The first thing that springs to mind when you see Soldiers:Heroes of WWII is "surely not another WWII game?" and "can they not think of anything better?". Well the answer is simply yes....and no. You only need to look round the shelves of nearly every games shop at the moment to find enough WWII games to enable you to almost re-fight the whole war - by land, sea and air. This game ingeniously incorporates a little of everything into the whole game which is something that to date, has never been accomplished with any real degree of success.
The game gives you the choice of either single or multiplayer options and in the single player option, you have the choice of fighting your way through the campaign missions, or taking on single "bonus missions". Soldiers plays through several different time lines during WWII and therefore has no real start or end to a story. The campaign missions allow you to fight a series of missions with either the British, American, USSR or German forces and you can fight these campaigns in any order you see fit - obviously the individual battles within the campaign are different and run in sequence.
Training missions are provided for those not used to the type of interface used and if your someone who has not played this type of game before, or for a long while at least, they are essential as the interface can be a little tricky. Anyone used to RTS games should pick it up fairly quickly.
Once you have got used to controlling your units the game plays in a fairly straight forward way, if you can call outwitting enemy troops hell bent on killing you straight forward. Missions are set and you are provided with a certain amount of units in order to complete the mission and its up to you to guide these units to victory in whatever way you see fit. There are no bases to build and you have to complete the missions with whatever units and equipment you are provided with at the start of each mission - if the mission follows on from the previous one then obviously you are left with whatever you managed to scrape through with. Soldiers will allow you to do pretty much whatever you want to do with the units given to you. The game uses a clever AI and it will anticipate some of your tactics if your not careful, as such, there are very few opportunities for a player to simply dive in on the enemy. It is however completely up to you how you want to do things, the game places no restrictions (within reason!) on how you complete the mission making it challenging and exciting at the same time.
One plus point however is the sheer versatility of the units available to control. The men themselves can carry out a multitude of tasks beside fighting which include re-fueling your tanks, taking over enemy vehicles, equipment or artillery, remove equipment from vehicles (at one point, I had three soldiers armed with MG-34 machine guns "borrowed" from German APCs) and repair them. The amount of control available to the player is also quite versatile. Men can hide under or behind trees, walls, hedges etc if you so wish. You can however just point and click and let them look after themselves, this I suppose depends on how much of a control freak you happen to be.
An excellent feature of Soldiers is the ability to take direct control of any unit(s) should you wish to, and this for me was key to winning some of the battles. Whilst your units will carry out their orders with a degree of competency, it is often essential that direct control of units be taken in order to fight your way out of an otherwise impossible situation. You can take full control of all the units in the game, including tanks, trikes, APCs and of course, humble soldiers - controlling their movement and targeting at the same time. If for instance a tank is damaged beyond repair, you can pull your tank crew out and assign other duties to them.
Whilst the graphics and system requirements are not groundbreaking, the quality of the images, animation and effects are quite impressive. Attention to detail on equipment, uniforms and units was accurate and it was good to see that the movement of your men and other units was realistic. The maps are well designed and cater for the over zealous tank gunner by allowing anything on the map to be destroyed. Your tanks and other armoured vehicles can drive through brick walls, houses and trees with no problems at all and the graphics can be quite impressive. Maps can also include animals such as cows and chickens that can get in your way or run like, well, headless chickens if you shoot near them. The sound is also of a reasonable standard though I noticed that the in game music slowed down every time a level is reloaded (usually after I had been seen to by a batch of German forces!)
If I were to offer any criticism for Soldiers it would be that even on the easiest of settings, campaign levels are stacked heavily against you and the levels can be quite tricky - though this argument can be countered by saying that this only adds to the playability of the game and the thrill of completing the missions.
Gamers should also be wary of the complete free hand they are given in completing the missions. In effect, this means that you can spend hours guiding your men into a complete dead end, doing whatever you want and end up having to restart. Even if you have eliminated your own chances of finishing the level, Soldiers will happily let you carry on.
Whilst Soldiers doesn't break the mold to any revolutionary degree, it is a very playable game providing all the features you would come to expect of a WWII RTS whilst introducing some interesting and innovative features that some of us have been crying out for.