The past few years have seen no shortage of games based on World War II. Sometimes it seems as if every other product by a European developer is a WWII-based strategy game. Despite adding to an already saturated genre, Soldiers: Heroes of World War II distinguishes itself with attractive graphics and challenging gameplay, which is an interesting hybrid of strategy and action. The game's level of challenge often borders on being punishing, but fans of tactical strategy games will find that the effort is worth it.
The game offers extremely detailed environments and units.
Soldiers is in some ways reminiscent of the Commandos series, but the scale and nature of the battles you fight make it a little more comparable to a real-time version of this year's Silent Storm. You can control your troops in standard real-time strategy fashion by selecting, pointing, and clicking. The context-sensitive controls do a good job of letting you position troops smartly behind cover and corners, jump fences, or take over vehicles and fixed-gun emplacements. Where Soldiers distinguishes itself is that it lets you take direct control of individual soldiers or vehicles, using the mouse to aim weapons and the arrow keys to move and steer. While this is presented as an option, it is, in fact, a necessity, because directly controlled troops are infinitely more efficient than the ones you order around more indirectly.
One of the more impressive aspects of Soldiers is its gameplay engine. The fully 3D engine makes few compromises in presentation, and it features detailed unit models for both infantry and vehicles. Soldiers can run and crawl or hide inside of buildings. You'll see them unsling guns from their shoulders before firing and smoke cigarettes (with wispy puffs of smoke) when they are standing around. If they're garrisoned in a structure, you'll see them break the window before firing out from it. Tanks offer fully articulated turrets and cannons, and the game's dozens of vehicles are accurately modeled in speed, loadout, and weapon power.
Soldiers' artists and animators have done a great job of giving the game a varied look--especially with regard to death and destruction. Wheels pop off of armored cars, turrets snap off of tanks, and you'll see vehicle crews bail out of their crippled vehicles that are on fire. Shoot a guard out of a tower and he'll fall from it like a movie stuntman. Toss a grenade into a garrisoned house and you may even see a dead soldier fly out of the window from the blast. See enemy vehicles parked in a fuel depot? Fire a high-explosive round into the gas cans and you can set off a chain reaction of explosions that destroy all nearby vehicles and level neighboring structures.
The environments in the game's large maps are also well detailed. Towns have dozens of buildings and houses, which can be explored and garrisoned by infantry. Foliage is plentiful and interactive. Troops can crawl in tall grasses or hide in bushes. Tanks and other vehicles can knock over trees and even plow through stone walls. In fact, you can level just about any building in the game if you have the right firepower, which adds to the strategy. About the only thing holding back the game in the graphics department is that the engine is fairly slow. Frame rates drop precipitously when there are too many troops and vehicles onscreen, and in-engine cutscenes look as awkward as a slide show. As for sound, the game's sound effects and music are pretty good, but it's not anything exceptional for a game of this type.
The detail put into the graphics extends to the gameplay. Each soldier and vehicle has an inventory, and every class of weapon has unique ammunition and accurate magazine capacities. In just about every mission, you'll find yourself discarding empty weapons and scavenging dead bodies for new ones. You can even remove the machine gun from a tank or other armored vehicle and carry it around. The game includes more than 100 weapons from the US, German, British, and Russian arsenals, ranging from handguns and submachine guns to grenades and antitank rifles.