So there you are, looking at new PC games, and you see yet another WWII game on the shelf, this one called Blitzkrieg: Rolling Thunder. Nine times out of 10, your first inclination will be to dismiss it altogether as “just another WWII game,” and far be it for us to discount that completely justified instinct. Yet before you move on to the RPG aisle, you might want to pick up the game again and ask yourself “what would Patton do?” After all, that’s precisely what this new title asks gamers to do, and it does so rather convincingly.
Blitzkrieg: Rolling Thunder is the second stand-alone expansion pack to CDV’s years-old Blitzkrieg real-time strategy. This most recent expansion recreates 18 historical WWII battles from the tank-happy perspective of General Patton, taking players from the deserts of Casablanca to the icy fields at the Battle of the Bulge. Wait, tanks, you say? Yes, tanks. Lots of them.
Gamers almost universally like things that go boom, so the focus on tank battles is sure to pique many PC gamers’ interests. Yet Blitzkrieg: Rolling Thunder isn’t as one-dimensional as that simple fact makes it sound. Quite the contrary, the RTS uses tanks as the core firepower for its in-game combat, yet it also makes judicious use of support vehicles, infantry, artillery and even air support, keeping the gameplay fresh and the strategic possibilities a-flying.
With all these modes of attack at players’ disposal, Blitzkrieg: Rolling Thunder in many respects is a great introduction to the world of real-time strategy games. Where many RTS titles overwhelm with construction and micromanagement, Blitzkrieg: Rolling Thunder provides a breath of fresh combat, with micromanagement available but not required. There’s also no construction involved, a time-consuming resource-generator that slows the pace of many RTS games.
In spite of this focus on action, though, Blitzkrieg: Rolling Thunder still requires the same level of strategy you’d expect from a PC RTS. This is because, like General Patton, players are frequently inundated by hostile forces, often from multiple directions, forcing gamers to strategize real-time tactics that can result success or failure within a matter of minutes. For example, the wide-open desert missions early in the game provide plenty of temptation to run in with tanks blazing, but without properly scouting the terrain, planting mines, setting up ambushes or calling for proper air reconnaissance, your entire 1,500-strong army will be toast.
Lose a tank, and your infantry will have a hard time making it through. Lose a support vehicle, and your tanks will have an impossible time reloading. Lose your artillery, and you’d better pray that your earlier long-range attacks sufficiently weakened the enemy. Preserving the army isn’t confined to the mission at hand, either, because the army at players’ disposal carries over from mission to mission, with reinforcements only occasionally delivered.
Success in the early missions isn’t an accurate indicator of the entire game, however, because the difficulty of Blitzkrieg: Rolling Thunder ramps up after the first few levels. This is somewhat ironic, because RTS newbies will probably get frustrated after the third mission, yet it’s the otherwise-approachable, action-oriented gameplay that will draw those same gamers to this title. Slow and steady is the way to go with most RTS games, and Blitzkrieg: Rolling Thunder is no different, no matter what the boom-boom tank options might seem to imply.
“No different,” however, is also the basic undoing of Blitzkrieg: Rolling Thunder, because although the game adds tanks and has new infantry options, the game is pretty standard when it comes to the RTS genre. The focus on combat and omission of construction is nice for RTS newbies, but the core audience for this game already has more than enough excellent options to satiate their RTS fix, not the least of which is CDV’s other recent release, Codename: Panzers – Phase One (read DailyGame’s review).
Codename: Panzers – Phase One also has better graphics, which for many gamers will swing the tide in that game’s favor. The vehicles are all modeled and animated well in Blitzkrieg: Rolling Thunder, and the little details make it easy to determine vehicle and tank classes while in the heat of battle. The infantry and artillery are a different story. Troops look nearly identical, which wouldn’t be a bad thing were it not for the inclusion of specialists like snipers, scouts and grenadiers, each of which is nearly impossible to make out in the thick of things. Likewise, artillery units are only subtly different, and since some units require a vehicle to move, the lack of easily distinguishable artillery can lead to some frustrating realizations on the battlefield.
The audio provides some pleasant surprises, though, most notably the comments from various troops and vehicles as you select them. One tank commander, for example, quipped “what, are you flirting with me” when the mouse hovered over him. Grazing over a platoon even unearthed the comment “man, I gotta hit the can.” These great little touches, when added to a strong soundtrack and decent sound effects, mean Blitzkrieg: Rolling Thunder provides some good audio vibes, even if they won’t win any Academy Awards.
One element that just might keep some gamers from leaving this game on the shelf and heading straight for the RPG aisle is the inclusion of minor RPG elements in Blitzkrieg: Rolling Thunder itself. Like many RTS games, Blitzkrieg: Rolling Thunder tracks players’ statistics for each mission, evaluating their performance in various categories and awarding medals accordingly. Favorable marks in a mission, though, can result in a bevy of available upgrades, from new artillery to new tanks, so there’s definitely an incentive to replay missions and improve performance. The continually depleting army is another reason to replay missions, because the different between losing 300 and 600 troops is quite noticeable in later levels. Now if CDV would’ve only added some multiplayer options…. Custom missions alone just don’t quite cut it anymore.
Still, for $29.99, Blitzkrieg: Rolling Thunder is a good action-driven introduction to the RTS genre, and it’s a decent distraction for RTS veterans until Blitzkrieg 2 releases next year. The game’s not revolutionary by any means, but it’s also not a step backward. Instead, it’s a solid step to the side, with some interesting gameplay options and a surprisingly unique take on the battles of WWII. If you’re not sure about ponying up for the much better Rome: Total War or Codename: Panzers – Phase One, Blitzkrieg: Rolling Thunder might be the affordably priced RTS alternative you’re looking for.
- Gameplay: 8.1
- The tanks and action are nice and new, but it’s still a “normal” RTS.
- Graphics: 7.3
- More detail and complexity would help, but the old engine can only do so much.
- Sound: 8
- Good soundtrack and effects, with fun commentary from the troops.
- Replay: 8
- The baby-RPG upgrades are nice, as is the persistent army, but no multiplayer?
- Overall: 7.8
- The new elements are intriguing but not quite enough to make the game more than slightly above average.
— Jonas Allen