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Posted on Nov 6, 2006 in Electronic Games, Front Page Features

Silent Heroes – Game Review (PC)

Jim H. Moreno

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Silent Heroes is the newest World War II-themed RTS game from publisher/developer Paradox Interactive and a host of Russian game makers, including 1C Company, Dark Fox, Tridigital Studios, and Best Way. Meant to be a sequel to the Codemasters release Soldiers: Heroes of World War II, Silent Heroes puts the player in control of a small Russian saboteur/commando team operating against the German war machine. Like a specops team should have, Silent Heroes makes available ample equipment and weapons to accomplish missions, even allowing the team to make use of enemy gear, such as vehicles and field artillery. Unfortunately, the game also comes fully loaded with some very glaring errors, mistakes which should have never passed muster. Nonetheless, Silent Heroes does manage to slip under the wire and come out on the side of being a good game, but only with the help of adding in the $20 price tag, and with much hope in a future patch.

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Documentation / Technical

Upon gaining clearance to undergo the Silent Heroes mission, my first objective was to download it from Gamers Gate, which first required setting up an account and obtaining the Gamers Gate Downloader application. Almost immediately, I encountered a hang-fire, as the downloader would not install itself. After a few e-messages with a friendly neighborhood Ztorm helpdesk dude (which you may read here), the snag was overcome, and I had Silent Heroes downloaded and ready for the green light.

The manual for Silent Heroes, as you may have guessed, comes as an Adobe Acrobat .pdf file with the game download. It didn’t take long to see the sad the state of the manual. I thought Silent Heroes was about controlling a Russian saboteur team behind German lines? Yet the photo gracing the cover of the manual shows a band of American soldiers. There’s even some suspicion that the scenes depicted are straight from the movie Saving Private Ryan. I’m guessing Russian gamers may not be very happy with that, since Silent Heroes does much to portray the honor of protecting Mother Russia during The Great Patriotic War. But that’s just the start of it.

What do you think?

Through sixteen pages of broken English (one can almost hear a Hollywood version of bad Russian accent), the manual describes the very basics of gameplay, but don’t count on what is there as fact. A lot of what’s written in the manual just doesn’t match up with what’s actually in game. For instance, the manual has a section on the use of matches in game. However, I have been through the entire game twice, all ten missions, and have yet to see any matches therein. In one of the major ommisions, the manual also mentions Multiplayer mode, which doesn’t exist in Silent Heroes.

Another set of discrepencies exist between the manual and the in game Settings. The Settings have the ‘V’ key set as a hotkey to highlight dead bodies, making them easier to spot amidst trees and dense foilage. The manual doesn’t list this key at all, which is just as well – it doesn’t work. At least not on my computer. Even remapping the key to another did not help. The manual never lists that the F1 – F10 keys are used to bring up certain weapons, much like an FPS uses the number keys. In the Settings menu, two different sections list two different keys for the ‘Throw’ command, and neither one of them are necessary. The game automatically changes the mouse cursor to a target icon when you want a commando to throw something, and then a simple left-click does the rest. The Settings menu also list a few keys used under the Network game section, which are useless since Network play in Silent Heroes is nil. One more item that caused more than a little grief, until I figured it out, is the correct key used to set team members to prone, kneeling, and standing, which the manual lists as ‘stand up/lie down’, ‘get up’, and ‘go down.’

 

Gameplay

So, why all the fuss over a few hotkey errors, you ask? Because there is no tutorial included with Silent Heroes. That’s right – no tutorial at all. Therefore, a player is forced to dig through the Settings / Manual mess I describe above to figure out on their own how the game is played. From what I’ve read in forums, and from my own experience, this major failure by the makers of Silent Heroes is making many players none too happy with the game, and will probably continue to do so.

However, there is some fun to be had on the battlefields within Silent Heroes. Those players that care to wade through the myriad of errors may, as I did, find the gameplay worth it. It’s one thing to command entire brigades and divisions in combat against a like-sized opponent. It’s quite another to take tactical control of a team in size from two-to-six warriors and pit them against a few companies or a brigade of enemy forces behind enemy lines. Such sphincter-tightning gameplay is what Silent Heroes does well, and the main reason.

