<span class="bold">S2: Silent Storm</span>
(includes the expansion
S3: Silent Storm Sentinels)
Silent Storm is a turn based strategy game with light RPG elements developed in Mother Russia by Nival Interactive.
Set during WWII, S2 will put you in the shoes of the newly appointed leader of a special secret service commando section either siding with the Allies (interpreting a Russian, an American or a UK citizen) or with the Axis (in this case you can be an Italian, a German or a Japanese).
Choosing a side will not make much difference, changing only the course of a few missions and giving you access to different (but equivalent) companions and service weapons; in the end, both factions will fight the same enemy and visit the same places.
Let's talk about the elements that make the game great: Silent Storm is pure, unadulterated realistic tactic fun!
The great game engine is so extremely well crafted and careful even to the smallest details to make even the most demanding simulation fanatic cry for joy: the environment is completely destructible, each object and weapon having a different penetration value; the arsenal is as vast as the weapons used from the 20s to the 50s were, spanning from pistols, SGMS rifles and mines to the legendary AK-47 assault rifle, each one being perfectly balanced and studied to react like the real-life originals with several different firing modes for each one; the projectile trajectory is calculated in real time (!!!), allowing the player to exploit ricochet and hitting multiple targets in line.
You can really manipulate the environment in any way you like to achieve your objectives. For example... those snipers on the other side of the building are giving you an hard time? Use a bazooka on the roof positioning yourself in their blind spot and crush them, rather than picking them up one by one with the very high risk of being hit to the head. Problem solved.
The game also provides a perfectly studied sound system: this will not only affect the enemies awareness and your stealth tactics, but it will also allow your characters (based on their perception) to “guess” the position of an enemy they cannot see and try to hit him anyway, sometimes even cutting trough thin walls with high penetration weapons.
“Sentinels” add several new elements: while in the main game you were working for your country, so you could have weapons, medicines and maintenance for free, this time you are on a smaller organization, and you need to find, pay and repair your equipment. This makes the expansion more RPG-ish, forcing a wiser use of the inventory and your reliance on “shops”.
The amount of actions the characters can deploy is impressive: there are six classes (Soldier, Sniper, Grenadier, Medic, Engineer and Scout), each one with its own peculiarities and special perks; the characters can move around in four different ways (run, walk, sneak and crawl), they can heal wounds to regain HP and treat injuries to eliminate critical effects, launch objects, trap doors, pick locks, defuse explosives, hide, snipe and many more.
Each skill can increase by using it, and after enough experience each squad member is allowed to select a class-specific perk.
Unfortunately, I have to move a major criticism to this aspect: character progression is not well balanced in the main game, requiring you a lot of effort an training for minimal results and making a few important skills almost useless. In the main game, you can level up a skill by using it 8 times; this means that while a few key abilities like shooting will not be significantly affected, other vital ones like medicine will always remain very low, giving you a lot of problems in the last missions and putting you against foes much more powerful than you could ever be.
There is a mod to overcome the issue (skill watchdog), yet if you intend to use it be warned: it makes the game way too easy, so in that case I suggest you to play it on the maximum difficulty setting.
Luckily, S3 completely solve this issue with a massive overhaul of the entire system and tying the speed of stats increase to your level and class: for example, a level 1 soldier character will need to shoot ten times to improve their shooting skill form 30 to 31, while a level 5 he will need to fire a single bullet; a medic will react the same way with medicine, but not with guns.
If all this is not enough, know that Silent Storm has tens, maybe hundreds of hours of gameplay, and the good design of maps, clever enemy AI (well, most of the times) and random encounters that can add a solid explorative element will make sure you will never get bored.
I'll add another thing, without going too much into the specifics to avoid spoilers: when you think you know everything there is to now about this game... the plot makes a strange twist, introducing a couple of new, unexpected elements and forcing you to develop new tactics. Some didn't like this aspect, yet I found it awesome.
The audio department has its highs and lows. While the sound effects and the music are very good, the tracks are very few and can get repetitive fast and the voice acting is absolutely terrible.
The actors don't even try to sound convincing, and the accents are so over the top to sound comical.
Really, just try to build a squad with Axis members and you'll see what I mean (also, I can safely state that they had absolutely no idea of how to use Italian words. “Confermare”? It is like saying “To confirm” rather than using “Acknowledged” or “Got it”!)
Another downside is that if you want to maintain a decent framerate you have to disable the shadows on nVidia cards: apparently, the updates made a mess with the rendering, and now the only way to keep them with more than 10 fps is installing a very old version of the drivers. I didn't try this solution though, as I needed the newer ones to run a few other programs; anyway, even without shadows the game is just as good.
Despite its several flaws, Silent Storm is one of the games I enjoyed the most this year, a true hidden gem that does not deserve to remain unnoticed. If you are searching for an excellent TBS experience (I'd dare to say, very close to the legendary Jagged Alliance 2 or X-COM) that will keep you entertained for many, many hours, look no further: Silent Storm is the game for you!
I will warmly recommend it by awarding it with the Official Seal of Approval
So many seals this year... I'm moved... sniff