Steel Division: Normandy 44 PC Review

Historical RTS’s are something I rarely touch. Ever since I played Blitzkreig 2 many years ago. There was always something that stopped me, either I didn’t like the mechanics; I felt they got the history wrong or bought too much into the myths of the period and the invincible Tiger. Here I get the brutal start to the campaign to retake Europe and I can’t help find myself being sucked in.

Gameplay

The first thing I have to say about this is that it was not what I was expecting. I was expecting something where I had to be far more active, my attention would be focused on small event after small event, after small event. That each time I swapped to a new part of the map, I would be seeing more action, more enemy, more trouble.

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This isn’t the case for a few good and surprising reasons. The first is that my force, division, actually felt competent. That they would fall back when under fire, reposition for their own advantage. I saw this happen in infantry, anti-tank guns, tanks and other armoured vehicles. The other is that the information I need to play this game is so neatly presented.

Let’s take a moment to talk about the tanks and off map supports. When wondering if I could call in an air strike, I had simply to look at one corner and I could see that my bombers were still refuelling and that I would have a while to wait. That my fighters were reloading and I could use them shortly. This made it easy to plan my upcoming offensives, to know I could weaken, drive the enemy out of their held positions and force them back.

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Tanks are a funny thing and while I do have some complaints, I also have a bit to praise here. Firstly in the presentation of information you have about your vehicles. You can easily see what they are capable of and where they fit. Early units, A phase units, might seem to have little value, yet down the line they can have the firepower you need. Telling that your tank destroyer has a good chance of dealing with the enemy is as simple as looking at a number, same for their armour. Both are sufficiently different that you don’t ever question what you are looking at.

Where I do have some complaints is that perhaps this studio has bought into the myth of tanks at the time. Of the invincible German ‘cat’ and more. I found Tigers when they did appear a frustration and often the target of my bombers, ground attack aircraft. On a few occasions, I would get them with anti-tanks and enjoy the explosions I saw.

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Infantry are easily the star of this game. While they do come in a number of specialised units, your basic squad is more than capable of holding their own. Supported with machine guns, mortar, bazookas and more you can achieve quite a lot. Smoke rounds allow them to advance under cover, protected from machine gun fire. Machines can hold large areas and have a great, threatening staccato beat. Anti-tank guns can dominate a sector, should they also be appropriately supported.

Even more surprisingly I had to work hard to keep myself informed of the frontline. Recon units are not secondary units at all and require careful management. Seeing what the enemy is doing is quite important and is the difference between losing a squad and holding a flank. While some of the obvious weakest units at your disposal you can’t do without them, at all. Information and co-ordination is the key to victory in this game, single or multiplayer.

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Another complaint is the lack of single player, for me. With only three campaigns and a total of nine missions, I do have to admit to feeling cheated. I look to the single player to tell me a story, let me learn the game and dynamics of, that when I try the multiplayer, I know what should work and how. That at the end of the day, there’s a good foundation for my knowledge, strategy and tactics. While the tutorial is informative, it also grates and doesn’t provide all that it is needed.

Audio and Visuals

When I first looked at the maps, I couldn’t help but wonder if some of them are based on aerial photography from the time. There’s just a nature to the map I can’t help but wonder about. They felt lived in, in use. Some of these hedge rows have been there for hundreds, if not thousands of years. They have been quite well created, recreated. The units themselves are quite detailed and with mine, I was sure I could see different fabrics, the small pieces of kit on their belt and more. Even the tanks and vehicles had little features, writing on them which was easy for me to see.

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The sound design of this game is hard for me to explain easily. It’s hard to ignore at first, when you heard a machine gun open up, artillery fire or more fire, it’s easy to pick it up. The air raid siren is loud and obvious. Another area that stands out is in the voice acting. Each unit is correct to its country of origin to my ear. I can’t help but appreciate this. I think I even heard a shout out to the old TV series Band of Brothers from the AB Rifles.

Multiplayer

This game seems set up for multiplayer. The gradual escalation and use of cards to build your force gives you a degree of customisation and control I can’t help but like. That as you scout out the map, work out the choke points you can develop your plan to hold or assault them. With each of the different divisions present, you can work out what works for you. Do you prefer infantry and an early rush, there’s divisions that support that. You might prefer a heavier division, slow build up but you get the heavy armour at the end.

Overall

This game is hard for me to really get into. When I saw how short the single player was, I was disappointed. Quite disappointed actually, I had hoped to see more of Normandy, the earliest phases of the invasion. Yet, the more I look into the accuracy, the details and the maps, keep me coming back. With an intelligent opponent, AI or human, it’s a challenge to win each game. The customisation will also keep me coming back, as I try out new combinations and more, looking for any edge over my opponent.

75_Rating

Written by

Leon Peters-Malone

Old hat gamer who’s start goes back to the Sega MegaDrive and still remembers seeing the Genesis on store shelves. Mainly a strategy gamer, I dabble in most other genres. There’s a long list of stand out titles I want to see come back, Ground Control, Homeworld, MechCommander, a proper send off to the Tiberium world of Westwood’s creation. Also very partial to most things set in space, especially at the fleet side of things. Current gaming gear include the Xbox 360 and Xbox One, PS3 and PC.

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