Silent Storm

Bitter 4/2/2004 

Very good, except for the parts that aren't.

Bitter's Silent Storm House Party concludes with unfortunate results for the two guys who brought the schnapps.
While not particularly enlightening, it's the truth. Overall, I really think that this game is one of the few that could claim to be a spiritual successor to X-Com. While lacking the overall strategic dimension of X-Com (the world view, planning intercepts, running a budget for your bases, deciding what to research), it adds a storyline (sort of) and a much more expansive and intricate tactical system.

Basically, Silent Storm works like this. First you pick "your" character: the lead protagonist. You can either begin with a premade character of one of the several specialties, or start from scratch. Even with the premade character, you can choose from several voices and alter their appearance (I made only basic alterations, but there is quite a detailed set of changes that are possible). It seems quite easy to make a grotesque, some horror out of a John Carpenter movie, while more normal looking people can be a bit on the challenging side, especially for female characters.

The specialties are thus:

'Abala' is the hot new female baby name in Eastern Jihadistan.
Scout -- see, Ninja. Stealthier and with bonuses to melee combat (includes thrown weapons like knives and shuriken (really), so melee encompasses more than just hand-to-hand).

Sniper -- as you'd expect. Good vision for spotting far off enemies, plus a special sniper attack. In this attack, you can spend several turns aiming at a single target (assuming they stay in view), with the percentage chance to hit accumulating as you aim.

Medic -- healing abilities, but still reasonably effective in combat.

Engineer -- ability to set up traps with mines and grenades, plus the ability to search for same, and also lockpicking skills.

Grenadier -- Stronger abilities for throwing and having grenades detonate correctly on target.

Soldier -- The grunt. Achieves quick familiarity (to hit bonuses, quicker firing rate) with weapons. Your basic tank.

From the demo, the scout seemed like the most fun to me, and the premade character of this specialty was female, so that's what I played through for the Allied campaign.

The RPG-type elements to the game are fairly strong, I'd say. Each character has three different attributes (strength, intelligence, dexterity), which affects your maximum health, rate of skill increase, and action points.

To digress: as in X-Com and many other turn-based or equivalent system, at the beginning of a round each character has a number of action points that may be spent in various ways: reloading, moving, throwing grenades, firing on the enemy, and so forth. Reserving APs at the end of the round may allow for what are known in this game as "interrupts" (this is a skill that improves, BTW): if an opposing unit performs an action within view of a character with remaining APs, there is a chance to interrupt their action with an action of your own. For instance, an enemy character may walk around a corner or through a door. Unlike in X-Com, what happens with these APs is not foreordained: you can spend these APs to run away instead of shoot.

RPG Elements!

Looks like Uncle Adolph managed to stealth his way into the Allied task force in the third row, second column there.
Each character has approximately a dozen different skills: sniping, burst (for automatic weapons), throwing, spotting, sniping, sneaking, and so on. These are affected by the actions that your characters take: anyone who practices healing will have their healing skills increase, similarly for sniping. Items in the game can enhance these skills, e.g. medical kits and the healing skill, and many items have limitations on their use: only those with sufficient medical skill can use various advanced medical items: the engineering specialty has analogues in lockpicks and such. You can get medals for heroic behavior after a mission, although I'm a little curious as to what rates sometimes: it seems like getting hurt a lot helps.

You can pick any combination of specialties in the game, provided there are people of that profession available. You may have 5 additional members on a squad for a total of 6. In the beginning of the game, there is a personnel office where you pick your people (you can return to fire someone on your squad and pick a replacement. You may want to do this, because a bug in the game causes these individuals' skills to quickly outpace those in your squad, but the caveat is that soldiers that use the same weapons in multiple missions gain effectiveness with them that is very useful.

With the character selection screen the game shows its giant gleaming gay rainbow of diversity because, as the box touts, each different available character is from a different country. Your choices on the Allied side can include:

a Norwegian sniper
a Korean scout
an Apache (Crow? Hopi? somethin') scout
a Texan sniper
a British Engineer
a Russian Sniper
a Persian Grenadier

...and so on, with similar levels of geographic and cultural diversity in the Axis campaign as well. Each has a distinct personality. I would listen closely to what they say, and pick them based on not only which best makes up your team, but which has the least annoying voice, because you're gonna be hearing it for quite awhile. Characters do gain experience and level up. For each level, they gain a "point" that can be used toward special abilities appropriate to the class: becoming more specialized toward certain weapons, or gaining additional medical or engineering abilities, resistance to wounds: a variety of things.

