Friday, October 27, 2006

Silent Heroes Review

Silent Heroes, developed by Dark Fox and published by Paradox Interactive.
The Good: Nicely animated and detailed graphics, varied use of surrounding terrain
The Not So Good: Outrageously unfair difficulty, contextual commands are imprecise for moving targets, units will not stop and return fire
What say you? A stealthy tactical strategy game that’s just too tough: 5/8

Following on the heels of 2004’s Soldiers: Heroes of World War II comes Silent Heroes, which takes the original real time tactical strategy game and minimizes it to incorporate fewer units against greater odds (which apparently involves silence). Silent Heroes leans more towards the small band of merry men end of the strategy equation, much like Hammer & Sickle/Silent Storm. The game acts as a standalone expansion to Soldiers and is priced as such, featuring similar tactical strategy action as you take on the bad guys in the World War II setting.

Although Silent Heroes is played from a fixed 3-D perspective, the game looks quite good and compares well against other real time strategy games, such as Rush for Berlin. The environments are very detailed and are quite impressive: grass sways in the breeze and the environment responds to player movement, which includes destructible terrain. While the characters in the game are quite small, Silent Heroes is chock full of great animations; actions that are usually cut are shown here, such as getting in and out of vehicles. Silent Heroes creates a believable atmosphere for World War II, and even though you can’t get up close and personal to the action, the game works well enough to be quite plausible. The sound for the game is quite average, with very few voiceovers (only canned responses to fixed events) over the generic background music. The lack of character dialog makes it hard to bond with your computerized allies, and reading the story is much less effective than hearing the story.

In Silent Heroes, you will lead a small band of hearty souls against great numbers of enemy forces to achieve some kind of objective. Silent Heroes assumes you are familiar with Soldiers, as it does not contain any sort of tutorial or introductory level. In fact, you’re thrown right into the mix from the beginning: the first mission involves your group of three against 50-75 enemies, including multiple tanks. Silent Heroes stresses silence (it’s in the title, people), as one wrong move will result in certain death, as in every mission you are greatly outnumbered. People who enjoy this kind of slow-paced and carefully managed game will enjoy Silent Heroes, but most will get frustrated by the stacked odds and limited game assistance. The game does allow you a good degree of freedom in completing your missions, as most of the game’s levels are wide open. However, you can clearly see areas to avoid and areas to traverse through, so there is some limitation in your available strategies. You’ll engage in several missions through the single player campaign, each being preceded by a briefing informing you of how many enemy soldiers you have to avoid. Movement is made exclusively through the mouse: left-clicking on a location will give an order to selected troops depending on the location clicked. Silent Heroes lets you manipulate and use the environment much more than other strategy games (a carryover from Soldiers), namely using lots of cover. This is a fine system that results in less clicking, but it makes targeting moving objects extremely difficult, as the selection area for enemy troops is extremely small. You may think you clicked an enemy soldier and issued an attack order, but your troops will just walk over next to them without firing a shot. This is extremely frustrating and it’s made even worse by the tremendous odds against you in the missions. Your troops will automatically fire at the enemy but only while stationary: imprecise orders will result in certain death. You can issue general behavior commands to your troops, such as hold fire, return fire, or hold position. If you want more control over your troops, you can enter direct control mode, where you can use the keyboard directional keys to move a specific soldier around. This system works well, but you’ll be essentially ignoring all of your other troops, so you won’t be able to use it very much. Much like role-playing games, Silent Heroes features an inventory system where your troops can carry a limited amount of supplies: guns, ammunition, matches (to start fires!), first aid kits, and mines. Setting fires is pretty fun and also a good distraction to enemy troops.

While some people will find the “against all odds” mentality of Silent Heroes enjoyable, I just found it frustrating. The amount of coordination and perfection required to successfully complete a mission is just too high, and the imperfections in the user interface makes it almost impossible. I do like the context-sensitive mouse commands, but it makes targeting small and moving objects (any enemy solider) extremely difficult and it can even result in incorrect orders and subsequent mission failure. The graphics are solid and the price is right, but most people can skip over Silent Heroes and not feel too badly about it. Silent Heroes, being a stand-alone expansion, doesn’t offer many new things to the genre, and just tweaks the basic formula laid down by Soldiers by offering less troops and more missions. I prefer the more evenly-matched Soldiers: Heroes of World War II to Silent Heroes, but fans of slow stealthy strategy games can find some fun for a budget price.