Each mission starts with a briefing, and players are given a set of primary and optional objectives. While only the primary goals are needed to complete a mission, the optional goals are often rewarded with either tactical help on the current mission, such as disabling all enemy armor, or the granting of additional units in following missions. These optional goals are often not too difficult to achieve while tackling the main mission goals. The missions themselves were a mixed bag. Some were a lot of fun, some truly frustrating, and most were just typical RTS fare. Those frustrating missions were often marred by goal triggers that I just couldn’t seem to set off correctly, even when I met all the requirements. Still, the flaky goal triggers aren’t nearly as bad as the interface.
While the game looks and sounds good, the interface is really frustrating. In a game where split-seconds can mean the difference between pushing through the enemy line or watching ten friendly tanks go up in smoke, control is extremely important. I often found myself clicking several times on a unit to gain control. With larger units this can be annoying, but with the smaller units such as scouts or other infantry, this becomes hair-pullingly bad. Infantry are already annoying, since there’s no way I could tell at a glance which units belonged to which squad, and I couldn’t reform squads to my liking. Squads are formed at the beginning of the game, with no player control. As troops are killed, the squad becomes smaller and smaller, and there are often times where there are squads of one or two soldiers, but these poor soldiers have to remain on their own, control wise, throughout the mission.
The AI seems a bit lacking, as well. There’s already a great deal of micromanagement and babysitting of the units, but things become worse as battles spread out over long distances. Often I’d find my anti-tank guns and fortified tanks just letting the enemy waltz in unmolested. I’d also see some of my tanks get hung up on various terrains, and thus an entire squad of armor gets spread out across the map. Ordering a squad of tanks across a narrow bridge is a nightmare. Thankfully, the game can be paused at any time for issuing orders or taking stock of the situation, but units should be able to better take care of themselves.
Rolling Thunder is not an easy game, and it can be a bit overwhelming to try to jump right in. While many of the traditional RTS conventions are in place, the lack of reinforcements coupled with the relative fragility of each of the units makes for some very difficult play. While overcoming these difficulties mostly requires a change in play style, watching everything get wiped out in matter of seconds, repeatedly, can be disheartening for the casual RTS gamer.
It’s not all bad, though, and fans of the Blitzkrieg series will probably be pleased. There is a great deal of challenging RTS gameplay, and the WWII flavor is quite strong. Still, the more casual RTS gamer probably won’t be able to overlook the frustrating control and less-than-stellar AI.
Another ho-hum WWII RTS. Finicky controls and the less-than-stellar AI keep this from shining. Fans of the series or the genre will still find a bit of fun, though.
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