Strategic Mind: Spectre of Communism is the third game in the Strategic Mind series by Starni Games. This turn-based strategy series follows various campaigns through World War II and this time you have the might of Russia’s Red Army at your disposal.
The different games in this series appear to be very similar and seem more like expansions rather than sequels. However, they have garnered a very loyal following who should appreciate everything this latest iteration has to offer. As a lover of all things strategy, I enjoyed Strategic Mind: Spectre of Communism, but not all is well in the motherland.
STORY – WWII, WHAT DID YOU EXPECT?
As mentioned above, Strategic Mind: Spectre of Communism takes you through World War II from the Russian perspective. The development team is passionate about the history surrounding this war and has kept the campaign’s story very close to facts while throwing in some “alternate history moments” to keep things fresh. The key figure in the campaign is obviously Joseph Stalin but the history buff among you will also recognize many of his comrades.
The campaign includes 20 missions and spans the events from 1939 through 1945. The game description promises around 80 hours of gameplay but your mileage may vary depending on the difficulty level.
GAMEPLAY – GEAR UP AND MOVE OUT
Strategic Mind: Spectre of Communism is a turn-based strategy game and if you’ve played any such games in the past, you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding your feet. However, there are a number of elements which you might be unfamiliar with, this is why they’ve included a very detailed tutorial that holds your hand from start to finish to make sure you know exactly what every button does and every menu entails. The tutorial is also narrated, a minor touch I always appreciate.
Each mission provides a list of primary and secondary objectives. Only the primary objectives need to be completed to progress but you have the option to continue playing until everything has been done. Mostly, the objectives tasks you with killing units and claiming buildings, and the more you complete the more rewards you’ll unlock for your HQ which in turn unlocks other bonuses. The gameplay is as you’d expect from a game such as this but there are several elements that add layers of strategy to Strategic Mind and will have you pondering your next move much longer than you thought. There are also 5 difficulty levels to provide a fun and challenging experience for all skill levels.
There are several unit types including tank, anti-tank, artillery, infantry, anti-aircraft, reconnaissance, and that’s not even mentioning the air and naval units. Each unit type will include several units which seem a little daunting at first, however, to keep to the historical accuracy of the theme, you will only unlock newer units at the corresponding time in history. Mostly, newer units are just slightly upgraded versions of the old ones so the unit roster, while quite varied, is manageable. The naval units come with a few noteworthy differences. Most naval units have several weapons and you can select which ones to use when firing on an enemy. When attacking naval units it’s also possible to target a specific weapon in an attempt to disable it rather than do overall damage that might not benefit you in the short term.
Each unit type has a unique set of upgrades and equipment that can be fitted. Upgrading or equipping a unit costs prestige, a resource that can also be used to call in additional reinforcements. The equipment can play a major role if you let it since they all provide fantastic bonuses which could be uniquely beneficial to each mission. My main gripe with this feature is that the equipment doesn’t update the unit models or animations. I once equipped my infantry with flamethrowers to make quick work of the bunkers standing in my way, and while they did receive the additional buff, when they attacked, they’re unit animations still just used a machine gun. This is a giant missed opportunity in my opinion.
Other equipment includes things like sapper squads which allow your tanks to detect minefields and smoke grenades which greatly increases a unit’s defense but makes them unable to attack. There is also equipment that has to be activated after purchase and only works for a limited time like special types of ammo that do more damage to certain unit types. The unit upgrades are a bit more straight forward and allow you to do things like increase a unit’s close quarters defense, give them additional movement points, or remove attack penalties when fighting at night.
That brings me nicely to the weather and night cycles which have an adverse effect on combat. Rain is the most common weather phenomenon and will give all units a bonus to their camouflage but also apply a 33% attack penalty. The night cycle appears every third turn and reduces your spotting range by 50% and all attack parameters by a massive 66%. Fighting at night or during a storm is a good time to regroup and reposition but fighting during this time could quite possibly cost you a victory.
Supplies are of paramount importance in this game. Each unit will have limited ammo and motorized units will have limited fuel. For these to be refilled, you need to be within the supply range of buildings you captured. There are a few different buildings but mostly they all just expand your supply zone. Aircraft are a bit trickier when it comes to supply as WWII planes couldn’t refuel mid-air and thus they have to land at an airport once they run out of juice.
Finally, we get to the entrenchment factor which is your unit’s ability to fortify their position with sandbags when they have movement points left at the end of the turn. Each turn a unit is left in the same spot, the entrenchment level grows to a certain point, and grants you massive defensive bonuses which is extremely useful in the right situations.
The gameplay in Strategic Mind: Spectre of Communism isn’t anything we haven’t seen before but the various strategic elements listed above mean that even the most linear battles can be strategized up to wazoo, a tactic I suspect you’ll be needing when playing on the higher difficulties.
DESIGN – OH DEAR
Nothing in the design, whether visual or audio, really impressed me. Some aspects of the design are acceptable like the terrain designs, the unit portraits, and the UI. The sound effects and tracks are also some of the higher points in this section. There aren’t many sound effects included but they do their job admirably while the soundtracks are good and appropriate for the setting but tend to be a little on the dramatic side which might have you turning down the volume sooner rather than later. Finally, I rather liked how a selected unit will rotate to follow your mouse pointer.
That, I’m afraid, is where the positivity ends. Let’s start with the unit models which are easily identifiable but are incredibly bland and should have received more detail. Their animations are even worse, they are mechanical and don’t always accurately represent the unit as I mentioned above when equipping certain weapons. The camera zoom level also felt off, I was constantly switching between zoom levels because I felt either too close or too far, a variable zoom feature would go a long way here. Then there’s the number of visual queues on the battlefield to keep you informed of everything which honestly makes it difficult to see your units even when you’re looking straight at them.
Finally, we come to the cutscenes and I struggle to find the words. This is a story-driven game and the story is primarily told through cutscenes so these are pretty important. I can honestly say, this is the worst video animation and voice acting I’ve come across in many, many years. Everything looks like it’s modeled from clay and therefore has barely any movement available, it’s down-right amateurish by today’s standards. The same goes for the voice acting, I’ve heard children read scripts with more flair. What’s worse is how the accents jump around from American to British to what sounded like it could be Scandinavian. Some actors tried their hand at a Russian accent and failed miserably.
It’s a terrible shame because the cutscenes are lengthy and you can see how much effort was put into them. However, if you don’t have the resources to do something properly then it’s probably best to go with a different approach. The first games of the series were plagued by these same design bloopers but unfortunately, the developers haven’t lent their ears to the feedback surrounding it.
Strategic Mind: Spectre of Communism was reviewed via PC through Steam. We were provided a review key from Starni Games.