Blitzkrieg might not have set the gaming world alight when it was released last year, but it was still a solid World War II real-time strategy game that put the focus squarely on tactics instead of base building or resource harvesting. Blitzkrieg received a stand-alone expansion earlier this year called Blitzkrieg: Burning Horizon. It basically offered more of the same, but with some new units, artificial intelligence improvements, and a new subject: Rommel's campaigns. Now comes a second stand-alone follow-up, Blitzkrieg: Rolling Thunder. Like Burning Horizon, it's a modest addition to the Blitzkrieg series. It offers a solid new campaign, as well as some new units, textures, and AI upgrades, but it also neglects to address some old problems.
Rolling Thunder centers around a new campaign that follows the exploits of General Patton. Over the course of 18 missions, you'll guide Patton's troops through historically based battles in North Africa, Sicily, and Europe. You also get eight stand-alone missions set in New Guinea, Siberia, and Spain during its civil war in the 30s. Like Burning Horizon, this new game inexplicably lacks any multiplayer options or skirmish mode, seriously cutting down on replay value. At least the new solo missions are rather involved, with many that can last an hour or more.
Other problems from the first two games remain unaddressed. The tiny interface with its sometimes-obscure icons still needs improvement. The game also needs commands to easily group armor units into formations. Also, you frequently have to click a unit multiple times to get your selection to register, which wears thin in a hurry. You still can't rotate, zoom, or tilt the camera, which can be a bit of an obstacle at times.
While Rolling Thunder isn't the most user-friendly game, it still offers a fun focus on combined-arms tactics. You have to manage some close-range, short-term resupply of men and materiel, but otherwise there's no resource management or harvesting to worry about. Even though Rolling Thunder won't be mistaken for a hardcore tactical war game, its detail and realism are still uncommon in WWII RTS games. Armor units are rated for front, side, top, and rear armor, and the ammo for the main and secondary guns is tracked separately. Infantry gain defensive bonuses when in trenches or buildings, and antitank guns get offensive bonuses when firing down on vehicles from hills. Scout snipers can camouflage themselves so they can sneak up on enemy gun crews and pick them off. Don't get greedy, though, as upgraded AI can cause enemy troops to actively hunt down your snipers. Your engineers can repair bridges, erect antitank obstacles, and more. You can also call in air assets, including airborne troops.
The tactical key is knowing how to effectively combine these varied units to maximize strengths and minimize weaknesses. Your Sherman tank works well until it gets too close to an enterprising German infantryman who chucks a grenade that immobilizes your vehicle. You might need to screen and scout ahead with infantry and perform air recon to keep armor safe. Your air support can be a lethal tool, but you might have to silence enemy antiaircraft guns with your long-range artillery before sending in your planes. Sadly, serious pathfinding and AI problems can make it difficult to carry out your plans. Just as in the original Blitzkrieg, you'll have to do a heck of a lot of handholding and micromanaging to get by.
If you're willing to put in that effort, you'll usually be rewarded with some fun and challenging tests of your tactics. You'll capture coastal garrisons, fight brutal slogs through the open desert, assault hillside defenses, defend bridgeheads, and more. Missions usually offer multiple required and optional goals, and you sometimes get to choose the order in which you pursue them. The missions can get tough pretty quickly, but you can choose from a number of difficulty levels and game speeds, and you can also issue orders while paused. Some missions are just poorly designed, whatever the setting. In one scenario, the vital units you need to protect are destroyed right when the mission starts. In another, you have to intercept enemy officers under time pressure, but you aren't given a clear enough idea where to find them.
Rolling Thunder's presentation ranges from attractive and meticulous to sloppy and lazy. For evidence of the latter, look no further than the opening cinematic left over from the original Blitzkrieg. The title screen and menus simply say "Blitzkrieg," as if the developers couldn't be bothered to add the full title of the new game. The options menus include a leftover multiplayer setup page, even though there's no multiplayer component in the game. The music gets repetitive, and the voice-overs often seem stilted and silly. On the bright side, the game's graphics--while not cutting-edge by any stretch--boast loads of fine details that help bring battles to life. Tanks buck from the recoil of their main guns, quaint farmhouses catch fire when artillery shells churn up nearby fields, and damaged planes trail plumes of smoke.
Blitzkrieg: Rolling Thunder can feel halfhearted beyond just the recycled visuals and audio. You get some minor gameplay enhancements and some new units, but the latter doesn't make any real impression since the game already includes a huge complement from the prior games. On the whole, Rolling Thunder doesn't make any significant strides over the original Blitzkrieg; just like the first expansion, this new one is ultimately more of the same where the gameplay is concerned. It's really all about the new missions. With a few glaring exceptions, the missions tend to be exciting and challenging, taking advantage of what the Blitzkrieg series has always done well: intense real-time WWII combat.