Creeping up behind the enemy, silently moving them into firing positions, these moments require proper planning and a steady hand "I love it when a plan comes together!"

There is a very nice control scheme set up here, as it should be with any RTS. Players can move the entire team about with ease, or choose to use the Direct Control option and use only one soldier for specific tasks at a time. Aside from the hotkey woes stated earlier, the other hotkeys work rather well once learned. The AI is smart enough to find the most direct way from A to B, does a great job of moving soldiers from the dangers of moving vehicles (friendly and enemy), and will even have them scatter away from enemy grenades, then return to their former positions. There was some stuttering when I attempted to have soldiers climb over fences and sandbag walls, but nothing to sound off about.

The on-screen interface is also a strong addition to gameplay. It’s neat and clean, easily understandable and accessed, and more importantly, doesn’t interfere with the action in the main window. Those confusing hotkeys can be ignored for the most part by using the on-screen control buttons in the Command Panel found in the lower-right, but it may slow the action down. The only Command Panel buttons I used were the ones controlling rules of engagement (Hold Fire, Return Fire, and Fire At Will), and Combat Stance (Hold Position and Move Freely). In fact, and I only warily attempted it a couple of times, the hotkeys can be used when in Direct Control of a single soldier to conceivably play through a majority of each mission, with only minor mouse input. It would take some quick fingers, sure, but I don’t think it would be impossible.

Combat is both satisfying and mundane, depending on a number of varying factors. Much depends on a gamers’ playstyle, whether they move about runnin’ & gunnin’, or take a more stealthy approach. The game has Easy, Normal, and Hard settings to choose from, but I’m still unconvinced I saw any actual difference between them. One noteworthy option was the ability to choose a difficulty level at the start of each mission. Play one mission on Hard, then choose Easy for the next one. The enemy AI does well at any difficulty, enough to put up a challenge and keep things interesting. Enemy troops will also scurry away from grenades, make use of cover and concealment when available, peek out from around corners and behind walls to fire from, throw their own grenades and drop into a prone position afterwards, and generally put up a rather decent fight.

Making proper use of kill zones, concealment, and terrain to your advantage is the way to go. Cutting down scores of the enemy time after time just doesn’t get old.

But much of what the enemy does, aside from overwhelming a players’ position with superior numbers and perhaps a tank or two, are all in vain. They are up against a special ops team, after all. Left on their own, the saboteurs will cut down wave after wave of dismounted German soldiers through their superior marksmanship alone. One of the best tactics used is to set up the team in ambush, set their ROE to Fire At Will, take Direct Control of a single team member, and lure the enemy into the line of fire. This tactic is easily exploited and can cause the action to become mundane. Conversely, players can get immense satisfaction from this very same tactic, especially when more enemy soldiers than you may have counted on come running to the sound of gunfire, only to drop dead by a well-aimed shot or two from your team. An especially nice touch is when an open tracked vehicle or motorbike races to join in the fight. Watching their occupants get shot out of their seats and their vehicle slow to a stop was enough to bring a smile to my face.

Vehicles are another strong point in the gameplay of Silent Heroes. Almost every vehicle encountered can be captured and manned by your commando team. This also includes field pieces, guard towers, pill boxes, and mounted machine guns. Vehicles can be a bit tricky to capture, for if there are any enemies close at hand, they will instantly fire upon any vehicle you attempt to liberate. It’s best to make sure the AO is well clear before attempting to do so. But, as you may guess, once you do gain control of that Tiger tank or Nebelwerfer, much destruction can be dealt out.

Attempting to capture a tank is no small feat, and can be very tricky to do. However, if you succeed, your small commando team can wreak much more devastation than usual.
These are just a few of the armor vehicles awaiting liberation or destruction by your team. And these are a small sampling of the types of wheeled vehicles and field pieces to be found here.

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1 Comment

  1. those bastards bought this cool russian game but forgot to buy license for multiplayer… facepalm

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