Another review, another confession: I love controllers. It’s well known among the TechRaptor staff that if a game lacks controller support, I’ll probably pass on it for that reason alone. As much as I love them, it requires acknowledging that some genres are just not built for controllers. RTSes is one that comes to mind: while I may have played Command & Conquer: Red Alert obsessively on my PlayStation (and Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 on my Xbox 360), it’s clear it wasn’t the best fit. Still, it seems like World War 2 RTS Sudden Strike 4 wants to give it another shot. Does this RTS bring a console experience worth playing, or should you avoid it?
There isn’t really much story in Sudden Strike 4. You’ll play as either the Germans, Soviets, or Allies in three campaigns and get to see World War II from their eyes. For the most part you’re just getting a quick historical description of the battle you’re about to play, then after you finish the battle you’ll get a diary entry from some soldier who participated in the fight that is vaguely based on some of the things you did during the level. It’s serviceable, but those looking for personal stories in World War 2, or even a story about a whole company, will be left with nothing.
A lot of the original appeal for me was getting an RTS that made use of a controller. If you were hoping Sudden Strike 4 would successfully buck the trend of clunky console RTS games with an innovative control scheme, I’m sad to say it does not. There’s no easy way to select a small group of units when they’re all bunched together, and the game quickly becomes a frustrating mess. The controls aren’t even internally consistent, as sometimes X is cancel and O is select, and sometimes X is select and O is cancel. It’s a total toss in the air on which is going to be which as you go through the campaign. I was able to get used to the controls enough that I could play the game, but it’s clear this was built for a mouse and keyboard and the controller was an afterthought. The game attempts to alleviate this by letting you pause the game and issue commands, but even then it still feels like it takes forever to give simple orders.
You won’t be building bases in Sudden Strike 4, nor will you be calling on more troops. Instead, the game is all about managing what you’re given effectively to carry out the various objectives. You’ll be asked to capture areas, defend friends, take out opposing armies, and some other objectives. This usually boils down to either destroying all enemies in a specific area or defending an area until you win. You can select which commander you want to play as before each mission, with each commander having a specialty in either infantry units, armored units, or support units. There are minor differences between commands, mostly in small passive boosts that they would give their preferred units, but I never felt like the difference was big enough to actually matter.
You can’t just select all your units, command then, and forget about them either. All units have an ammo counter that needs to be resupplied, and tanks and trucks need to watch their fuel. You can completely ignore these counters for the first half of a campaign, as missions are so easy that you can just sort of blob your units together and steamroll your way to victory. In later levels I was still able to beat by steamrolling a blob through them, but I had to occasionally stop and ask supply trucks to refill my tanks. Like many other things in the game this is unnecessarily frustrating. You can’t just put a supply truck down and have it automatically fill nearby tanks and soldiers. Instead you have you manually select the the supply truck, then click on what tank you want it to restock. It will only restock either ammo or fuel, so you need to wait for it to finish with one, then click on that tank again to restock the other. Then once the truck is done with that tank you can move on to another. I lost solid minutes of my time to this process.
There’s actually a surprising amount of details when it comes to what the troops can do or how they’re affected by combat. For example, you can have your tank commanders pop out of the hatch of their tank, which increases the tank’s vision at the cost of making the commanders easy to kill. A tank can operate without a commander, but not at full efficiency. This makes a solid idea for a risk/reward system for you to use. Some of these systems are kind of iffy in their implantation. Tanks can take critical damage that can either disable their turret from turning, break their treads, or take out their cannon. It’s not a bad idea, but with no way to order your troops to target specific sections then it’s all left up to chance if a shot is going to disable something or not. There’s also quite a lot of details that feel quite unnecessary. I’m not sure why I’d ever ask the soldiers driving a tank to actually leave their tank, but I’ve accidentally done it on more than one occasion thanks to the wonky controls. I can ask my soldiers to go prone, but this doesn’t actually appear to do anything. Things like this make it feel like Sudden Strike 4 is aiming for complexity, but is doing so in a false and needless way.
