31st Oct, 2003.
Let me begin by saying I'm prejudiced. Very prejudiced. About as prejudiced as a Jew on the jury of a court trying Hitler for war crimes. Yes, that
You see, I've been primed by numerous films about small elite squads operating behind enemy lines in WWII. Blowing up supply depots, sniping enemy sentries right in the fucking face, machine-gunning platoons of soldiers and generally teaching the Jerries a thing or three about warfare. So if you're expecting me to be impartial about Silent Storm, a squad-level turn-based game set against the background of WWII, you're a damn fool.
"Our house, in the middle of our war!"
It's 1943 (as the crappy Yank voice-over tells us, just in case we can't read), and your mission, should you choose to accept it (ooh, look, plagiarism) is to assemble a crack squad of agents and stick one on the enemy, in a variety of ways. Most involve considerable use of the technique we in the business refer to as 'killage'. You can play as either the freedom-loving Allies, or ze dastardly Axis. Each side gets a campaign, which kicks off with you selecting or creating your character. You can choose from the usual two sexes, six roles (scout, sniper, soldier, medic, engineer, grenadier) and three nationalities.
Of course, I chose a Brit, and got a bit of a surprise. Now don't get me wrong, I love cheesy accents. I was raised
on cheesy accents. Actors hamming up lines like "Ze Reich vill last vun zousand years, Englander schwein!" and "Now, see here, Jerry!" are my bread and butter.
But the voice actor doing the Brit accent in this game sounds like Shrek.
It's obviously meant to be a Scots accent, but sadly falls (falls? Collapses!) short of the mark. It didn't spoil the game for me, it just proved a bit disconcerting. Every time he spoke I had to scroll over to him and make sure he didn't have a fucking donkey in tow. Still, apart from that minor detail, the accents are great.
"How much is it again?"
After the introductory mission (pfft, tutorial missions are for little girls), you can recruit your crack squad of five troopers from a pool of twenty, with each trooper having varying levels of skill. Each role has different strengths and weaknesses, so you can tailor your squad to suit your individual playing style, but this is just the tip of a veritable iceberg of tactical depth. Character progression is the usual RPG process of earning experience through combat and completion of objectives, and levelling up. Every level, you can buy an ability from the ability tree and yes, I know how stupid that sounds, shut up. Abilities give characters advantages in many ways, and the available abilities vary from role to role. The versatility of the tree means that the same character can develop very differently from game to game, gaining skills from any branch of the tree at any point.
Then add a whole plethora (that's right, plethora
, bitches) of weapons into the mix. You can arm them with pistols, rifles, submachine guns, grenades, rocket launchers, machine guns and a medley of melee weapons. Each trooper can carry and use any weapon, with varying degrees of efficacy. Obviously, each role favours certain weapons, and there is also role-specific equipment to load up with. The weapons come in a variety of flavours, each model has its own characteristics which make them suitable for very different roles. Thanks to the huge amount of equipment each trooper can carry (no weight restrictions, big mishtake!), you can arm each one for a wide variety of different situations. There are easily more than seventy weapons in total, most are authentic WWII vintage, a few are anachronisms, and still others are...rather futuristic, shall we say?
Drink driving kills.
Drop this mix of characters, skills, abilities and weapons into one of the best fully 3D battlefields I have ever ejaculated over (not the whole
battlefield, obviously. That would require some sort of penis-cannon hybrid), which is where you will be spending the majority of the game. Combat is carried out in traditional turn-based fashion, very sportsmanlike, to ensure everyone gets a fair crack at everyone else. Every turn, each character gets an amount of action points, or APs, with which to carry out (can you guess?) actions, such as aiming, running, climbing, shooting and throwing. Oddly, swapping items between inventory and active slots does not cost any APs, but this felt too much like cheating to me, so I used a mod to rectify the oversight. The amount of APs necessary for firing a weapon vary widely, depending not only upon which type of shot you use (snap, aimed, careful, short burst, long burst), but also the type of weapon. You can fire six or seven snap shots with a pistol for an identical AP cost of one careful shot with a sniper rifle, so there is always a massive range of options open to you in any tactical situation. Yet another option is to target specific body parts, which can result in the hilarity of blinding them, blowing their gun out of their hand and other fun stuff.
Vitality points, or VPs, represent health, and are lost by being shot, blown up, masturbating (it makes you BLIND!), and so on. As they decrease, so do the character's fighting skills. If all of a character's VPs are lost, they faint, like a little pansy, and have to be carried off the battlefield to recover. A character can be permanently killed by suffering extreme damage. Like having a fucking building
collapse on them, Doug, you careless it's-only-a-grenade twat, or a vindictive enemy putting six rounds into their head after they've fainted. You can always recruit more troopers, but if your main character faints or dies, it's Game Over. Complicating the situation are critical conditions, such as bleeding, deafness, unconsciousness (that's the manly blacking out kind, not the pansy fainting), AP reduction et al, which is why a medic is a must.
The Jewish Mafia were rubbish.
By far the best thing about the battlefield is the physics. Rather nice rag-doll physics are prominently on display, exaggerated to make common events spectacular. Bullets punch enemies off bridges and explosions hurl them through windows, often leaving them in humorous positions that anyone as immature as I will find hilarious. But this is small potatoes compared to the fact that the environments are completely destructible. Bullets punch through doors and walls, smashed glass sprays everywhere, explosions bite roaring great chunks out of structures. Bigger explosions can simply collapse entire buildings. This freedom lends an unpredictable air to every battle, and can often influence even scripted events. Can't get through that door without getting shot? Blow a hole in the wall with a machine gun and pitch a grenade through. Sniper holding the floor above you? Shoot up through the ceiling and make the fucker dance the lead fandango. So it has a very real effect on the gameplay, always allowing you another option as the damage you do not only opens up sightlines for shooting, but also avenues for escape or advance. The drawback is that occasionally you do too much damage to a vital structure and it collapses, and it's Game Over, baby. Ixnay on the inway. But that doesn't happen very often.
