Soldiers at War is one of SSI's last published games, a valiant attempt to capture the feel of WWII in a squad-level game similar to X-COM. The game is a superior sequel to Wages of War, also developed by Random Games. Tim Chown of Games Domain says it all on this underdog marred by a cumbersome interface: |
"The game's prime drive is a series of around fifteen missions in which you take a pool of 32 men through the war fighting special operations as and when directed by your superiors. There's plenty of options to select, such as hidden movement and general difficulty settings. Unlike X-COM there's no strategic wrapper to the game, you're just dragged from mission to mission through the campaign. You'll have to manage your equipment and troops, the focus of the game is on the tactical action. For game balance purposes many weapons are in short supply (at any of the difficulty levels) though you can recover some useful items within missions. Each mission sees you pick up to eight men, equip them, then jump into the heart of the action.
In addition you can also make your own custom scenarios with the superb editor. This lets you create seven-level maps and missions with relative ease and is probably the best editor of its type that I've seen. Its only flaws are that "mass corrections" are hard to do (ie. delete only applies to one tile as far as I can tell) and the designer window doesn't autoscroll when you're drawing out a big terrain block. But being able to build small villages, churches, vineyards, and much more is really neat. You can load and edit with any of a dozen or more tilesets.
The main weakness of Soldiers at War lies with the interface. The design is poor, certainly for a modern game, and where lessons should have been learnt from the likes of Wages of War. There's a number of offending points. One is that in combat you can't step through your men's inventories, so if you want to find out who has the wire cutters you'll have a lot of scrolling and clicking to do. To the game's defence the fact that men are displayed with their weapons is a plus – it's easy to see who has the bazooka. There's more interface blues – you can't view stats, or even character names, while outfitting your men. If you hang the cursor over the character's face you get a "current character" message – the name would be useful! The person's stats on that screen would be even more useful. Changing facing in battle requires a number key press where (perhaps) a SHIFT right-mouse click could have done the job. The right button by itself brings up the actions menu, with its sub-menus. This is fine but there's no keyboard shortcuts for actions.
There's a good number of positive points to make. I like the large range of actions each soldier can take, including picking up wounded men to take them to safety. I like the idea of having radio support, though whether a squad would really get arty and air support in addition to mortar support is questionable, but it makes for fun gameplay. I like the way reinforcements can arrive in the battle. Sometimes (despite the line-of-sight peculiarities) you can sneak up on enemies, though you'll rarely find use for a Colt or knife bar a rifle weapon jam. The range of weapons is good, with semi-automatics, bolt-action guns, machine guns (which oddly have to be fired from a sitting position), bazookas, flame throwers (!) and sniper rifles. There's grenades, smoke grenades, and satchel charges. There's enough detail to help you get engrossed, and I think that's part of what gets you hooked on the action when the interface and certain game mechanics are trying to keep it from happening. I would like to see X-COM style morale implemented, so that soldiers can go berserk and fire off their weapons in panic – as it stands your men will follow your orders without question till death or honour. But again, this is a "movie" game and not a WWII sim...
In summary, I like Soldiers at War... [it] has its share of flaws, but many of these can be overlooked if you're lenient enough. If you crave multiplayer play and/or a scenario designer then Soldiers at War offers both. A good game, but sadly it's a coat of polish short of being a potentially great game. I think our own Dave Finn has the best quote on Soldiers at War when he says: 'Overall the game has been a guilty pleasure that I've loved despite its flaws'. I agree wholeheartedly."
Overall, a great game that's not up-to-par with Jagged Alliance 2, but is excellent nonetheless – as long as you can get used to or forgive its interface. Recommended!
Reviewed by: Underdogs