What ultimately kills Sudden Strike 4 is the deluge of technical issues the game runs into. The game’s pathfinding is simply not up to the task, as units constantly get stuck on each other, on walls, or take strange lengthy routes to God knows where. Units begin to sit in one spot, vibrating violently as if trying to escape the game. The game would fail to register my commands at times and other times tell me I had reinforcements without actually spawning them. My units would sometimes sit around and let themselves be killed by enemies without even attempting to react. I’d get to watch in horror as my tanks would be destroyed because the repair truck I asked to go save one of my tanks chose to not follow my commands. Sometimes my units would just stop, deciding that they were only interested in following half of their command. I even experienced hard crashes when loading levels, forcing me to restart the game. Bluntly, Sudden Strike 4 was broken in nearly every possible way a game could be broken.
This all came to a terrible climax during a mission that saw me invading Stalingrad as the Germans. The level featured tight corridors that my units simply had no clue how to navigate. They would switch paths for seemingly no reason, taking wild U-turns that would lead them through mine fields that could have been easily avoided. A repair truck glitched out and became permanently stuck sideways in an alleyway, blocking all access from my tanks. Eventually, my infantry got cut down by Russian tanks because my tanks were still piling up behind a repair truck they couldn’t get around. This led to the first time since ReCore where I’ve genuinely turned a game off in frustration. If I’m comparing how Sudden Strike 4 made me feel to how ReCore made me feel, then there’s a massive issue.
If you manage to finish a level then you’ll be ranked on your performance and awarded stars. At least, that is what’s supposed to happen. In practice, the ranking system is completely busted. At no point could I ever figure out what caused my ranking to increase or decrease. I watched the star counter displayed during levels and often found it stuck at the lowest it could go before suddenly jumping up to completely full with no rhyme or reason. You can use these stars to upgrade your commanders, giving them more command options or better passive boosts. If you manage to figure out the game’s secret formula for three stars then you can replay a level with a challenge active, things like only starting with half ammo or not getting specific units. Completing these goals will earn you a fourth star, for better commanders.
When you’re done with the campaign, and if you’ve decided you hate yourself enough to keep playing Sudden Strike 4, then you can hop into a skirmish map with the AI. Skirmish work as a 4v4, and allow you to capture several points with your army, giving both teams a common ground to fight over. This is assuming they can get their troops anywhere without running into glitches. Holding these spots slowly earns you points, which is one of two ways to win a skirmish. The other, of course, is to just annihilate the enemy army. Just because it plays slightly different than the campaign doesn’t mean it works any better, and skirmishes are just as broken, buggy, and busted as the main game.
At times I actually thought the game was rather nice to look at. Battles could look impressive, and little effects like light tank rounds bouncing off the armor of a heavy tank really helped sell the game. Unfortunately, harking back to the technical issues of before, Sudden Strike 4 suffers from noticeable frame drops, especially when the battles got too intense. These frame drops could see the game dropping into single digits, and causes new problems like the fog of war not lifting correctly or the selection cursors for air attacks not loading. Animations also broke often: soldiers would get killed but proceed to stand there a solid minute before suddenly playing their death animation. Assuming they actually play their death animation and don’t suddenly warp into the T-pose before fading away like they never existed in the first place. I also want to give a shout out to the game’s terrible voice actors. I’m not sure there was more than three, and it was hilariously clear most of them didn’t have accents even close to the country they were supposed to be representing.
It’s possible my opinion of Sudden Strike 4 would be slightly better if I was using a mouse and keyboard. Since I was on a PlayStation 4, this was not an option. Frankly, I can’t imagine me liking the game much more even without that caveat. Sudden Strike 4 barely manages to work on even a basic level, with so many glitches constantly stopping my game. If there were no glitches and if there was a working control scheme then maybe, just maybe, Sudden Strike 4 would be a totally average World War 2 RTS that doesn’t really stand out in any way. In its current state, it’s just a horrid mess.
Our Sudden Strike 4 review was conducted on PlayStation 4 using a copy provided by the developers. The game is also available on PC via Steam. This provisional review will be updated with a score once multiplayer is tested in a live environment post release.