I used to be a huge fan back in the good old days of X-Com and the whole UFO series; I loved the idea of a turn based strategy game. I could take my time, and I could plan ahead, working out where to effectively place my men. There have been various attempts at recreating this particular genre again and again, but they've kind of fallen short and I was bitterly disappointed with the recent UFO style offering.
I was about to give up hope, but then a chance call to Bigben Interactive got me interested in a game: Silent Storm, at first I wasn't terribly impressed, that was until I actually got my paws on a copy of the game and started to play it. But first as usual, let me give you a bit of background on the story.
It's 1943 and you have a mission to put together a team of the best international elite soldiers that you can. Your task is to obtain top-secret information from the enemy and stop them dead in their tracks, by any means at your disposal. You are going to be carrying out covert operations deep behind enemy lines and one mistake could mean utter defeat. It's a war game with a difference; it's more like the pulp comics where there are impossible odds, secret Nazi War machines and more. I personally love stuff like that, and even though the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was different to the Graphic Novel, I still loved that too.
SS is played two separate ways and you get essentially a nice mix of both, turn based X-Com style strategy and real time exploration. The game switches in and out of these based on what's going on, get near an enemy and you're hurled into the really impressed turn based game, without a pause or a loading screen. You have several characters at your disposal, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, chosen at the HQ screen via dossier.
SS features elements of the good old RPG; you can improve your stats/skills and gain new abilities via experience points (XP) earned from solving clues and taking down bad guys. But before I go any further, I have to mention apart from two Campaigns, non-linear ones at that, there's also a customisation option for your character, which is one of the most detailed yet.
You can actually design the look of your character's head, by changing various sliders in the advanced customisation of the character. Changing age, and other attributes to make a unique face. To which can be added glasses et cetera to personalise the look once more, fix up some stats and you're all set. It really is quick, simple and easy to use - but it also offers utterly excellent options for getting the right look, with some fiddling you might even get a close approximation to your own face if you have the time and inclination.
The last step is to choose the voice and you're on your way, from now on, that character will be you in the game and in the cut-scenes you'll see your head close up from the side as the characters converse.
My hat goes off to Nival Interactive for including that feature and the other features in the game.
The game is split up in various screens, you have your HQ building where you can arm up and select the various weapons, and characters for your team/mission. Then off you toddle to the map room, selecting a theatre of operations and then finally you ship out to the location. This is represented on a 2d war map of the area with roads and other such locations. Here you can get surprise encounters that can be used to build up your character's stats and gain valuable XP and combat experience.
More about the actual 3d side of the game in a moment, there are usually a number of icons marked on the map, where you can choose the mission, as the story goes on. More clues are found and more locations will open up, so it's advisable to return to locations you'd already thought completed - a nice surprise might be waiting there. I can't stress to developers enough that this is exactly what we want, I don't care if the game has problems - it's RE-PLAYABLE and that's what matters.
Gameplay in 3d: Real Time
The game in Real Time runs without any of the strictures that are in place in the Turn Based mode, you can move freely and do a number of things with the environment. And the pathfinding is excellent, your character will seek the shortest route to the target area and this includes climbing up holes in the floor, over fences and banisters, without having to select an icon and slow down the game. They will open and close doors, windows, and it's refreshing to see such intelligent behaviour amongst your squad.
There are a whole host of options for stance and movement in both modes and you can go prone, kneel, pick up items, bodies...run and strafe with a quick selection. Again this has no advantage apart from making it easier to get places and to aim, in the Real Time part of the game. It's when you spot an enemy that things get interesting.
Gameplay in 3d: Turn Based
Spot an enemy and the game switches into Turn Based mode; this is where it really starts to get fun. Now everything that you do, unless you have the correct ability through spending XP will cost a fixed number of action points (AP) to perform. Actions such as attacking enemies or movement, all have various icons on the GUI and the GUI is nicely laid out, it's not easy to get confused. Also most actions have short-cut keys so you don't have to hunt for an icon, the most impressive selection can be found when you use an aimed shot. You have often got a submenu letting you pick various aiming options, such as using all your points to aim, enough points to aim and fire, et cetera.
And if that's not enough, you can further refine where you shoot, by pressing the keys on the number pad. 8 is the head 5 the torso, 4,6 left and right arm, 1,3 left and right leg. The shot cost goes up but the effect can be devastating if you hit, and at higher levels with the more powerful weapons, can we say, Finish Him?
As you might expect, there are levels of wounds and they all have effects on the enemy and your soldiers. You take minuses to hit and you can if you're not careful, bleed to death. Medic anyone?
