Imagine a small scale battlefield filled with vehicles, soldiers, and buildings all affected by the game's physics engine, governed by historically accurate and realistic gameplay rules. Then the limits stop and the player can do whatever he desires with accordance to the map's objectives giving the game a genuine sandbox quality, only with a purpose.
A particularly successful move was making vehicles and infantry alike the central part of the game and neither one has been superficially added just for extra playing material. Terrain and objects throughout the map play an equally important role, so it seems clear that from its core, this game has been built around the interaction of its many elements.
Vehicles require multiple occupants for maximum efficiency: if you have one person controlling a Sherman tank, he is faced with the task of driving, reloading and aiming; rendering you vulnerable in desperate situations that require all three tasks to occur at the same time. Maintenance, in the form of fuel and repairs, is also part of your schedule, so when you decide to run around the map with a Willys mowing enemy units to the ground, don't expect to do it forever. When your gas level reaches zero you'll need to transfer gas from a vehicle you don't plan to use to one of your own. Keep in mind that these procedures take time to complete so if your Willys stopped in front of a 75mm cannon looking for fuel will the last thing on your mind.
Since the game treats all aspects with great detail vehicles have inventories with appropriate capacities. Ammunition and weapons are stored inside, but there is always room for smaller items such as rifles or machine guns, extra grenades and ammo packs; anything your soldiers can carry your vehicles will too. Many times after a fierce battle I'd loot the corpses and store the excess RPG rockets or mines in my truck. You can also loot vehicles: access a motorcycle's inventory and snatch away the mounted Bren machine gun and use it yourself. The fun continues when you realize that vehicles are made up of different parts: chassis, four tires, engine, weapon, steering. Any one of those can be affected by enemy fire, so a grenade can blow off the front tires of your armored car, or disable its gun and engine or any combination of the above. Repairs can be done but sometimes the damage is so severe that the vehicles will be permanently disabled.
While they are fun to use and excel in many situations, a suitably fitted soldier can take on as many of them as his inventory allows. Your inventory includes grenades, explosives, RPGs, mines--and against non-armored vehicles an ordinary submachine gun can be deadly. You have to use the terrain to your advantage, and since practically everything with enough length and width to hide a soldier can serve as cover, infantry combat is extremely useful. The most effective way to hide is find a nearby bush or some tall grass rendering you invisible unless someone happens directly upon you. Applying the right strategy is often enough to overcome an enemy many times your size; simple things like wearing your helmet, restocking your gear, hiding inside buildings or keeping a low stance can be life savers.
The beauty of the game is the physics engine underneath. To give you good picture of the way it immensely improves gameplay I'll describe a brief scenario:
An enemy sniper has assumed a position on the second floor of a house, taking sight out of the window. You carefully approach it, aim and throw a grenade, hoping to get it through the opening. Unfortunately, it hits the wall and bounces back towards the bush you've hidden in. A moment before impact, you rush out into the open, the grenade blows destroying your cover, and the enemy cannon on the other side of the hill shoots upon seeing you. Thankfully, the shell goes right above your head taking the sniper and half the building with it. You immediately take cover behind the newly formed rubble and watch a tank closing in to your position. Before it has a chance to get you the cannon fires another round, hitting the tank and flipping it on its side. Using it as cover you quickly run over, place some charges and retreat. A moment later you hear the explosion and relax since it's all over, only to be crushed into the ground by a huge tank turret.
"The beauty of the game is the physics engine underneath."
This is all fiction of course, yet it's possible in-game. Physics add a random factor and events which would otherwise be anticipated become unpredictable in nature. I've restarted missions many times when something didn't come out exactly as I planned, but if you're the adventurous type you can play the game without interruptions and deal with the unexpected situations.
All four sides, Britain, America, Germany and Russia get their own campaigns and the missions within flow nicely from top to bottom following a particular skirmish. For example, the five Russian missions deal with a few determined soldiers trying to steal a German mobile missile station only to use it against the enemy itself at the very end. Briefing and introduction are narrated in good detail, and the developers have even made a debriefing speech in cases where you fail your task. There are missions of all types, short and long, hard and easy (actually a more accurate description would be extremely hard and hard, but the point remains that there is range of difficulty), and thanks to varied objectives I was as enthusiastic playing the last level as I did the first.
I know a lot of people had great trouble completing the demo, but once you purchase the game you'll have a detailed tutorial and game manual at your disposal. When you get familiar with both, controls and interface become intuitive and easier than originally thought. Another helpful tool is the direct control button: one press and you've taken complete command over any unit's aim and movement, allowing you more precision and faster response in battle. Many situations require the fine-tuned control of the player and success largely depends on whether you're using this feature.
Still, the game can be quite difficult thanks to a few factors: you're always outnumbered, enemy units are constantly in motion patrolling the map, reinforcements are frequently going in and out of the area, and the AI is very proficient. I wouldn't call it smart--because I never saw any form of organized planning--but it's extremely capable. Once you're spotted, you'll be hunted down until you're dead. At the very first map, I carelessly blew my cover and some German patrols chased me half way across the map, throwing grenades and keeping fire. I ran without turning back and reached a big lake, jumped in still under fire, at which point I swam at the very center and was finally left at peace. To my surprise the Germans did not go back to their initial posts but made camp at the shore, always alert.
"To my surprise the Germans did not go back to their initial posts but made camp at the shore, always alert."
Units also take the initiative when they run away from grenades or vehicles on their own accord, hide deeper into cover during reload, keep a low stance if under continuous fire, and if unable to spot the enemy hidden in a bush somewhere they just fire at its general direction. Pathfinding is superbly done as well: a car will move through the map end to end without ever getting stuck and will even follow any necessary roads.
Undoubtedly there are more advanced games than Soldiers and it gets points not for modeling or flashy effects, but for the finer details. The only thing I noticed upon loading the first level is the faithful representation of a village and its surroundings. Since the scale of the game is roughly the same as Commando's , the designers had to fill the area with things you wouldn't normally see in a game of the Ground Control caliber. Animals, trees, grass, fences, roads, puddles, and litter are what stood out to me; firefights reveal another layer of detail with smoke, bullet trails, dust, debris, blown pieces, and spectacular explosions. All of this along with good texturing and the fact that nothing stands out as better or worse looking than the rest gives a very pleasant and uniform look to the game.
One complaint I have is the noticeable stutter during physics intensive scenes. A building falling apart or a jeep exploding will cause slowdown on my 3200+/6600GT setup. Otherwise I'm well in 70s at a 1280x960 resolution. And surprisingly I play at the exact same settings on my 2100+/4200 setup with very comfortable frame rates.
What I said about the visuals applies here as well. All actions on the field are accompanied by quality sound effects, from simple things like reloading your gun or crossing a river, to very satisfying explosions and machine gun fire. I didn't mind the music even though it was nothing special, at least I didn't stay in total silence when I was planning my next move.
Six gamemodes including four player co-op, a lot of maps and game options, LAN and online play, anything multiplayer fans will need for a solid gaming session. I spent a lot of time playing against a friend on my home network, and whether it was a simple head to head deathmatch, or a team up against the AI, the multiplayer component is designed perfectly. Unlike single player, here infantry units are divided in classes such as commando, sniper, rifleman, submachine gunner, tankman, each with the corresponding sets of abilities and skills. At the beginning of every game a time limit is assigned where players use a certain amount of Command Points to purchase and form their squad. From there on the fight begins and you can waste hours upon hours playing around the battlefield as I certainly did. The multiplayer aspects in Soldiers are as polished and as engaging as the single player campaign, something rarely seen nowadays where a lot of games simply concentrate on one or the other.
"...the multiplayer component is designed perfectly."
"...the multiplayer component is designed perfectly."
SHOWWII succeeds in providing authentic and believable World War II combat, both urban and rural, vehicle and infantry. These styles are effortlessly integrated within the game and work side by side in a way which shows they've all been given equal attention. The result is a seamless representation of historic warfare, and I greatly appreciate the developer's dedication to gameplay and detail which make Soldiers an outstanding game.
Lots of vehicles and weapons
Unique and in-depth gameplay
Framerate problems with big explosions