Soldiers: Heroes of World War II Impressions

We meet with Codemasters to check out a 40-percent-complete version of this upcoming World War II strategy game.

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During a recent meeting with Codemasters, we were treated to a demonstration of a 40-percent-complete version of the recently announced Soldiers: Heroes of World War II. We're told that although Soldiers is officially listed as a real-time strategy game, though it also has a lot in common with tactical games like Commandos 3, Hidden & Dangerous 2, and the Sensible Software classic Cannon Fodder. While these comparisons may seem strange, they're very applicable, and for reasons we'll explain below, we came away from our meeting with high hopes for the game.

You start each mission with only a handful of troops at your disposal.
You start each mission with only a handful of troops at your disposal.

Like Commandos 3 and Cannon Fodder, Soldiers: Heroes of World War II lets you control a small number of troops while attempting to complete missions in which the odds are stacked against you. Typically, you'll find yourself with only three or four troops at your disposal, and in many cases, you won't be particularly well armed until you manage to scavenge additional weaponry by finding it or removing it from the bodies of fallen enemies. The 25-plus weapons available in the game include everything from knives and rifle butts to sniper rifles, machine guns, and even Molotov cocktails. Although none of the soldiers in the game specialize in certain roles, there's no reason why you can't create your own specialists by simply arming them with the appropriate weapons.

Soldiers: Heroes of World War II essentially seems like a great big World War II toy box--and a very realistic, accessible one at that. Soldiers can be played as either a real-time strategy or a third-person action game, and because you're able to switch between the two control systems at will, like in Hidden & Dangerous 2, it's easy to carry out actions by using your entire squad or a single soldier. To better carry out more-complex maneuvers or to complete mission objectives, you'll often have to take direct control of your troops, but since your soldiers are able to defend themselves adequately, the strategic controls don't seem like they force you to compromise.

The first portion of our demo took place close to a small farmhouse, where, upon spotting an enemy soldier, Codemasters producer Callum Godfrey took the opportunity to show us just how effective stealth can be in the game. Even while using the strategic view, Godfrey was able to have one of his men back up against one of the farmhouse walls and quietly edge along the wall to get closer to his enemy. The stealthy soldier then silently killed his adversary with a knife. After this, Godfrey switched to the direct control system and gave us our first taste of one of the 105 accurately-modeled vehicles that appear in the game by stealing his dead enemy's motorcycle-and-sidecar. Godfrey then proceeded to race it around some fields, while taking out a fence or two en route. Vehicles in the game not only look realistic, but they also exhibit realistic physics, damage, and sound effects--sound effects that enemy soldiers are capable of hearing from a distance. Your enemies are also able to spot soldiers who are hiding in long grass and bushes, although this ability depends on their proximity to your men and whether or not they're actively searching for them at the time.

There are more than 100 different vehicles in the game.
There are more than 100 different vehicles in the game.

One of the main advantages of taking direct control of your soldiers is that you're able to shoot your soldiers' weapons in much the same way that you can in a first-person shooter. Because everything in the game is modeled with realistic physics, this means that you can deliberately target the wheels or tracks of a vehicle or go for one-hit-kill headshots when facing enemy infantry--though perhaps you'll only remove a helmet or two if your aim is off. To demonstrate how the two control systems can be used in tandem, Godfrey showed us a level where all four of his soldiers had managed to get into tanks but were clearly outnumbered by an incoming enemy tank platoon. Using the strategic view, he first ordered three of his tanks to advance on the enemies and face them head-on. Then, using direct control, he drove the fourth tank in a large semicircle around the side of the enemies--thus taking advantage of the fact that tanks have a narrow line of sight--and was eventually able to get behind them. The tanks in question were clearly less well armored in the rear, so it wasn't long before the enemy soldiers were fleeing their smoldering tanks.

The 105 vehicles in the game aren't all land-based, so the next level we were shown featured a number of German planes that were parked at an airport. The version of the level that we were shown took place during broad daylight, but according to Godfrey, there's a good chance that this mission will become a night one in the final game. Though the multitalented soldiers at your disposal are able to steal planes just as easily as they are land-based vehicles, it's not actually possible to fly them. The first plane we watched Godfrey drive around the airport--guns blazing--was a single-seater, but later on there was also a two-seater shown, which had room for a pilot and a rear gunner. The latter option will, no doubt, be fun to try when playing the game's cooperative mode.

The night missions in Soldiers: Heroes of World War II will, unsurprisingly, be the ones that place the greatest emphasis on stealth. This was certainly the case with the next level we were shown. At the start of the mission, the whole screen was just light enough so that we could make out our surroundings. In fact, the only thing that was clearly visible was a small village with streetlights off in the distance. There was very little in the way of danger en route to the village, although Godfrey did point out that if soldiers blundered into the headlights of any vehicles that passed by, enemy soldiers would have, in fact, raised the alarm. In the town itself, there were plenty of buildings and other objects to hide behind, although this became less important once one or two of the streetlights had been shot out (a tactic reminiscent of Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell). Another of the night missions, we were told, lets you attempt to infiltrate a French chateau during a storm. The mission is still very much a work in progress at the moment, so we weren't able to see it for ourselves. Basically, it will require you to use the sound of thunder to disguise your footsteps as you run through the streets. Because the storm is passing overhead, the timing between the flashes of lightning and the thunderclaps will constantly change, just as they would in real life.

Planes in the game can be stolen. However, they must remain grounded.
Planes in the game can be stolen. However, they must remain grounded.

In addition to three single-player campaigns, which span some 10 missions each, Soldiers: Heroes of World War II features a number of multiplayer modes. You can play through the missions cooperatively, with up to three of your friends, or you can pit your soldiers against those of other players in deathmatch and king of the hill games that take place on specially designed maps.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Soldiers is the high level of detail that's evident in every aspect of the game. All the trees in the game move in the wind and have real-time shadows. Real-time cloud reflections glide across the rippling water. And should you decide to go for a swim while your weapon is in hand, your soldier will do his best to hold it above the water and swim one-handed. If the game's mission designs receive even half as much attention as the graphics and physics, Soldiers: Heroes of World War II may very well offer an impressively realistic and enjoyable single-player and cooperative multiplayer experience. Soldiers is expected to ship to stores this summer.

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