Silent Storm Hands-On Preview
Nival's upcoming tactical strategy game will let you fight in World War II with a squad of elite soldiers. Get all the details, plus hands-on impressions, here.
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There haven't been many turn-based tactical squad combat games lately. Games like Jagged Alliance and X-COM let you control small squads to complete missions against overwhelming odds. However, Nival Interactive's Silent Storm, which is being published in North America by Encore (and in Europe by JoWood) will attempt to revive this genre of games. From what we've seen of the game from a nearly complete version we've played, Silent Storm seems to borrow gameplay mechanics from previous games and combines them with new ideas, and the result is promising.
Silent Storm's setting is loosely based on World War II campaigns. The year is 1943, and the Germans have a presence in Great Britain. It isn't a huge military campaign, but there are plenty of clandestine operations occurring within the country that draw you in on either side. You can play as either the Allies or the Axis. The Allies are trying to discover exactly what the Germans are up to with their secret weapons program, and the Germans are trying to oust the British from their homeland.
You start off by creating a character from six preset professions. These include grenadiers (grenade experts), snipers (marksmen), soldiers (heavy-weapons experts), scouts (stealth and espionage operatives), engineers (who specialize in explosives), and medics (who are adept at treating wounds). Or you can choose to make your own class by adjusting a variety of skills. Each side has three nationalities that don't have much of an effect on your character besides starting equipment and voices. You can then tweak your character's look and speech, much like you'd expect in a modern computer role-playing game such as Baldur's Gate II. Your first mission on either side is a solo adventure that ends up being a training mission that shows you the ropes of the game. The German mission is easier because you fight off four poorly armed bank robbers with a submachine gun. After you complete the mission, you head back to headquarters where you can choose up to five teammates to join you, treat your wounds, arm everybody to the teeth, and head out on your next mission.
At this point, it seems like a good idea to build your team by picking one soldier from each class. They each have special skills that will increase your chances of success. Also, your characters gain experience and levels on the field--and this experience lets you advance along a skill tree that resembles the character development of Diablo II. New skills become available after you choose their prerequisites, but since you can put only one point into each skill, you don't have to worry about continuously adding points to a single skill to strengthen it at the expense of learning new skills. Each class has a different set of skills. For instance, the sniper has skills that will let you make critical hits with every shot, while the scout has skills that will allow you to detect enemies at a greater range. Each class has something to contribute in a battle, so one isn't necessarily better than another.
In our time with the game, we encountered a variety of missions, each of which opens up a new location on the map. So far, we've been tasked with preventing a bank robbery, discovering important documents and freeing a prisoner, and locating a scientist, among other goals. You'll actually recover a lot of different documents, because the game's story revolves around figuring out what the enemy is up to. There are also random encounters that appear on the map in stationary locations--they're set up so that you won't be attacked unexpectedly, which is a welcome feature indeed. These random encounters don't advance the story, but you can use them to gain experience for your characters. And at this point, it seems that you won't have to worry about weapons and ammo, since the armory at your base has plenty of ammunition for you to pick up, and everything is free because the game has no monetary system.
The weapons we've played with so far have been standard World War II weapons: pistols, rifles, machine guns, grenades, and a lot of other heavy-hitting hardware. Weapons from different countries use different ammo, so you need to make sure you pick up the correct ammo for each specific gun. Fortunately correct ammo types are highlighted when you select something in the menu. Characters can each carry two weapons on their person, but they can carry more in their inventories. Some weapons are easier to handle than others, and there's a "familiarity rating" on each weapon. Characters that constantly use a certain weapon will become familiar with it, which increases their effectiveness with that weapon. Weapons have different firing modes and shot accuracy modes. A BAR can fire a single shot or a burst shot, or it can fire on full auto. A rifle lets you make a snap shot, or you can spend more action points to make your shot more accurate.
Anyone familiar with turn-based squad combat games should know what action points (AP) are--they're segments of time that are used to determine how long a turn is. In Silent Storm, you can freely walk around the mission map in real time until you spot an enemy; then the game switches to its turn-based combat mode. You can perform only a certain number of actions in a given timeframe, depending on how many action points you have. For instance, running uses fewer APs than crawling, so you can cover more distance in fewer turns; however, you'll make a lot more noise. A snap shot takes fewer APs than an aimed shot, but it's less accurate. Just about every action in Silent Storm seems to have a reaction that counters it, so you'll have to be careful how you spend your action points. Each character has a different number of action points, so you'll want to take that into account when choosing a team for your next mission.
Of course, once your turn ends, your enemy's turn begins. Like in other turn-based tactical games, you're practically helpless in this part of the round, which is why making the right decisions in the previous turn is so important. If your characters end their turn in a doorway or some otherwise exposed area, they'll be sitting ducks for an enemy who rounds the corner. And as you might expect, defenders are likely to hide until an enemy is spotted. This means that if you blunder into an unexplored room, a concealed enemy in the room will be able to receive an "interrupt" turn--similar to Jagged Alliance 2--and take a shot at you, despite how many APs you have left.
Interestingly, Silent Storm manages to throw some really cool physics into the game. Soldiers that are killed in battle go down with rag-doll animations; they'll slump against a wall, hang out of a window, or slide down the stairs. High-powered rifles will penetrate walls and soldiers alike--we were actually able to kill off two German soldiers with a single well-placed shot, since the bullet actually passed through the body of the first and hit the second. The game's environments are completely destructible as well. Hiding behind a wooden fence will do you no good when the wood splinters after taking fire. In some cases, it seems worthwhile to forgo carefully opening doors in favor of breaching them with a machine gun set on full-auto fire. Machine gun fire can destroy wooden doors and will likely get rid of any enemy soldiers hiding immediately behind them, and after you've knocked down a door, you can have a grenadier toss in a grenade to clear the room.
In fact, you can simply blow up the room entirely. You can destroy walls, floors, and anything else that can be damaged by gunfire or explosions. For instance, in a basement battle against German soldiers, we took a potshot that strayed off course and hit an explosive canister. When this canister went up, it ignited other, nearby canisters, causing a huge explosion that destroyed the ceiling--and the ceiling above it as well! A few of our soldiers actually fell from the second story all the way down to the basement, and unfortunately, part of the stairway up to the entrance was also destroyed in the blast. Luckily, we were able to also blow up another part of the wall at the top of what remained of the stairs, and we climbed out that way. However, such wanton destruction isn't always the best way to approach a mission, since it seems like blowing up everything can, in some cases, cut off your only means of escape.
Silent Storm's AI seems quite challenging. Enemy soldiers use cover effectively and won't be afraid to pump you full of lead. They also use flanking maneuvers to try to surround you when possible. However, the best aspect of your computer-controlled enemies in Silent Storm is that they will adapt to changes. If a bunch of their comrades get slaughtered in a particular room, they'll try to find another route. If you blow out a wall, it opens up a new field of vision for characters to fire through--or your enemies may take advantage of this opening themselves and start to pour through it. As such, the game really makes you think about your next moves, and about how your enemies will react.
Silent Storm is about 90 percent complete at this point, though it still needs some more work before it goes gold. The voice work isn't complete yet, so there are temporary voices and dialogue that hopefully will be replaced. Also, the controls could use some finesse because sometimes our characters would "forget" an order they had been issued, or they'd end up taking a path right into enemy fire instead of hopping over an obstacle. Once these issues are fixed, Silent Storm will be in good shape. The game will ship with a full editor as well, so you'll be able to create your own missions. This promising tactical strategy game is scheduled to ship in November.