front, as far as significant offensive operations were concerned. Though you'll control large groups of armor and infantry, this remains the game's easiest campaign--hints will be offered periodically for novice commanders, and reinforcements will replenish losses from previous battles.
Players who wish to guide Mother Russia on the road to Berlin might be disappointed that this campaign doesn't begin until after Operation Citadel, the failed German offensive aimed to isolate and destroy the Russian salient at Kursk. It was, after all, the largest battle in history and one that is especially intriguing for tank enthusiasts. Instead, this campaign revolves around the Russian onslaught in the south as it pushed the Germans back to and eventually across the Dnieper, with latter scenarios based on the final Russian offensive in 1945 and the horrendously bloody siege of Berlin. Except for these climactic battles, the forces at your disposal in the Russian campaign aren't particularly large, but you will be able to capture and use German tanks, artillery, and motorized vehicles to augment your numbers.
According to CDV, both the Russian campaign (which we weren't able to try) and the American campaign (which we were able to try) are "moderately difficult." In the American campaign, the action is set after the successful completion of Operation Grenade to cross the Roer river, as the American 1st and 9th Divisions pushed the Germans to the Rhine and crossed it at Remagen. Like in the German campaign, surviving (and therefore more experienced) units from previous battles will sometimes be available; these seasoned veterans will have greater firing ranges, speed, firepower, and accuracy. Next up in terms of challenge is the British campaign, with its first scenario set on the first day of Operation Market Garden. As a British commander, you'll mainly have infantry units to work with, and the focus of most operations will be diversionary.
As the latest addition to the Sudden Strike series, the Japanese campaign not only spans the greatest length of time, but also serves up the game's biggest challenge. Missions set in 1942 are offensive in nature, with your goals being to capture British and American bases throughout the Pacific; later scenarios reflect the actual course of the war and require you to fight purely defensive operations. Despite the fact that you won't have to deal with heavy armor, achieving success in the Japanese campaign will be an extremely formidable task.
In total, Sudden Strike II will boast more than 150 unit types, including controllable ships (gunboats, landing craft, destroyers, and battleships), aircraft (fighters, bombers, transports, reconnaissance), and even trains (for transport and heavy artillery fire). What's more, many units must be manned with full crews to be fully functional--place only three crew members in a Panzer tank, for example, and you'll be able to move but not fire.
According to CDV, overhauled unit values and improved AI will result in a much higher degree of realism, but from what we've seen so far, many of the quirks from earlier Sudden Strike games might still be around. Infantry with grenades routinely knock out tanks (even the massive King Tiger); artillery, tank, antitank, and mortar units invariably score direct hits with their first shots, even on moving targets; weapon ranges seem greatly abbreviated compared with their real-world counterparts; and line-of-sight rules seemed to be rather lax (we saw a tank behind a tall wall plop a shell on a single grunt who was standing on the other side). Whether these types of unit behavior will remain in the US version is unclear, particularly since the game is already out in Germany and a change in the game's core gameplay code seems improbable.
The original Sudden Strike placed great emphasis on your ability to capture and use enemy weapons and vehicles, and that design element remains in Sudden Strike II. While such a practice did occur during the war, some of the battles we've seen seem to hinge entirely on this tactic. During some of the American battles we played, for example, only German tanks and motorized armor units are available (though you are outfitted with landing craft and various types of American aircraft). Thankfully, you're likely to be pleased with the wide variety of armored units that CDV and developer Fireglow have modeled for all the combatant forces--tanks, half-tracks, transports, jeeps, mobile artillery, and even railway guns will be available for deployment.
One other area of the Sudden Strike series that CDV says has undergone improvement is the game's AI routines, though whether that turns out to be entirely true remains to be seen. During some battles, enemy troops tended to walk into areas where their comrades had just been picked off one by one as they reached enemy firing range, and armored units seemed to inevitably favor head-on assault tactics regardless of how they stacked up against the unit facing them. It's also noteworthy that the game features no skirmish mode against the computer on multiplayer maps. Speaking of multiplayer, it isn't in the game yet--but according to CDV, the game will feature multiplayer support and new modes of play.
Graphically, Sudden Strike II's 2D sprites remain the same as those of Sudden Strike forever, and the lack of a zoom feature means that it can be quite difficult to identify and select individual units once many of them become bunched into a tight space. But while the graphics may seem dated, this also means that the system requirements are amazingly lenient: a PII 233MHz, 64MB RAM, and a video card with a mere 1MB of memory. The sequel will also ship with a mission editor.
Sudden Strike II is on track for release late in August, so check back here for more updates as we receive them.