Soldiers: Heroes of World War II Hands-On Impressions

After trying out an early version of Soldiers, we can safely say that this upcoming strategy game will have no shortage of things to blow up.


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Soldiers: Heroes of World War II is one of the more interesting World War II games on the horizon. For one, Soldiers is a game that defies categorization. It's not a traditional real-time strategy game where you construct a base, gather resources, or build a huge army, nor is it a small-scale strategy game, like Commandos, in which you have to analyze patrol patterns to sneak behind enemy lines. Publisher Codemasters labels Soldiers as a third-person tactical game. And while that's true, it's also a bit misleading because Soldiers is as much an action game as it is a game about tactics.

Tank-on-tank battles result in plenty of explosions.
Tank-on-tank battles result in plenty of explosions.

In Soldiers, you command a small group of men and vehicles as you attempt to complete a series of vital missions. You'll play as the Americans, Soviets, Germans, and British over the course of more than 30 missions. There are more than 100 vehicles to choose from and more than 25 weapons that can be scavenged from fallen enemies. Since Soldiers is a third-person tactical game, you'll have to carefully command your forces on the map, using realistic tactics to keep them alive and complete the mission. This means that tanks should be used to knock out other tanks, and infantry and tanks should work in concert to compensate for their weaknesses.

There are two ways to play Soldiers. The first is the traditional real-time strategy method of clicking on a unit and then clicking on where you want that unit to move and which enemy to fire on. The other method is called direct control; you select a unit, and then by holding down the control key, you can control it using the arrow keys on your keyboard. In this mode, your mouse acts as a targeting cursor. If you're controlling a tank, you'll slowly watch as the turret swings around to acquire your target, and the targeting dot traverses the landscape until it locks on. The right mouse button lets you switch between weapon types (for the tank, it's either the main cannon or the machine gun). Once the unit has locked onto a target, you use your left mouse button to fire. This direct-control method essentially transforms Soldiers into an action game. Ironically, it also gives you the opportunity to exercise much more strategy, as you can manually target certain portions of vehicles or buildings specifically.

For example, going up against enemy tanks, if you shoot at the front of the tank, where the armor is thickest, you'll waste round after round trying to penetrate it. But using direct control, you can maneuver to get a shot at its treads. If you knock out a tread, you cripple the tank and render it immobile. You can then fall back out of its range and not have to worry about it lurking around, then finish it off after other threats have been neutralized. Of course, the enemy can turn the tables and knock out your tank's treads, which is certainly a danger. However, if you can survive the encounter, you can usually scavenge a repair kit off of destroyed tanks and use it to repair your tank. If your tank is knocked out, you'll watch as the crew bails out. They'll become dismounted infantry, and you can then control them like any other infantry troops.

The environment in the game is fully destructible; tanks can knock down fences, trees, and telephone poles and can even collapse buildings, killing those inside. The game will be equipped with a realistic physics engine so that if you blast a hole in the side of a building, you'll get different results every time. The game will calculate everything from the weapon that was used to the point and angle of impact to determine the size and shape of the hole. Even the ground is destructible; explosions will gouge craters in the earth. Though they're not deep enough to send troops to huddle in, they definitely add to the atmosphere, creating the impression of a blasted landscape littered with bodies and burned-out vehicles.

Bodies and craters litter the ground, and this guy's on fire.
Bodies and craters litter the ground, and this guy's on fire.

It would be easy to mistake Soldiers for a 3D version of Commandos, as it uses the same angled, top-down perspective as Eidos' infiltration game. The graphics engine is very advanced, and the game looks beautiful. Buildings, infantry, and vehicles are rendered with excellent detail, and there are lots of particle effects. Explosions kick up clouds of dust, and vehicles explode in flames and dozens of pieces. And thanks to the physics engine, men will even be thrown into the air, like rag dolls. Crewmen exiting burning tanks will be on fire, and they'll flail around before they die. (Though your soldiers won't jump into any nearby ponds, at least the water effects on the ponds are also nicely done.)

The action in Soldiers promises to be a very nice change of pace from more-conventional World War II-based strategy games. From what we've played, we're reminded of the epic battles we waged with the plastic army men and vehicles of our youth. Only in Soldiers, these battles come alive in beautiful 3D. Soldiers is expected to ship later this year.

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