The interface is nothing less than beautiful in its economy, displaying everything you need to know and providing easy access to every character, their skills, status and inventory. The keyboard shortcuts are also useful, and memorising them speeds gameplay up somewhat. One thing I don't understand at all are the base sections, where you hire and fire troopers, heal the wounded and manage your weapons and equipment. This section would have been better as a simple menu, as the base interaction is simply too shallow to be effective on any level.
Oz loved guns. Lots of guns.
Navigating the often multi-level battlefield is a piece of piss, although it is hampered by a less than perfect camera. I freely admit, it's a niggling irritation that becomes a full-blown headache once you enter buildings. Thanks to the lack of structural transparency, you often have to zoom quite far out or adopt an almost-overhead viewpoint in order to keep track of things. It can also be rather erratic about following visible enemies on their turn, and likes to zoom really far out to provide an authentic 'satellite cam' view. Thankfully, this can be readily modded in seconds, and if a cack-handed technophobe (me) can do it, so can you.
Enemies are often present in considerable force, usually outnumbering you significantly. Armed with a wide selection of weapons and not in the least hesitant to use them, they provide a good challenge on anything above the 'normal' difficulty level. The AI isn't perfect, but it's not totally stupid, either. Enemies will not rush into your gunfire, and they think nothing of hiding behind closed doors in silence, waiting for you to open them. Unlike other games where enemies can be lured out from their positions, the opponents in Silent Storm stubbornly hold their ground, whether it be a bunker, house, or indeed, an open fucking field. Now, full marks for improving the AI beyond the 'Gee, what's that noise?' level, and to be honest they do move well on the attack, but if you're shooting at them from long range, they tend to just remain where they are, twiddling their fucking thumbs. I don't know what they're trying to prove. Perhaps that faces can stop bullets? Well, as my rather numerous gaming sessions have proved; they can't. The civilians are even crazier, delighting in running directly through ongoing battles, and sometimes picking up weapons and joining in. Geneva convention my arse.
You're not just limited to seeing enemies, you can also hear them. Enemies detected this way show up as red silhouettes, and although you can still shoot at them, you have no way of knowing if you hit them or not. Unseen civilians also show up this way, so you might pour on a full belt of machine gun ammo only to find you've blown a housewife halfway across the battlefield. Not that I did that. Enemies can hear you too, and although I never found stealth to be much use, I didn't try very hard. The 'Hide' option is still useful, and comes into its own combined with quiet weapons and some sneakiness.
The Red Silhouette Army soldier was sneaky.
The graphics are supoib. The destruction not only facilitates gameplay, it looks great as well. Even on the minimum settings, it's respectable, and on anything above those you're going to be happy. There's all sorts of particle, shading and lighting effects, the textures are in good shape, and you can omit foliage to lighten the graphical load or give a clearer view of the battlefield. There's some nice attention to detail, with the characters gaining new pouches, holsters and sheaths as you kit them out, spent casings flying from firing weapons and bullets kicking up dust and dirt.
Sonically, it also excels. The sound effects are sharp and high quality, the explosions are shockingly loud, the gunshots differ depending upon the weapon (even the reloading noises are different), walls collapse with a chunky crumbling noise I have grown to love, and even the sighing fall of leaves makes my cock weep at the sheer beauty. Alright, I exaggerate slightly, but they are good. A lot of the characterisation comes not from the extensive profile that comes with each trooper, but their exclamations during battle. Shallow, but effective. Plus, hearing a Frenchman shout “My weapon is naked!” is funny. Every
The battles themselves proceed at a fairly steady pace, with the AI sometimes taking its own good time, but if you don't like it, buy an attention span. They can last for several hours, though the random encounters (which you can choose to participate in, or not) are smaller and usually take up less time. It's very deep and involving, requiring you to invest a fair bit of time, but the more you put in, the more you get out. Even at its most frustrating, I went away immediately thinking up strategies and tactics, unable to take my mind off the current mission. More often than not, I simply loaded up my last save straight away and tried something else. There is a great deal of satisfaction to be gained merely through trying out new things that you have only just learned, or have recently occurred to you. Long playing sessions are a basic requirement to get the most out of the game, and I thank the Lord that I don't have a disabled relative to look after, because thanks to this game they would have been completely ignored for weeks (well, more so than usual). So let that be a warning to you. Sadly, there's no multiplayer. The story is thin and unsatisfying, progressing only through recovered documents and the occasional cut scene, but the campaigns are a good size, and the missions appear in a different order each time you play through, which keeps things fresh.
"Say what again, motherfucker! I dare you!"
One rather contentious inclusion in the game is the suits of powered armour, the Panzerkleins. Now, given the fad of WWII games, I can see why Nival felt the need to include these to make Silent Storm stand out. They obviously looked at other alternatives first, like porn, and found them impractical. I understand their decision, but I feel it was a mistake. The Panzerkleins unbalance the game severely, being slow, but far too heavily armed and armoured, slowing the game to a snail's pace and tilting the odds firmly in the player's favour. Silent Storm is so fucking good that its excellence stands out, and in my eyes is very distinct from the morass of other WWII games. I'm disappointed that Nival couldn't see what a gem they had made, and had to add a flaw to it instead of sticking with an authentic approach.
Still, the game is nothing less than excellent. This decade's X-Com, if I may be so bold. As far as I am concerned, the score is Nival = 1, Other Developers = 0.