World War II has not only provided a hit theme for many first-person shooters over the years, it has also spawned some solid real-time strategy games. It's not hard to see why when the rich history is taken into account, as well as the advanced military vehicles of the time. The unique setting and intense conflict provide for what are potentially the greatest strategic moments of all time; which are exploited to their fullest in the recent title set in this timeframe, Rush for Berlin.
Developed by Stormregion and published by Paradox Interactive, Rush for Berlin is set in the midst of the battlefields of Europe during the end of the Second World War. Playing as either the American, British, French or Soviet forces between 1944 and 1945, gamers are challenged to defeat the enemy forces with whatever means possible. This may mean organizing a ground assault with a mix of infantry and tanks, or using your officer to call in a tactical air strike to clear the way. Rush for Berlin offers endless strategies to complete each mission; players must not only organize existing units and acquire more when necessary, they must also take into account the terrain and advantages it may offer. Units can occupy vehicles and buildings, offering strategic advantages over those out in the open.
Single player gameplay in Rush for Berlin is split across four different campaigns, listed in order of increasing difficulty: Russian, Western, German and French. The Russian and Western campaigns consist of seven missions each, and the stories focus on each group attempting to reach Berlin before the other. This creates a sense of urgency and competition within the campaign in addition to the war setting itself and is a welcome challenge. The German campaign is slightly different, focusing more on a fictional story where some of the German engineering prototypes have actually been created, allowing the player to re-write history to some extent. In order to avoid creating a potentially disastrous outcome, the game's designers have decided that Hitler has been removed from power and the focus of Germany at this time is shifted to a nation fighting for survival. This allows for an interesting "what-if" situation that does not glorify the atrocities that occurred. Finally, the French campaign is a bonus campaign, focusing on the French Resistance and the role they played in helping the Allies land in France and liberate the country from German control.
Missions in RFB begin with a briefing and a screen where players can view a birds-eye view video of the map they will encounter and an outline of the path they will take to accomplish their objectives. All missions include a number of required objectives, as well as some optional objectives. Of course, objectives can change and new objectives can be added during the mission, unveiling more of the story. Players will also select their units on this screen from a group of core units up to a set limit for each type of unit. This core group will gain experience between missions if they remain alive and stay with the player. It also contains the officers a player has under his or her control, which are similar to heroes in other real-time strategy games. Officers are also the only units that can call in air support during combat.
Rush For Berlin includes over 100 different units with various abilities, a variety of vehicles to drive, and several aircraft for each army. In-game, both vehicles and troops can be produced using factories and barracks respectively. RFB also has a plethora of multiplayer modes available, including a co-op mode, Deathmatch, Domination (a flag-based game), R.U.S.H (Relentlessly Utilized Score Hunt) where players must occupy various targets for points and R.I.S.K (Race-Intensive Strategic Kombat) in which players get one to three tasks to complete during the game.
Rush for Berlin is a fully 3D game with a camera that has a full range of motion available. The terrain is highly detailed and positioning affects a unit's effectiveness in battle. There are dynamic shadows and very nice water effects in the game to top it off. Players can zoom out and opt for a more typical strategy birds-eye view, or zoom right in to the action and view it at an incredible level of detail. During gameplay, the time of day changes from day to night, and the weather changes to influence the outcome of the mission. RFB features cutscenes before, during, and after missions to move the story along; however, the purpose of some of these is debatable. Also, the incredibly poor voice acting detracts from these immensely. Fortunately, these do not affect the game as a whole all too much.
Overall, Rush for Berlin is a solid entry into the real-time strategy genre. Although there is little focus on building units for the more skilled players, the strategy required to manage the troops that players start with more than makes up for this. The gameplay suffers from similar problems with clunky unit selection and a few minor pathfinding issues that keep units circling each other or not quite approaching the point indicated. However, the intense and exciting action makes up for these shortcomings. The only other issue I had with the game was with the Starforce protection scheme utilized; several times, in a seemingly random display of frustration, it would not authenticate my game disc for whatever reason. Although I suspect this is a rare occurrence, I still worry that there are inherent problems with this much debated copy protection system.
Despite any bad news, RFB presents a great storyline in the latter part of WWII from four unique perspectives. Whether you are playing the Western or Russian campaign and racing to Berlin, or the much different German or French campaigns, you will enjoy this one thoroughly. On top of presenting a challenging strategic experience, Rush for Berlin looks simply amazing. If you are a fan of strategy games and looking for a different take on the WWII setting, be sure to check this one out.