[Disclosure: A review copy was provided for the contents of this article]
With Aven Colony out just a few weeks ago, Cities: Skylines last week and Sudden Strike 4 rolling onto consoles today, I feel genuinely spoiled for choice when it comes to decent, console based strategy games. The former two examples are city builders, whilst Sudden Strike 4 is an outright action-RTS, focused entirely on battalion level combat across a series of beautifully recreated World War II battlefields. There is a campaign mode with over twenty missions shared between the Axis, the Allies and the Soviets, and there is also a multiplayer mode that was unfortunately very quiet prior to general release, but seems to have filled up nicely since the game launched.
Having chosen a mission, you’ll also pick from one of the nine Generals (three each for the engaged armies) and deploy skill points based on the focus of that General. These skills are occasionally passive, but more often than not they increase the number of abilities that units have access to on the battlefield, such as adding grenades or mines to the skillset of a given unit. You see, Sudden Strike 4 isn’t a strategy game in which you’ll gather resources, build a base and pump out a huge army. Instead, you’ll be given a number of units to begin with, plus a range of reinforcements that arrive as and when. This means that the preservation of each unit is essential, and managing the expanding range of abilities is all part of the plan.
This approach does make Sudden Strike 4 quite a challenge, but it’s also an interesting and fairly varied one. Some of the missions are intense, and players will be forced to fight tooth and nail down to their last smoking unit more than once throughout the game. The variety comes largely from the window dressing that each objective provides, whether it be clearing the Soviet lines during the initial German Blitzkrieg, storming the beaches of Normandy, or the desperate struggle to hold Stalingrad. You’ll often be doing the exact same thing from one mission to the next – moving units and blowing stuff up – but the setting really helps immerse players into the game,
Another thing which helps is how bloody amazing the game looks. On the PS4, which is the version I played, Sudden Strike 4 looks fantastic. The units, environments and weapon effects look incredible, and the developers have gone for an ultra realistic, highly detailed approach that works exceptionally well. Sound effects are equally good, with solid, punchy explosions and plenty of support from machine guns, falling trees and the general sound of heavy machinery in motion. The initial setting for voice overs is abysmal, with drawling American actors spelling out German and Soviet phrases in a comical fashion. Change the setting to native language, and things improve immeasurably.
There are some problems however. Presumably in an effort to increase and vary the challenge, the developer has included the need for players to repair, refuel and resupply vehicles in a way that is much more painful than it is fun. Only critical repairs can be undertaken, so general battle damage has to be put up with, so in a sense it’s a somewhat pointless feature. Resupplying is a slight irritation, but with supply trucks and depots, it’s generally manageable. Refuelling is the feature that really annoyed me, and I can’t hope to remember the amount of times that I lost missions just because I couldn’t find a way to refuel.
If it sounds a bit weird that Sudden Strike 4 has such a focus on granular management of the battalion, then that’s because it is. That said, having exact control over when a soldier throws a grenade, or when a tank has its gunnery hatch open operates at a similar level of detail to considering the fuel or ammo situation, so at least the two go hand in hand. This isn’t warfare on a grand scale like in most RTS games, and yet it’s not as if players have fine control over a single tank or a small squadron. In Sudden Strike 4, you have probably twenty or thirty units, and you need to manage all of them.
On the subject of controls, Sudden Strike 4 is a little hit and miss on PS4, although overall it is entirely playable. Selecting units is achieved via holding down X and then expanding a circle using the analogue stick to grab as many units as you would like. Units of the same kind can also be selected by double clicking X on them. Any units selected can easily be grouped with a click of the right stick, and cycling grouped units is as simple as scrolling with the D-Pad. Things go awry when it comes to skill selection sometimes, with the triggers being used to open context sensitive menus, and then face buttons used to execute the chosen skill. A good example is throwing grenades, which seems to rely on the X button to confirm the action, whereas most other confirmations use O. It’s annoying, and in the heat of battle it will get you killed.
Sudden Strike 4 is by no means perfect, but it is a surprisingly competent real time strategy game on console. Aside from the issues I’ve already listed, there are some other weird features such as the fact that tanks ordered to retreat will start madly doing three point turns rather than retreating with their front armour to the enemy. Pathing in general is an issue. Similarly, there’s still a lot of goodness to be had in Sudden Strike 4 that I haven’t drawn out in tremendous detail, because much of that relates to the experience. This game looks and sounds so good and so authentic, and it features such interesting and challenging missions that I really did warm to it long before the end.
As a result, if you are in the market for a console RTS, then you could do a lot worse, but could you do much better? In all honesty, I’m not sure there are many options out there that do the job a great deal better. As a result, almost anyone should: