PC REVIEW: SOLDIERS: HEROES OF WORLD WAR II

About the only videogame theme that's been done to death more than WWII is the entire racing genre. Why don't the developers all get together and create WWII kart racer? That way we only have to ignore one game instead of several.

Thankfully, Soldiers: Heroes of World War II, is not like most WWII RTS games. It occupies a distinct niche in the genre by combining several gameplay elements and formulating them into a complete whole - almost. It's not perfect but it's not unplayable by any means. The few bugs or oversights probably won't even be noticed save for a handful of diligent nerds such as myself.

Soldiers can be considered a classy game. From the graphics to the subtle music, everything is top quality without going over the top. The game looks and plays realistically. Even the odd bug in the system could be considered an anomaly of war - the price of doing business in a less-than-ideal circumstances.

Taking place in Europe, there are four major campaigns, each with a number of missions. Play as the U.S., U.K., Germans and Russians. There is plenty of shooting going on but there are more sophisticated missions in the mix including stealth and trap placements. The management issues require lots of thinking and advanced planning. If you like solving puzzles you'll enjoy this aspect of the game. Plan on saving your progress as often as possible. Some of the methods needed to win the battle can only be discovered by trial and error. You may get lucky a few times but the AI is very in tune with your strategy and can easily adapt when you change plans. Like a game of chess, there are many ways to win - and many more ways to lose.

Vehicles from jeeps to tanks can be controlled not only to transport troops but to inflict damage on the enemy. Wall, bridges and buildings will crumble when your massive cannon lands a decisive blow. Vehicles have a limited supply of ammo and fuel. When you run out you can send soldiers to collect more fuel or ammo from other vehicles abandoned in the field. You can also send them out to repair damaged vehicles but this is where you have to be careful. You're still in the middle of a battlefield and your men are likely to come under fire.

Movement of vehicles and soldiers is relegated to the arrow keys. The mouse controls the aiming and the firing of weapons. All the controls are responsive and tight. Commands are best issued under direct control although you can assign them in the traditional manner. Most of your units will require constant attention. You won't always receive a warning when a unit is under attack.

Even your own units can give you grief. Tanks will accidentally run over some of your other vehicles and fuel supplies. Pathfinding can also be a problem with troops wandering around aimlessly, spreading themselves thin when they should be converging. It would help matters if your units required a little less babysitting.

Graphically the game is gritty and realistic. Like the music, it's all subtle but there is a lot of detail underneath the hood. The particle effects are excellent. Blowing up the surrounding environment results in a spectacular display of instant entropy. With the fully adjustable camera angle you can get a great view of the destruction. All of this beauty comes with a price. The framerate grinds to a virtual halt when the particle effects are engaged to maximum effect.

As enjoyable as the single-player game is, the co-op mode is sure to please. The online mode allows up to 16 players to take place in realistic battles. You can expect a lot of replay value out of Soldiers.

Even if your not a big fan or RTS games, Soldiers offers a unique experience that you'll be hard pressed to find in any other game in this genre.

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System: PC
Dev: Best Way
Pub: Codemasters / I C Company
Release: June 2004
Players: 1 - 2 - Multi-Online
Review by Al
RATING (OUT OF 5)
OVERALL
3.5
GRAPHICS
4.0
CONTROL
3.5
MUSIC/FX
4.0
VALUE
3.0