Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Rush for Berlin Review

Rush for Berlin, developed by Stormregion and published by Paradox Interactive.
The Good: Extremely quick battles, “new” multiplayer modes, gorgeous graphics, catchy background music, special abilities, scout units have more importance
The Not So Good: Extremely quick battles remove some strategy, some unused potential of “new” multiplayer modes, not many multiplayer maps, AI is not a worthy foe most of the time
What say you? Time is of the essence in this refreshingly fast-paced strategy game: 7/8

Did you know that if you type in “world war 2 rts” into Google you get 4,940,000 hits? Of course, typing in “poo” results in 18,000,000 hits (plus a link to the definition), so that might not mean very much. Nevertheless, we seem bombarded with games related to the 2nd World War, from strategy to shooters. So, in order for a game to stand out, it must include something unique. Stormregion, the developers of the Codename: Panzers series, hope this to be the case in Rush for Berlin, a real time strategy game that takes place at the conclusion of World War II in Europe. The official web site describes the game as “groundbreaking,” “innovative,” “challenging,” “including,” and “as well as.” Are all of these things true, or are the developers dirty, stinking liars who stink and are dirty?

Rush for Berlin looks really good. All of the units are very detailed, from the soldiers to the armor, and have believable movement animations. The environments are detailed as well: swaying trees, falling show, and realistic, destructible buildings of rubble dot the landscape. Rush for Berlin delivers one of the most convincing and meticulous settings I’ve seen in a straight-up real time strategy game. The explosions are a little over the top, as any defeated armor unit detonates in a cacophony of shrapnel, but that’s fine with me: it’s very satisfying watching a tank blow up after you’ve worked so hard to bring it down. A lot of games that show samples of graphics tend to cheat and show in-game rendered movies (I’m looking at you, “next generation” consoles) instead of what the game actually looks like, but the screenshots on the official site are exactly what you’ll see while playing the game, and they are impressive. Of course, the system requirements are fairly high, so make sure you invest in some upgrades to fully enjoy the destruction. The sound also shows the high production values of the game; they accompany the graphics with appropriate intensity. In addition, the background music in the game is enjoyable, especially during the menus. Speaking of the menus, I really enjoy the animated backgrounds (and associated sound); it’s been a while since I’ve commented on the menus of a game, but the opening options of Rush for Berlin gets you pumped up for some destruction-based fun.

Rush for Berlin features four campaigns of 25 missions plus a tutorial. There is a campaign for each of the major sides in Europe: the Russians, Germans, Allies, and a bonus French campaign. Some of the campaigns are historically-based, but some are also speculative, especially the German campaign. Because of the fast-paced nature of Rush for Berlin, the 25 missions don’t take very long, and because the enemy locations are scripted, there isn’t much replay value. Still, the campaign missions are pretty fun and very difficult (more due to overwhelming forces than good AI), so completing 25 missions means playing more than 25 times. Before each mission, you can choose a portion of your starting forces from units left over from the last mission. Those units with more experience will perform better in the battlefield and also have better special abilities, so keeping your veteran units alive is of great importance. The game gives you a certain number of “free” forces, but adding additional forces will decrease the amount of time you have to finish the mission. Of course, you could also under-equip and get more time. It’s an interesting dynamic in theory, but the relationship is pretty linear (more units equals less time) so it doesn’t really matter which side of the equation you choose.

One of the selling points of Rush for Berlin is the multiplayer; there are five multiplayer modes available in the game. You can play some of the single player missions in cooperative mode (an options which seems to be present in more games these days, probably because of massively multiplayer titles). There is the classic (meaning boring) deathmatch, which can be played as a free-for-all or on teams. In domination mode, you must hold a certain number of strategic locations. The two “new” modes are RUSH and RISK. RUSH (Relentlessly Utilized Score Hunt) is a modified domination mode, where the first side to a particular control point gets a large amount of points. Points can also be gained by defeating enemy units or holding control points; less points are gained if the objective is destroyed, so sabotaging a location the enemy is about to capture could be a viable strategy. RISK (Race-Intensive Strategic Combat with a K) gives one to three randomly selected tasks for each team to complete. Tasks include holding an object (either specific ones or any number), destroying neutral vehicles, collecting supply drops, capturing powerful units and keeping them functional, or simply defeating the other team. RISK would be better with uncapturable headquarters, so the only way you could be eliminated is if another player completes all of their objectives. The way it stands, all you really need to do is capture all of the other players’ buildings as you win. RISK also has some balancing issues. For example, in one multiplayer scenario, you are charged with eliminating a set number of neutral vehicles. The problem is that the neutral vehicles are unlimited and will slowly grind away at your much more limited forces until you are defeated. There’s a lot more potential with the semi-inventive RISK mode than what’s present in Rush for Berlin. Still, the “original” game modes are above and beyond what’s seen in most real time strategy game, so that’s to be commended.

