Blitzkrieg:  Rolling Thunder

Review

posted 1/4/2005 by Tyler Sager
other articles by Tyler Sager
One Page Platforms: PC
Blitzkrieg: Rolling Thunder is the latest stand-alone expansion to the WWII RTS, Blitzkrieg. The campaign consists of 6 three-mission mini-campaigns, chronicling the command of General Patton in the African and European theaters. Many of the famous battles are featured here, including the storming of the beaches of Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge. Since my grasp of WWII history is sorely lacking, I don’t know how accurate these various missions really are, but everything seems fairly true-to-life, at least within the bounds of the RTS framework.

Rolling Thunder chooses to focus on combat exclusively, completely doing away with any of the base and unit building found in many RTS games. Players begin each mission with a set number of units, and that’s it. Sometimes reinforcements are made available throughout the mission, sometimes not. While I can understand the historical reasons to forego the unit-building aspects in Rolling Thunder, I found I missed the ability to build up a base of operations and tailor my army to my liking. In an RPG-lite aspect, a core group of units are able to be ported from mission to mission, gaining experience and increasing abilities as they successfully engage the enemy. A great deal of care must be taken to ensure these units, and all the units for that matter, survive the battles.

Most units are easy to kill. Very easy. Most tanks can be taken out in one or two hits from enemy armor or artillery fire, and an entire squad of infantry can be mowed down in a matter of seconds. While this is quite realistic, it also makes Rolling Thunder a difficult game. A few seconds of diverted attention can mean an entire flank of armor is wiped out, and it’s time to reload or restart. Early rushing is highly inadvisable, and is generally completely suicidal. Careful advances, preceded by scouts, air recon if available, and suppressive artillery fire is often the best tactic. In fact, much of the game is spent juggling and micromanaging the various units. There is a fairly impressive array of units—infantry, snipers, and a wide variety of tanks, armored vehicles, and artillery. Most of these units require special attention. Infantry have several formation options to choose from, in addition to the ability to dive into trenches and turtle up. Each armor unit has a separate defense rating depending on facing, so great care needs to be taken to put the most defensible face toward enemy fire.

And it’s not just the combat units that take a great deal of micromanagement. Support units, such as engineers and troop transports, need to be set up carefully to plant or remove mines, build trenches, heal units, and keep everyone in ammo. Many of the maps contain supply points, spots that engineers and heavy trucks can go to reload on engineering, medical, and repair supplies. These supply points can be taken by the enemy, so maintaining and defending the supply lines is yet another worry during the battles.

Air support is called in to specific targets and is not directly controlled. Each mission has different air support available, and that support is often dependent on achieving certain goals during the mission. For instance, heavy bombers may not be able to move in until a nest of anti-aircraft guns are taken out. Scouts, fighter-bombers, heavy bombers, paratroopers, and anti-aircraft fighters are all available at different times throughout the campaigns. Of course, while a bomber run can be devastating to the enemy, they’re not without their own air units, so it’s vital to set up AA guns and units to keep friendly tanks from becoming burning husks.
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