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Silent Storm Review

GAME INFO
publisher: JoWooD Productions
developer: Encore Software
genre: Strategy

MINIMUM REQUIREMENTS
PIII 600, 128MB RAM, 32MB Video Card, 2GB HD
ESRB rating: M
homepage:
www.silentstorm-online.de/

release date: Jan 20, 04
» All About Silent Storm on ActionTrip


January 21, 2004
Ranko "Arjuna" Trifkovic

Tactical squad-based games... you gotta love 'em! Just throw in a few old school elements and send them my way. Ah, I can still recall the joy of playing oldies like Rebel Star Raiders, Laser Squad, Space Crusade... those were the days I tell ya. (Ed. - I still prefer Pimpwars. I swear it's a real game, look it up!) However, there still seems to be one slight problem with team-oriented turn-based strategies, the gameplay may seem a bit too intricate for average gamers. These days, even hardcore fans can get fed up with this game style every once in a while. Game designers in the new millennium have attempted to improve upon the genre by adding a dash of real-time to the whole experience. The Russian development team Nival Interactive, known for Etherlords 1 and 2, Evil Islands, and Rage of Mages, have managed to create a compelling turn-based title with dynamic gameplay.

These days it seems that many computer games are inclined towards an action-packed, high adrenaline thrillers, inspired by (among other things) big-budget Hollywood flicks. (Ed. - Or say one or two major wars from the last century.) Silent Storm, thankfully, deviates from this old-fashioned concept. The brilliant artwork and meticulous overall design stand as the game's essential qualities. Thanks to high-quality texture patterns, solid lighting, and nice character animation, you'll soon be immersed into a top-notch gaming experience. Character models were carefully rendered, and look more impressive than the ones we saw in, say, Commandos 3. The designers obviously spent a good deal of time on the maps; they were designed with great care. There's also a praiseworthy variety of buildings thrown into the picture, such as different types of houses, bunkers, secret labs, lonely outposts, warehouses, etc. For good measure, all these structures and buildings display different styles of architecture, which makes them authentic. In all honesty, I resent when game designers resort to using "generic" environments with tiny particles tossed about to trick you into believing that it's all real. Silent Storm was designed with an admirable attention to detail. Rich houses are decorated with thick lush carpets, expensive furniture, flashy paintings, and so on. (Ed. - Nothing like infiltrating a mansion, looking at a beautiful Renoir on the wall... and shooting it.) In poor houses, on the other hand, players will see shabby upholstery and old newspaper spread across table, instead of a table-cloth. Enemy secret bases are crammed with stuff like electric generators, air ducts, emergency escapes, machinery, etc. Both indoor and outdoor levels look good.

The game also features a commendable level of interactivity throughout the environments. Almost everything is susceptible to damage - be it a glass window, wooden bench, or concrete wall, provided of course that you have enough firepower, sonny-boy! When you fire a couple of rounds into the window with a pistol, glass will scatter all over the place. But, after you've smashed it with a knife, your character will clear up the remnants. Doors can also be burst open with rifle fire; just load up your SMG, fire, and voila... the way is clear. Also, when you fire at treetops, leaves will start falling gently to the ground. The physics also deserve praise. A rather elegant rag-doll effect appears to be at work here, making bodies twirl around according to the laws of physics. Occasionally though, it seems like the designers went on and had a bit too much fun with these rag-doll effects. For instance, once you gun down an enemy soldier, you can then fire rounds into the corpse and watch it twitch... which frankly doesn't look very realistic. Also, in-game models sometimes appear too light; like when an enemy guard is hurled back 15 feet after receiving a sniper shot in the belly. (Ed. - Au contraire, a .762 mm round packs enough wallop to penetrate the head at 1000 yards. A chest hit would contain enough residual energy to knock someone back a good distance.) Regardless, character animation works smoothly and convincingly.

The apparent overall quality should lure you into the gameplay right from the start, but that's not all. The game was neatly packed into a compelling storyline. Players may choose to follow the tale via the Axis campaign or Allied Campaign (if you wish, you can also create a custom game using the map editor). The basic story remains coherent throughout both campaigns, but you'll experience it from two completely different perspectives. It's kind of like watching "Lord of the Rings" in two versions; one from the Fellowship's point of view and other from Sauron's point of view. Each time you begin a campaign, the missions are loaded randomly, but eventually, you'll play through all of them. Make no mistake though, the game follows a linear plot, but the developers have obviously found an ingenious way to conceal that. The story itself revolves around a mysterious weapon, being developed by renegade German scientists. There is a slight "James Bond meets Indiana Jones" scent to it all, but then it suddenly turns into fiction once you get to use the Panzerklein - full automated body armor which turns your soldier into unstoppable mechanized SOB.

Another subtle touch is the detailed background story given to each of your 20 agents. These character stories and profiles were not incorporated just for kicks. They also define the way your characters behave during the game. For example, the old grizzled veteran Reggie has traumas from the Great War, the Indian medic will often pray to his gods, and Paco will shout and curse in Spanish. They all have witty catchphrases to go with their wacky personas. Each character responds in a unique way, which fits perfectly with game's overall atmosphere.

Once you've decided which side you want to play first, it's time to create your avatar. Evidently, the game possesses a few role-playing playing elements to boot. It's actually a simple system of 3 stats, 10 skills, and about 50 Diablo 2-like special abilities. Naturally, you will have to tune-up your characters carefully, seeing as you get one ability point per level. You are able to form a team comprising of 6 characters. You may also choose from a variety of classes before heading into combat. These classes include the following: Sniper, Scout, Soldier, Grenadier (Sapper), Engineer, and Medic. There are six pre-generated characters, but you are allowed to customize appearances, molding facial features to make your team members younger, older, prettier, uglier, bald, etc. Moreover, you can also pick from a variety of shades and spectacles. For the ultimate Mr. (or Mrs.) Killer look there is a good variety of subtle facial textures, such as broken noses, gouged eyes, skin burns, night camouflage, and more.

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HIGHS
Excellent blend of RPG, strategy, and action, challenging, a wide array of weapons and items to toy with, high replayability;

LOWS
Too difficult at times, lengthy turns, some balancing issues, restricted saving on harder levels, a few shortcomings in the enemy AI.

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