Simply put SS has the best Turn Based gameplay mode of any game so far, with enough options to satisfy the tactical nut in anyone. Leave enough points back for a movement and a shot...and on the Enemy turn, you can get a chance for an interrupt - this will allow a character to perform any action that they have the points for. Great if you have a Sniper and some points left to shoot.
The game works on a proper LOS and introduces also the concept of hearing, when you can't see an enemy but your character knows where he is. You'll often see a red outlined figure with an ear icon above it, this means that they are on the move; you can hear them but can't work out exactly where they are.
Graphics, Models and Animations
I've been reading a lot of the forums and I can't quite get why people say that SS has bad graphics and looks like it uses sprites. I can assure you, these are not sprites people, and these are fully realised and animated 3d polygon models that also have a good degree of detail to them. They take damage and there is a deal of blood when you get a good shot in. The texturing of the models and characters is great, it's just right and you can tell your units apart from the enemy units. Not to mention that the animations are pretty flawless, they interact with each other and the environment really well. I can't really expand on them and I hate putting down technical details, this is a review not a tech manual.
Now this I love and I shall speak about this in great length, for SS comes packed with a ragdoll animation system, and a decent physics system that increases the amount of destruction. Pay careful attention to the following words, for these are what sold the game to me. FULLY DESTRUCTABLE ENVIRONMENTS. That's right, let me give you a couple or three examples of my gameplay to further illustrate this particular facet of the game.
Example 1: My squad had just breached a nearby building by blowing through the wall, via the application of enough explosives and grenades. A Nazi was heard by one of my characters and on her interrupt I had enough points to shoot, but had no target. So, I opened fire at the ceiling above me, to my delight I heard the satisfying sounds of bullets ripping through flesh and a Nazi cap rolled down the stairs, followed by a body not long after. My jaw was later recovered from the floor, intact.
Example 2: I was on the second floor of a house, when enemy soldiers on their turn entered it. They had seen me through an open window, but had no line of fire, next thing I know - bullets are ripping through the floor under my character as their weapons tear the floorboards to pieces, a large hole appeared and the scout fell down taking damage in the process, she was now surrounded. On my turn, I decided that I would run like buggery and clicked near to the top of the stairs, the scout leapt back up through the hole and vacated the area - I did say the pathfinding was spot on.
Example 3: Extreme Destruction was the order of the day as I was asked to search a building to recover secret documents. The snag was the whole area was laden with mines, my character wasn't at all happy and neither were my squad when I failed a particular task and set off a chain reaction that brought down the whole house, killing everyone in the process. The whole thing just went down, the destruction was utterly mind-blowing to watch.
None of this was scripted and since then I've spent time just blowing the top floor off buildings to get rid of my opponents. It truly is a proper fully working total destruction system, where bullets can rip through wooden doors, heavy weapons can trash walls and soldiers who impact other soldiers can send them flying backwards, smashing through windows, floors, doors and scenery in a very Hollywood-esque manner, top stuff.
SS features some very nicely designed levels packed with features, detail and areas to launch evil ambushes from. And since it's coupled with the destruction system, you can watch the war take its toll on the area with delight. This level of detail means that the environment can be used for cover and help to keep your troops well hidden on the night missions. The game's designers have used dynamic lighting and shadows lie thickly around, and fires cast warm glows onto walls. I can't fault the level design, since it's also capable of going above and below ground, a quick flick of the correct button and you can remove layers or add layers to your view - you're never left wanting another option.
The camera is good, it has the odd glitch and sometimes can be a bit fiddly when you get down to it, but it's a fully rotate-able Camera and that's what counts. You can quickly get a good view of the action, and it doesn't take long to find a target once one has been identified.
It's a good score, but it could have been better, yet there's enough atmosphere and dynamics to it to grab you, and pull you in. That's all I can say. The sounds are good, guns are nicely done and the various ambient noises on the levels are sufficient to draw you further in.
Here is where the game falls down, it's not as though it's horrible, but it is a mite cheesy and detracts from the overall feel of the game. The one liners are a bit dull and uninspired, and the Nazi death quotes give you a feeling of nausea sometimes - my goose is cooked, is one of those particular quotes. But again, it's not meant to be wholly serious so I can forgive them this particular oversight.
So there you have it, SS is a good game from Nival Interactive, it has no Multiplayer and will mostly appeal to those fans of Singleplayer tactical games. There are numerous random encounters and no two games are ever really the same, the clues you pick up advance the story and you can progress your soldiers to bigger and better skills, so perhaps it might appeal to the RPG fan as well. However it's a good solid fun game that has a lot of potential - so it gets my score deservedly.