A real-time-strategy (RTS) game with a heavy (extremely heavy) emphasis on tank combat, Sudden Strike 4: Complete Edition gives players the chance to recreate (in somewhat smaller scope) some of the pivotal battles of WWII, whether it be playing as the Allies or Axis, and whether on the European or Pacific fronts. Part RTS, part puzzle game, each mission of the campaign sees players given a variety of units (that’s right, there’s no base building here), and a number of objectives to complete using those units (capture this point, hold the line here, and so on). While missions may see you get period reinforcements, these aren’t unlimited, and any losses hurt.
Losing units doesn’t just come in the form of them being destroyed or killed by the enemy. It’s always possible that a shot to a vehicle will damage a vital system, such as the gun (no more firing), engine (slower movement) or tracks (sorry, you’re now stuck). While these can be repaired if you have a repair vehicle nearby, such injuries force you to quickly revise your tactics during the heat of battle. Also, it’s possible to run out of both fuel and ammunition. Mismanage your forces, and it’s quite possible to find yourself in an unwinnable situation. This also holds for multiplayer – while you can call in reinforcements, these won’t make up for losing most of your initial forces.
While it can take some time to refuel and rearm your forces (the support vehicles annoyingly don’t have an ‘autocast’ function for this, and only automatically approach nearly empty vehicles), it’s well worthwhile. One mission was lost, simply because I neglected to keep my tanks running at full capacity. Come the final battle, I watched in horror as half my forces ground to a halt for lack of fuel. Robbed of their mobility, they were easily outflanked and destroyed. Needless to say, you’ll become quite protective of your fragile supply vehicles.
Gameplay-wise, it’s as if someone had looked at Company of Heroes, and stripped out a lot of the micromanagement, the control-points (at least for the single-player campaign), and cover and retreat systems. And really, the game benefits from it. Less demanding and frantic, Sudden Strike 4 lets players take a broader approach to strategy, while still giving enough control for tactical depth. For example, tanks pack a serious punch, but suffer from a fairly low vision range. You can open the hatch and get one of the crew to look out, which then exposes them to anti-infantry fire. Infantry are useful against other infantry, clearing mines, getting through narrow spaces, commandeering abandoned vehicles and taking down lone tanks (but only if armed with anti-tank weapons), but will be quickly destroyed when facing multiple armoured units.
Players also have to take care to position their tanks, making sure not to expose vulnerable flanks, and not to use light tanks as a front-line unit, especially when going up against heavier foes. (The heavy tank is slow moving terror, with armour-plate capable of deflecting nearly all head-on attacks, and a cannon which can demolish nearly anything with one well-placed shot.) Air support can also be called upon in the form of paratroopers, reconnaissance, heavy bombers and ground-attack planes. These are more useful in the campaign rather than skirmish and multiplayer modes, as they take a fair amount of time to reach the target area (though the ground attack planes can be used as area denial, as they will hang around and strafe targets in the area until their ammo runs out).
Also, the game throws the occasional surprise. You see, the mission briefings are actually a plan of what should happen, not what will. You may be told to head to one position to repel the enemy advance, only to find that the enemy is coming from somewhere else completely different (hence the need to have a full fuel-tank). Far from feeling cheap or annoying, these deviations from what you’ve anticipated help to keep you on your toes. Indeed, the only thing I found jarring, was that when playing for the Germans, the mission briefing was given with a broad US accent (thankfully, during the actual mission the units all acknowledge your commands in German).
Battles can range from the brutally short (such as blundering your tanks/infantry into a fortified position), to protracted (as when each side has arranged their forced with care). Either way, they are always spectacular – with shots blowing craters in the ground and kicking dust and smoke in the air, or slicing the top off an enemy tank. The visual chaos is extremely enjoyable, and the level of detail is terrific, right down to the track-marks being left by the vehicles. Command & Conquer: Generals used to be my go-to RTS for mass explosions and vehicular destruction, but not anymore.
While Sudden Strike 4 was released in 2017, the recently released Complete Edition features all five (normally individually purchased) expansions, offering players 11 campaigns, over 45 missions and more than 200 different units. Meaning there’s plenty of game-play to be had. Furthermore, it comes with a fair slice of history. The battles are given historical context and their significance in the war, and there are also mini-documentaries with historical footage.
All in all, Sudden Strike 4: Complete Edition is easy to recommend for both seasoned RTS players, and newcomers to the genre. Tactically satisfying, visually spectacular, and tons of fun. ■