Summary: Turn-based strategy games have been in a funk for the past few years, but there's light at the end of the tunnel. Silent Storm from Nival Interactive has finally come to this side of the pond and Jakub got his grubby little hands on it [Why are your hands grubby Jake? -- Ed.]. So what's Silent Storm? Think X-Com, with better combat, a World War II setting, and less worrying about overhead and base management. Is it any good? Yes, and read on to find out why!
Silent Storm is a turn-based tactical combat game in the vein of X-Com, Fallout: Tactics and Laser Squad Nemesis, developed by Russian developers Nival Interactive, though you’d be hard-pressed to tell that judging by the production quality. In fact, Silent Storm is such an incredibly strong title, you’d be excused for thinking it comes from an established American studio like Raven or Monolith.
For starters, SS takes place in a setting that’s all-too-familiar to most gamers now – World War II. However, the recognizable setting makes it more appealing to gamers of all kinds, especially since this isn’t yet another World War II first-person shooter or RTS. Secondly, Silent Storm is an intuitive and easy to learn game, as far as turn-based strategy goes.
The user interface is very friendly. Holding the mouse cursor over any icon or item will display all sorts of useful information, like all the vital statistics for a weapon or the shortcut key on the keyboard for a button. The default keyboard layout is easy to learn as well. The ‘a’ button makes a character attack objects that he normally wouldn’t, like doors, chests and walls. ‘Z’, ‘x’, ‘c’, ‘v’ all change poses, from run to walk to crouch to prone.
Silent Storm also has gameplay additions that make sense to the player, intuitive matters. Obviously a sniper will shoot better when crouching than standing, and even better while prone. On the other hand, grenades are best thrown from a standing or crouching position. If your character was on the run during a turn, enemies will have a harder time targeting him, even though for all intents and purposes he “stands still” during their turn.
Almost everything is destructible. Fire at something, and odds are it’ll take damage. Some walls can be broken down by machine gun fire, and the really big grenades can tear out the entire front section of a villa.
SIDEBAR: My favorite weapon in the game is the MG34.
Similarly, if you hear an enemy coming for you, you’ll see an ear icon and a red outline of his standing form. You can shoot and be given a percentage chance of hitting, but for all you know, he went prone or crouched and the percentage is incorrect. On the other hand, if you can see your enemy, the percentage will be accurate. You can also aim at specific parts of the body. Hitting the legs takes away action points, hitting the arms ruins his accuracy, and hitting the head increases the chance of a critical hit or knockout, not to mention deafness or blindness.
Characters generally take realistic amounts of damage. Rarely will just one bullet take one down, though a powerful rifle combined with a critical hit on the head can do so. Most pistols can take forever to kill someone, but some use the powerful .38cal parabellum ammunition that some SMGs have.
On the other hand, the developers clearly kept the focus on fun and gameplay. Realism won’t compromise the strengths of the game. For example, maps are quite small – I doubt any is larger than 150m (~500ft) in any dimension. Most are likely under 100m by 50m. Weapon accuracy is scaled down accordingly. SMGs and pistols have pathetically poor accuracy, having difficulty hitting someone at even 30 feet. Even the best sniper rifles are limited to a range of “50” – presumably 50m (~160 feet). This is hardly realistic and yet works well, since the game scales all weapons down proportionately. The rifles really do feel like they’re really hitting from extreme ranges, and the SMGs, despite their poor aim, are the deadliest of weapons up close.
The game is also remarkably realistic for the most part. The various stances have an immediate and noticeable effect on aim, movement, spotting and obviously your profile as a target. There are skills like hide which permit characters to sneak upon the enemy for quick, silent, disabling melee attacks, and other skills like engineering that allow the setting of grenades as booby traps at doors, or the planting of mines. A character hiding behind a wall that gets hit by a panzerfaust will definitely feel it if not get killed outright. Coverage is calculated quite believably – sniping with impunity from up high while in a prone position at standing targets down below is proof positive of that.
Intricate concepts like familiarity with a weapon are present, in addition to the now-mandatory RPG stat system. However, not only do characters improve in skills they use, they also gain abilities with every level. Most of these abilities are one-time improvements to a skill or remove certain penalties (like shooting from the wrong position), others boost the character’s ability to gain experience or familiarity with a weapon.
The AI is challenging though not spectacular. It rarely implements stupid tactics, the mistakes it makes are believable. On the other hand, a careful, experienced player is pretty much unbeatable – with practice it’s easy to exploit the weaknesses of a turn-based system.
SIDEBAR: My favorite SMG is the Suomi.
Grenades have had their ranges scaled back like weapons have. It’s really difficult to use them properly, particularly the very heavy grenades. The ranges are just far too short. The heaviest of grenades thrown by a character with average strength and decent throwing skill might barely travel 3 or 4 meters (10-13 feet), not nearly far enough to keep the character safe from such a potent blast.
On the other side of the fence, at some point in the game you’ll acquire certain weapons which completely ruin the game. There’s really very little challenge left after those weapons are available, and for you Jagged Alliance 2 fans, I have it on good authority that these are worse than the rocket rifles which imbalanced JA2. Most importantly, these super-weapons completely ruin the theme of the game.
There are also some strange consequences of the destructible environments. Many gamers (this one included) have locked themselves out of reaching the mission objectives because they destroyed the only staircase which could reach it by using grenades or rockets. In a similar matter, the objectives are also randomly distributed and the missions somewhat randomly released to the player, so it’s quite possible to encounter the super-weapons without having a readily available counter to them.
The mission design bugs aren’t game-breaking problems and neither are the super-weapons, but both are very discouraging. We here at FiringSquad think that Nival could have done themselves a big favor by dropping the overpowered and unrealistic items, in favor of perhaps upgrades for the equipment already in the game. Like adding scopes to machine guns, modifying sniper rifles to hold more powerful bullets, etc. These subtle, gradual upgrades would have worked much better.
Graphics, sound, physics
Silent Storm is breathtakingly beautiful. The detail on everything is remarkable. Stylistically some of the choices could be better – for example the Allied medic and Axis sniper look silly – but in general there’s nothing but praise to be heaped on Silent Storm. Screenshots just don’t do the game justice, they don’t show off the animation and how bump mapping and pixel shaders are used to good effect on trains and other metal objects.
Sound effects are less impressive though still more than adequate by any measure. The only reservation we have comes with the voice acting – it’s a joke. Every accent is like a parody of the nationality that’s supposed to have it.
SIDEBAR: My favorite class in the game is the soldier.
SIDEBAR: I’m pretty tired right now, I think I’ve got a fever.
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