When you think of PC gaming, shooters and RPGs may be some of the first genres that come to mind. For me, though, PC gaming has almost always centered on real-time strategy games. Most of my gaming experiences growing up were on console, but releases like Age of Empires and Command & Conquer gave me my first taste of what it meant to play on a PC. Thanks to that, I’ve always had an appreciation for the genre, even as it’s taken a backseat to more fast-paced and narrative-driven experiences in recent years.

This is why I was particularly intrigued when Kalypso recently announced that they were bringing back the Sudden Strike series with Sudden Strike 4, the franchise’s first full entry in nearly a decade. I recently got to go hands-on with this newest chapter, and I can attest that Sudden Strike 4 maintains all the best elements from previous entries while pushing the series steadily forward (like the Allies across the Western Front).

For those unfamiliar with its legacy, Sudden Strike has always been about reliving the greatest battles of World War II. Unlike traditional RTS games, Sudden Strike focuses on tactics, leaving behind the bother of resource collecting and unit building. Instead, it gives you a pre-determined force that likely would’ve taken part in World War II, occasionally providing reinforcements when appropriate and pushing your strategic acumen to its limits.

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Just like in previous entries, Sudden Strike 4 is broken down into three campaigns spread across 20 chapters, as you follow along with the Allies (United States/Great Britain), the Germans, and the Russians. What differentiates the campaign here from previous installments is the addition of a new feature allowing players to choose a commander. Every faction has three unique commanders, each providing stat boosts and special abilities depending on who you choose. For example, the Allies have Omar Bradley, George Patton, and Bernard Montgomery; Patton and Bradley give certain benefits to tank units, while Montgomery favors foot soldier boosts.

Another new addition is a star system based on points. The better you do in a mission, the more stars you’ll earn. Stars unlock greater abilities and boosts for each of your commanders, allowing you to start missions with an advantage and making it so you can mix up your strategies on mission replays.

In our demo, we played from the perspective of the Allies in the Battle of the Bulge, the iconic 1944 German offensive on the Western Front in the latter stages of World War II that is directly attributed to lengthening the war by several months. We also played the Battle of Stalingrad, another German offensive, this time playing as the Germans as they pushed towards the Volga River in 1942.

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If you’re not intimately familiar with these battles, a lot of the scenarios that Sudden Strike 4 throws at you can be something of a shock. Covering the retreat of heavy artillery, holding ground against wave after wave of enemy tanks, minefields on city streets, and more were on display in the two missions shown to us. Surprise objectives like rescuing soldiers trapped in a factory, or forces occupying nearby buildings for ambush pinch attacks also forced me to adjust tactics often and quickly on the fly. Without the potentially unlimited resources seen in other RTS games, though, this meant that a wrong choice would often lead to defeat—or, worse yet, an impasse with the units you may have been left with.

Although frustrating at times, Sudden Strike 4’s limitations also give a truer sense of war that you often don’t find in games anymore—nevermind the RTS genre. You could always restart, but with each mission lasting upwards of an hour, there is also a heavy sense of commitment with every move you take on the field. It caused me to think and re-think every maneuver several times, and even then I ended up with a skeleton force at best surviving each encounter.

In this sense, if you’re looking for a true test of your strategic ability, it appears Sudden Strike 4 is ready to deliver. With detailed environments and accurate representations of World War II’s greatest conflicts, Sudden Strike 4 is a welcome addition to a genre that needs a shot in the arm. The only other question I have with the game is if it can transition to console. Real-Time Strategy titles have a history of faltering when they move away from PC, and the fact that the game is being made for both PC—where our demo took place—and PS4 has me concerned. It’ll be interesting to see if it can roll to victory on both platforms in Spring 2017.

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