The game doesn't let you scalp epicanthic folds as trophies, but it does let you harvest your enemies' filthy Axis-engineered knives and swords.
Anyway, team chosen, you can equip them (they have default equipment) from another screen. There is no purchasing of weapons: you can freely pick from what's available, and as you recover weapons from the field you can cache them to use later. In fact, what you can loot quickly surpasses what is available, but you always have to be careful that there is ammunition available. My Allied scout had a particular pistol that is apparently the rarest goddamn shooting iron the world has seen, because I was never able to find ammo for the damn Webley .455 revolver anywhere. Which is too bad, because the thing's a beast.

In fact, a certain someone would spurt given the volume of different types of guns in the game. I'd guesstimate that there are easily 40 different guns of one type or another (actually, that might be substantially low), plus the aforementioned melee weapons. All have appropriate ammo (I guess), which is not mix and match (well, you can, given a 30-round clip of .38 Parabellum, reload your Mauser pistol if you don't have an appropriate clip). There's everything from tiny little Nagent pistols up to the lethal German MG-34 machinegun and Panzerfaust, Bazooka, Piat, and beyond into the fantastic: literally, with Panzerkliens.

Right. So you got a team and they're loaded for bear. Now begins the fun part, because the tactical combat engine is fucking magnificent. You can basically do anything you dream of, just about. On one mission, I had guys in the room above me guarding the stairs so I could only peek above without risking withering fire. What to do? Shoot them through the floor, that's what. In the opposite position? Bounce a grenade down the stairs (there're *lots* of different grenades). Blow a hole in a wall if a door's locked: shoot the door down (but not smash it in by hand, this is one small disappointment), crawl through a window, and so on.

The environment is fully destructible and malleable: windows will get shot out, missed shots leave permanent dings in the sidewalk, shatter lampposts, shake snow off trees, destroy guardrails and balustrades, and punch enemies to the dirt. I've snuck up and headshot a Nazi officer with the aforementioned Webley for absolutely fantastic amounts of damage: all such things are possible -- I've used knives in other instances. There are silenced weapons to avoid alerting other enemies. If you fire a full automatic burst from a heavy machinegun, it's wielder lets out a berzerker yell: this game has a lot of personality.

The physics for most actions is quite reasonable, but is comically amplified for gunplay: hit someone with an MG-34 and you might catapult them back anyways. You can, for instance, shoot someone down through a hole you've just punched through them and the floor beneath them. There is no graphic bloodiness, though: just splashes when shots find their mark. The same is true of your team: as they take damage, their clothing becomes bloodied, and wounds can grow in seriousness, leading to bloodloss that causes continuing damage or loss of abilities (sight, reduction in skills, reduction in APs, etc.). One or two hard shots are enough to put a character out of action, or a single burst from close range (for sure). I'm playing on "normal" difficulty (hard difficulty not only changes the rules, but it changes when/how you are allowed to save, which is why I've only limited experience with it thus far), so that a reduction to 0 APs only leads to unconsciousness that can be cured after a battle. On hard, 0 APs == death. Note that substantial reduction past 0 can still kill a character on normal: don't get with a series of Piat rounds or grenades.

Graphics are, in my opinion, very good. There is some slowdown on Ti4200 Pro, but graphical options can be tweaked quite a lot to suit. Sound is also pretty good: the music is atmospheric but not bothersome. Each character has their own personality, and will make remarks based on how things are doing: when they spot an enemy, when they make a kill, when they are hurt, when someone else on the team misses or makes a spectacular hit, etc. They each have a number of phrases, and, best of all, several are reserved for use only in the latter part of the game, and I still occasionally catch one I've never head before. Beautiful. Remarks are in the language and accent appropriate to the character. It adds substantial variety and really brings depth to the game. However, as mentioned above, some of the more common phrases can start to gnaw on your mind a bit. The phrase "I am improving" may be among these if you, by chance, happened to pick Ramos. A lot.

The mission environments are fairly varied, but typically urbanish. Missions can be damn long depending upon how aggressive you are: I played somewhere on the order of 50 hours or more to complete the Allied campaign. A more aggressive style of play could probably cut this by a third to a half: still a reasonably long game.

Saving: awesome. F5 to autosave, F8 to restore. Keeps two autosaves and rotates them, in case you make a mistake. F6 to make a regular save game, F7 to restore. Saving is very quick, restoring not too awful. Load times are reasonable on my machine (~5-10 seconds, I'd guesstimate: XP2500+, 1GB of PC3200), but once loaded, that's it, yer pretty much good to go until you quit.

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