Steel Division: Normandy 44 Review – Can You Say: Strategy in Spades?

 

Steel Division: Normandy 44
Eugen Systems/Paradox Interactive

World War II games sort of remind me of the whole zombie craze. Both reached the heights of their respective popularity years ago, yet many gaming developers clung to the notion that they could still turn out a good zombie or WWII title here and there. This culminated in crossover WWII/zombie titles where the Germans were unfairly portrayed as lumbering undead minions of evil in games such as the Zombie Army Trilogy and many others.

On the WWII side of things, many developers have finally moved on after seemingly getting every last drop out of the genre’s tired and worn out well. Some have regressed further to the first Great War with games such as Verdun and Battlefield I, while others have begun to dip back into the Vietnam War with titles like Rising Storm: Vietnam.

Amazingly, a few developers have chosen to release WWII games like they were still as hot as flapjacks. One of those companies is Parisian developer Eugen Systems. To be fair, there probably wasn’t much else to cover that they haven’t done before. Their previous, more recent titles, Wargame: European Escalation, Wargame: Airland Battle, Wargame: Red Dragon, and Act of Aggression, covered the 1970s all the way up to modern times. So I believe some of the motive might have been based on necessity and lack of options, era-wise.

Their new WWII offering, Steel Division: Normandy 44, is certainly jam-packed with more authenticity than I’ve seen in many RTS titles. There are six countries involved in this game’s version of WWII, along with a whopping eighteen different divisions, divided between airborne, mechanized, infantry, and armor. On top of that, Eugen meticulously handcrafted over 400 historically accurate units from that era.

Similar to their past Wargame titles, Steel Division: Normandy lets players build up decks of units using a certain allotment of points in order to form Battlegroups. Although sadly there isn’t any base building present in the game, each unit can be repaired in the field by repair units. There is also limited amount of ammunition for each unit, so a careful eye must be kept on that as well. Fortunately, units may be resupplied in combat as well, so long as you have decent supply lines set up.

One of the new key features present in Steel Division: Normandy, which makes it very distinct from previous Wargame titles, is that there is a shifting frontline present in each conflict. Since it is easy to identify on the map, this line gives players a visual que as to how their forces are doing in relation to their enemies. Just keep in mind that although this line represents a side’s relative strength, it doesn’t account for reconnaissance vehicles or hidden infantry units. This brilliant exception allows for some dastardly surprise attacks, as a player can plant units stealthily during the first phase of the conflict, and then attempt to pull of clever ambushes later on as things heat up.

Speaking of phases, Steel Division: Normandy’s battles play out over the course of three phases, simply titled A, B, and C. A is generally a scouting and reconnaissance phase, as well as a good time for players to set up the placement of their units on the battlefield. By phase B, fierce conflicts are usually underway and it’s time to get down and dirty. Phase C represents the deployment of your Battlegroup’s best units, so expect to see elite infantry, serious air power, and the most powerful armored units present, all slugging it out with one another.

The battles themselves play out very organically. Although each multiplayer battle has one of two objectives—either to destroy the most enemy units or capture the most territory, how a side reaches their goals never plays out the same. For instance, one minute the Allied Forces might be trying to capture a bridge and the next they may be attempting to liberate a town from Axis powers. But say, for instance, you catch a convoy of enemy supply trucks on that bridge and attempt to capture them, and in doing so cut off valuable reinforcements to enemy forces? Or how about entering that dilapidated town with some tanks, only to find out that enemy anti-armor infantry has been waiting there to ambush you? The myriad of possibilities is astounding, and makes each battle both dynamic and harrowing.

As far as presentation goes, the developers of Steel Division: Normandy should really be applauded for their meticulous attention to detail. Each unit reminded me of a hand-crafted miniature that some WWII modeler geek had poured countless hours into painting. Heck, I had lots of fun simply ogling over the vast array of units in the Battlegroup creation screen—they’re simply gorgeous.

But when the battles actually unfold you’ll really get to see how Eugen has really taken their in-house IRISZOOM graphics engine to new heights. Although you can take a more traditional aerial view of the action, when you zoom down into the fray you won’t be disappointed with how detailed each battle looks. During my multiplayer games, some battles got so intense that whole villages and towns were razed to the ground because of all of the firepower that my enemies and I had brought to bear, leaving behind nothing except smoldering embers and large shell craters.

It must be said, however, that Steel Division: Normandy is much more of a thinking man’s game than some of the more MOBA-esque wannabe RTS’s that we’ve been subjected to as of late. You can’t just rush in with your best units and expect to win through sheer firepower. If you do try that type of tactic, you’ll probably end up getting outflanked, or torn to shreds by defensively placed units. Therefore, careful reconnaissance, unit positioning, and map awareness will trump raw firepower any day.

Steel Division: Normandy 44 is a splendid spectacle of an RTS game. It offers new, unique features that have strategic gravitas, beautifully rendered visuals, dynamic and emergent battles, and tons of replay value. Even if you’re not a fan of the WWII era, you’ll probably still want to give this magnificent strategy title a gander.

SCORE: 87%

Steel Division: Normandy 44 features highly detailed graphics that make its WWII-theme come alive. However, you want to have a pretty beefy gaming PC or gaming laptop in order to play it at a decent framerate. So, you may just want to invest in a decent gaming rig:

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