Carrying out your fiendish goals are a number of different units. In terms of infantry, all sides have standard infantry, snipers, sappers (mine layers), flamethrowers, medics, and mortar infantry, while specialty units are present for each side: cheap partisan infantry (complete with Molotov cocktails) for the Russians, Allied airborne infantry, and anti-tank German Panzergrenadiers. Each side also has a host of mobile units: armored combat vehicles, artillery, self-propelled guns, recon vehicles, transports, and bombers. The scouting units are very useful this time around, as they (along with the officers) are the only units that can call in reconnaissance planes; this is important because bombers can only be deployed to areas under surveillance. There are also fake units that can confuse the enemy. Each vehicle must have a crew, and each crew member increases the number of available weapons. Important to Rush for Berlin are the officers. Each of these units has a special skill that can affect surrounding units (such as increased morale), provide bonuses (such as increased damage or armor), or provide a special attack. Some of these skills are passive and never need to be specifically activated by the player. You can set a lot of the active skills to auto-use, and the AI will use them when appropriate.

So what does this all mean in terms of the gameplay? Rush for Berlin is one of the fastest strategy games I’ve played in quite a while. Strategy games that involve resource gathering have build-ups of 30-60 minutes before the main action begins, while tactical games (such as this one) typically have long, drawn out battles. This is certainly not the case in Rush for Berlin. You can set multiplayer games to end in 5 minutes; this should indicate how quickly things unravel in the game. The lethality of the weapons at your disposal comes into affect here, as most units are killed within seconds (this includes tanks, if you use all of your special skills). On maps where you can call in extra units, the reinforcements arrive so slowly (on purpose), the game is really one big battle and clean-up afterwards. You will never, ever have a drawn out game where one player, who is obviously beaten, will continue to hold a single base and churn out units to slow their defeat. This is great for multiplayer; the problem with a lot of real time strategy games is that the end game takes so damn long to finish, even though the victor has been decided long ago. Rush for Berlin does not suffer from this malady. Support vehicles have uptmost importance, because successful implementation of support vehicles will extend the life of your units considerably, and tactical might is the name of the game. When time is included as the main resource in the game, and users are rewarded for quickly winning a battle, you know what you’re in for. The game is less impressive to play against the AI, however, especially in multiplayer modes. Even on hard difficulty, the AI doesn't give provide much of a contest. This may be due to the inherent complicated nature of some of the multiplayer modes, but the AI is just not a good tactician. Overwhelming enemy forces (and tricky placement by the scenario designer) is the cause of most of the difficulty associated with the single player campaigns. But, as long as you play Rush for Berlin as a primarily multiplayer affair, you won't notice.

The developers couldn’t have picked a more appropriate name for Rush for Berlin. The fast-paced action is certainly a difference from the typical drawn out strategy games we’ve been playing for the past several years. I’m the kind of person that enjoys slow-paced games rather than click-fests, but I can say I rather enjoyed Rush for Berlin. It has a distinctive immediacy to its gameplay that’s indicative of what real commanders had to deal with: a decision needs to be made now. It appears that Rush for Berlin was built with multiplayer in mind, providing quick battles where you don’t have to worry about people leaving the game because they are over very quickly. The longest option for some game types is 30 minutes; games such as Rise of Nations have options where no combat can take place for the first 30 minutes. In this time, you could have played three games of Rush for Berlin! I wish the single player campaign has more missions, but the difficulty of the campaign will extend its lifetime a little. There could also have been more maps available for multiplayer, but the included maps are pretty good. Those gamers looking for a change of pace to “frantic” will find a good time to be had with Rush for Berlin.