The Blitzkrieg real-time strategy franchise enters its fourth year with another stand-alone expansion in Blitzkrieg 2: Fall of the Reich, which is a happy title for some of us because it indicates that CDV may be coming to the end of the line. This has been a pretty good series overall, but at this late date, everything has been done, and the developers at Nival Interactive are now just spinning their wheels.
This is essentially a mission pack rounding up some of the climactic battles from the eastern front in the waning days of WWII. There are two separate campaigns. In one, you try to guide the Soviets into Poland, while in the other, you desperately attempt to hold off the Red Army with Hitler's forces. Each campaign features some fairly offbeat historical battles that you don't normally find in WWII RTS games, particularly the German one that kicks off in the Baltic states. But the missions themselves are totally formulaic and will seem like old ground for anyone who has previous experience with the series.
Virtually every assignment begins with your having to achieve some relatively simple goal, such as capturing a train yard or destroying an armored column, and progresses to what is almost always a huge battle over an enemy-occupied town. Every aspect of the game is so predictable that you could set your watch by it: Take your opening complement of troops and tanks into the fray; watch them be whittled down by a tremendous number of enemy antitank guns, soldiers, and tanks; order up reinforcements, which almost always consist of armor because tanks generally make more sense than soldiers, artillery, or aerial support; and throw everything together to make a big push into town. Occasionally, events are a bit more mixed up, as in one Russian mission that opens with you leading commandos to take out German artillery, but the end always seems to be a street-to-street scrap over a village.
The only thing that interrupts this cyclic action is grueling difficulty. "Brutal" doesn't begin to describe how tough the campaigns are, even the opening missions. Odds are usually stacked against you to a ridiculous degree. Countrysides and towns are packed with antitank guns, artillery, tanks, entrenched soldiers, and machine-gun nests. If Hitler really had this much hardware remaining in 1945, people would be speaking German in Vladivostok right now. It's funny how much armor comes rolling out when you venture into a town because there typically seem to be too many tanks to fit on the small streets. You get the sense of clowns spilling out of a tiny car.
Still, you can't really laugh at any of this because the sheer numbers you face make most levels almost impossible, even on the "easy" difficulty setting. Special objectives that often have to be completed before getting into the mission proper are particularly hard. In the commando mission described above, you guide a couple of dozen troops against practically an entire enemy platoon, bolstered by a pile of artillery that can chew you up long before you get close enough to do any damage to it. Even when the field of battle is somewhat level, it often feels like you're being cheated because your units frequently get incinerated by fire from unseen artillery units.
Awkward controls make things even tougher. A single enemy light tank, partially hidden behind a collapsed building or a wall, can often blast an advancing column of a dozen or more tanks into scrap metal because it's hard to navigate through narrow town streets. These cramped conditions also wreak havoc on targeting, with tanks stubbornly refusing to fire on enemies that they are right on top of when they are near a building or wall. This makes it tough to coordinate an effective town assault. Thinking tactically always leads to frustration, and all-out tank rushes tend to break on the heavy defenses.
You've seen everything else before. There are a few new armored units and rewards, but nothing stands out. Multiplayer is exactly the same as it was in the original Blitzkrieg 2. Visuals and sound are also held over, which is hard to complain about because both have aged pretty well. The graphics do a great job of depicting the explosiveness of armor combat, while the audio is suitably bombastic, if a bit too heavy on repetitive yells when the infantry goes into battle. Still, don't expect this game to be comparable to something modern, such as Company of Heroes.
For dedicated fans only, Blitzkrieg 2: Fall of the Reich is overly familiar and far too difficult to be enjoyable. Don't sign up for this tour of duty unless you're a glutton for punishment.