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Silent Storm

Score: 90%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Encore
Developer: Nival Interactive
Media: CD/2
Players: 1
Genre: Turn-Based Strategy

Graphics & Sound:

It's hard to know exactly where to start when discussing Silent Storm. Really, I've been sitting in front of a blank document for at least 10 minutes trying to think of a snappy, witty introduction for the game. But to be honest, the game doesn't really need that much of an intro. It is just that damn good.

When it comes to visuals, Silent Storm has details to spare. The game is all about details, from the lush forest environments to cobblestone walkways -- if you can think of it, you can probably find it. Characters also feature fluid animations and show off a nice amount of variety. Even weapons are meticulously detailed, right down to the spent shells flying from the gun during combat. The real beauty of everything is that the detail remains constant no matter how close the camera is to the action. Little annoyances like blurry textures and jagged edges are virtually non-existent. However, the visual splendor comes at a price in terms of hardware. With all of the bells, whistles and other eye candy turned on, the framerate takes quite a hit. Even on my system, which is above the minimum requirements for the game, I wasn't able to turn on everything and even then I had a few skips in framerate.

The best part about the game's environments is that everything is destructible. Thanks to an amazing physics engine, environments and characters react realistically to your in-game actions. The damage modeling is great and really adds to the appeal of the game. Throw a grenade at a wooden wall and the wall will splinter and fall apart. This adds a completely new level of depth to the game since you can use the damage to your advantage during missions. If you need to get into a building, you can simply blow a hole in the wall and walk on in. The ability to damage environments does come with a few drawbacks. Given that everything can be destroyed, it is possible to take out elements, such as stairs, that are key to completing mission objectives. When characters finally die, they fall in a manner that is consistent with how they are killed and where they are on the field. In other words, if you shoot someone who is standing by a window, not only will the enemy fall, but if he falls in the right way he'll tumble out of the window and come crashing to the ground.

Sound and music compliment the visuals, but aren't as over the top as you might think. Effects such as gun shots are your standard fare. While they don't add that much to the presentation, they still do an excellent job. Voice work is a little hokey and sticks out as one of the few disappointments in the game. Dialog consists of some of the cheesiest lines ever written and can grate on your nerves over time. Music gives you some ambient music to save you from dead silence, yet stays out of the way.


Gameplay:

Silent Storm once again takes us to gaming's favorite historical period -- WWII. You choose to play as a member of either the Allies or Axis powers and take part in secret missions based around the war. The main story is decent and fairly realistic. At least until about half-way through the game when all sorts of sci-fi elements begin to show up, like the Panzerklein -- which are essentially heavily armored power suits. Personally, I felt the introduction of these elements felt a little out of place. I'm as big a fan of the 'secret WWII technology' genre as anyone else, but within reason and only when the game calls for it. They also present one of the few balance issues in the game. The are just too powerful, which makes them feel even more out of place.

Fans of turn-based strategy games in the vein of X-COM, UFO: Aftermath and Jagged Alliance 2 will feel right at home with Silent Storm. The main campaign is split up into two sections, Axis and Allies. After choosing a side to align yourself with, you are prompted to create your main character. Six preset characters are available for those who would rather jump right into the action, but you can also customize your character if you want. Here you can choose the sex of your character, their country of origin, appearance, job and skill points. Each job has its own particular set of skills. For example, Soldiers are combat masters, while Snipers can pick off enemies from a distance. Adding an RPG element to the game, each time your character kills an enemy, he gains EXP and will eventually gain levels. Each level brings better stats, skills and other perks. Over the course of the game you'll recruit new members to your team -- each with their own jobs and abilities. Choosing the right mix of jobs for each mission is a core element of gameplay.

Individual missions can last hours due to a variety of elements. AI movements take a little too long to play out and some maps are huge. Twitch gamers, or those who suffer from short attention spans should stop reading now. It would have been nice if some sort of enemy AI speed up option had been included.


Difficulty:

Enemy AI is hit or miss. Sometimes it will pull off brilliant moves, while at other times it will fall for the worst-laid traps. The game includes three difficulty levels (Easy, Normal and Hard). Depending on which difficulty level you choose, different gameplay options become available. On Easy mode, mission tips will pop up and you can save whenever you want. If your team members die they are only knocked out and will be extracted and healed once you leave the mission area. In Hard mode, your team members are lost when the die and you aren't given any gameplay tips. Even on Easy mode, the game is quite a challenge. It's not so bad that you'll throw your PC out the window, but expect to go through a few stress balls over the course of the game.

Game Mechanics:

How many actions your member can pull off during a given turn is based on how many action points they have. Every action requires you to spend points. The greater the action (such as walking long distances or using advanced skills), the more points you'll have to use. This forces you to really plan out your actions in advance and weigh options. Do you want to move in close and rely on spray-and-pray tactics? Or do you want to hide in the shadows and go for a headshot? The variety of movements available to characters is deep, ranging from simple movements like running and shooting to jumping through windows, stealth kills and targeting body parts.

Team management takes a little time to get used to, but is very manageable once you figure out what everything does. Although I usually advocate reading the game manual, the offered tutorial is excellent and should show you everything you need to know in order to play the game. It's still a good idea to check out the book since it offers a few more intricate tips, as well as deeper explanations of everything.

Silent Storm is one of the best strategy games available and any fan would be a fool to pass it up. The game offers two incredibly long campaigns as well as the option to create your own scenarios. Highly Recommended.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

Minimum System Requirements:



Windows 98/2000/ME/XP; Pentium 600 Mhz (Pentium IV 1.4 Ghz Recommended); 32 MB 3D Video Card (64 MB Recommended); 2 GB HD; 4x or Faster CD-ROM; 128 MB RAM (512 MB Recommended)
 

Test System:



Windows XP; Pentium 4 1.7 GHz; Radeon 9100 128 MB; 40 Gig HD; 640 MB RAM

Windows Savage: Battle for Newerth Windows Eric Young's Squad Assault: West Front

 
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