Sudden Strike 4 [Steam] is the first in the series to have Linux support, it releases later today with day-1 Linux support. Here's what I think so far.
Disclosure: Kalypso Media provided me with a copy before release.
I will state for the record, that I have no previous experience with the Sudden Strike series. Other reviewers will likely compare them, I shall not. I shall take the game as it is right now, with obvious comparisons to similar games.
Sadly, the Linux version is not on GOG. I've been told this is due to GOG Galaxy not being on Linux yet. They said they're looking into it and hope to sort it in the near future. Update: Linux version is now on GOG.
It was actually surprising to see a Sudden Strike game come to Linux, but it’s thanks to the Unity game engine that we have it, since it makes it easier to bring games to Linux. Doesn’t make it trivial, of course, and it’s not just a simple push of a button, but it’s helped Linux gaming a lot.
It’s actually not a traditional RTS game in the sense that you don’t construct any buildings and you can pause it at any moment to get your head together. It’s generally classed as a “real time tactics” game. You also don’t get to build any new units, unlike a lot of strategy games where units become as disposable as tissues; it makes SS4 a slower, more thoughtful game where you really need to get your tactician hat on.
So what we have here is a game where you need to think and plan ahead, you need to utilize each unit to the fullest extent possible. Instead of the cycle of build, expand and repeat, you actually get a more realistic experience of war itself. Armour does play an important role in the game, as you can see bullets and shells bouncing off the more highly armoured units. For example, keeping soldiers to the side or behind armoured vehicles can save their lives (although it needs tweaking, as sometimes bullets seem to pass through). Likewise, getting behind a heavy tank to knock it out is important, since their armour is weaker at the back.
Much like other slightly similar strategy games, you pick a specific commander who come with various different abilities. This enables you to mix-up your strategy depending on the type of scenario you will be facing, some of the abilities are really quite useful too, like having the ability to sit a few soldiers on your tanks.
Using interesting tactics is important during the campaign, as you're rewarded extra points based on what you do. These points are added up and you're given 1-3 stars in each mission depending on how you did. You can then use your stars to activate special abilities for your commanders. One thing they need to address, though, is that it's not clear exactly what you need to get all three stars, they need to give you more details.
You can hide soldiers inside fields of wheat or sunflower fields, which can enable you to sneak up on your enemy. That's awesome by itself, but even more impressive is the simulation going on. Individual sunflowers get knocked down and your soldiers leave a line through the fields where they've pushed through. There’s so many features that have made me really appreciate the graphics, as well as the overall gameplay.
If you want to see a video of my failure, check out this video taken from a livestream preview I did.
Graphically, the game is stunning. Compared with the bleakness of titles like Company of Heroes and Dawn of War it’s a totally different world, visually speaking. Seeing a tank catch fire, blow up and watch as a soldier crawls out of it certainly leaves a lasting impression. Every single element in the game seems like it’s had real attention paid to it. The ground decals look highly detailed, each individual wheel inside the tank tracks can be seen moving, the explosions look fantastic showing bits of debris flying into the air and so on.
When it comes to the gameplay, it initially felt a little more simplistic than some other strategy games, but there’s actually a lot of things going on I didn’t notice initially. Unlike some games, you cannot repair a tank from near destruction up to full health, you can only repair critical damage if they can’t move, for example. You can also tell individual soldiers to lay down, making it harder to see and hit them.
The campaign is extremely varied in the types of missions you will do, but one moment in particular stuck with me. Early on in the German campaign I was pushing into Russia and I split my forces in two, hoping my tanks could take the front line, while my soldiers and lighter vehicles went around the side to take out some troops. I had done a pass-over with recon planes first, so I had a general idea of what they were hiding. It — uh — didn’t go quite as planned. My tanks were doing fine, ploughing through their infantry seeking refuge in trenches, but when I quickly panned the camera back over to my lighter units moving up the side, two tanks and a god damned rocket truck came into view and annihilated a bunch of my troops. Thankfully, I did have a few anti-tank infantry and a bunch of mortars, so this is all that remained of them in the end:
Sadly, the problems continued. My armoured units were running low on ammo, some of them completely out and some advancing enemies coming out of the trees made quick work of my supply truck so I was in a bit of a bind. Thankfully, some of the enemies had their arms up having given up, so I didn’t have to kill all of them. There’s lots of stories the game will end up creating for you, which is part of why I’ve been enjoying it so much. Another, much more minor detail stuck with me too, as I pushed further into Russia you come into a ruined city, as my tanks leveled one of the buildings, an enemy soldier flipped out of a window as it was falling. So many little details — it's so fun to see it all.
One downside, is that some of the voice over work for the German's sounds...British. It's a really weird thing to be playing through a German campaign, hearing a British accent trying to sound a bit German.
Unlocking historical footage was a nice touch in the Extra’s menu, I quite enjoyed listening to the videos as I progressed through the game.
The game has a Skirmish mode, although it is a little on the limited side. There's only four maps in the standard edition, plus an extra if you pre-ordered. That's a little disappointing for those who like to play against the AI, so hopefully given the extensive modding support (more on that below), plenty of extra maps should get released. There's also only one game mode for the Skirmish battles and little customization offered, with no difficulty options or anything interesting. You choose the map, the sides and that's it.
Unlike the campaign, in the Skirmish mode if you manage to capture a train station you will be able to get reinforcements. These cost points that you gain from capturing the "Field HQs", to win you simply need have captured all of these HQs and then it's over, so victory and loss is quite sudden.
When it comes to the online multiplayer, you will be pleased to know that the game features full cross-platform multiplayer between Windows, Mac and Linux. It’s also cross-compatible between the Steam & GOG versions. I haven't been able to test the online play, due to it not being released while reviewing. Update: What we were told was obviously wrong, it does not have cross-platform play.
Performance wise, I’m honestly surprised. It’s been swimming along without an issue, constantly above 100FPS in most situations — glorious! Even during battles consisting of many different types of units and lots of explosions it hardly budged. It was reduced while livestreaming and recording the initial teaser, but when running without OBS in the background it really does perform well.
The game even features modding support with the Steam Workshop, so it will be interesting to see what people are able to create. Hopefully people will mod in some bigger maps, to satisfy people wanting a bigger battlefield. What makes the mod support especially interesting, is that people will have the ability to connect maps together to form their own scenarios/campaigns. Modders will have full access to all unit values/stats and there’s no hard-coded limit to the size maps can be or the amount of units available at any one time. Insofar as modding support goes, this game seems like it has it down completely.
With all that said about modding support, here’s the sad bit: The actual modding tools are Windows-only. This happens with a lot of games, so it’s not exactly surprising, still disappointing though. I’m just glad we will be able to access all the Steam Workshop content without restriction.
Overall, it might not be as in-depth as some people had hoped, with rather lacklustre skirmish battles, but there’s a massive amount to appreciate and multiple campaigns are pretty decent. If you like your strategy games, especially when it comes to the World War II era then this is simply a must-buy. It looks gorgeous, it performs amazingly well and it’s really quite fun. Now this is how you do Linux support!