The Eastern Front in WW2 is often overlooked by video games, but Partisans 1941 makes that setting its home in this real-time tactics game. Taking place under German occupation, you control a squad of resistance fighters, undertaking daring missions, while also introducing some base-building and resource management mechanics to the genre.
You start the game as Commander Zorin of the Red Army, who escapes a German POW camp and sets up a group of guerrilla fighters who conduct missions from their secretive woodland base. As your squad gradually grows, each character joins with their own special abilities and skill trees. Zorin, for example is equipped with a throwing knife for stealthy kills, while another character, Sanek can use a disguise to slip past enemies unnoticed. That’s not to say that all of the abilities are stealth based; Fetisov’s main ability is to spray multiple enemies with a burst of SMG fire, while Vavara is able to take a ‘sniper’ shot with greater accuracy and range – perfect for long-range kills.
Each mission allows you to pick a number of your partisans to take part, with objectives that range from rescuing innocent civilians from execution, to obliterating an enemy garrison to disrupt the occupation. Each mission can also have optional side-quests, the difficulty of which is often determined by what partisans you brought along to the mission. It can be difficult to judge from the initial mission briefing which partisans would be best to bring based on their skills – I tended to favour the more stealth-based characters, while ensuring that there was one or two combat focused partisans just in case things kicked off or I came across a large group of patrolling Germans that I couldn’t eliminate one by one.
The maps are of a good size, often offering multiple routes to your overall objective. I’d favour sticking to the more open fringes of the map where there’s fewer enemies, but a more heads on approach leads to more combat and being able to loot enemies and buildings for ammunition and items.
Despite all of the enemies being well armed with machineguns and seemingly endless ammunition, it’s annoyingly rare to find much ammo on their bodies or looting boxes and buildings. That in turn encourages the player to play more tactfully, but I’d prefer to see some balance changes (at least for the ‘Easy’ difficulty) that makes finding ammo more plentiful as there’s nothing more frustrating than running out of ammo in a firefight.
You’ll find yourself moving ammo or special items between your characters often. These items can be deadly in the right hands – another favoured tactic of mine is to place bottles to lure guards away from their patrol routes and to more secluded spots. Vavara can unlock the skill to take this a step further and fill the bottle with chloroform to knock them out.
As with most games in this genre – I’m sure you’ve heard of Commandos, Shadow Tactics and Desperados – a key mechanic is the ‘tactical pause’ which allows you to plan and execute your attack, fully utilising your partisan’s special abilities. It works pretty well, but it would have been nice if you could queue multiple actions for each partisan, such as selecting successive enemies to engage. There can also be a few problems in synchronising your attack if the ability animations are of different lengths, but once you’ve perfected your strategy, it will often yield a satisfying result with several dead enemies ready for plundering.
When you are mid-fight, it’s important to micro-manage your partisans, directing them at to which enemy to engage, while also ensuring that they are using the most appropriate weapon or using grenades and other equipment at the right moment. Sometimes it can feel a bit one-sided with the enemy AI having X-ray-like vision once they are alerted, shooting your partisans who only moments ago were concealed in a bush. It will force you back to cover to get a defence bonus, or to flee, perhaps leading them into an ambush. Caution is important though, because if any member of your squad dies, it’s game over.
When things don’t quite go to plan (which is often), it’s easy to hit the reload button and resume from your last quick save. That is unless; you’re playing on the hardest difficulty in which saving mid-game isn’t allowed. I’ll be honest, I found some aspects of the game hard enough as it is, and the prospect of losing your mission progress does not appeal to me in the slightest!
Each mission lasts about 30-60 minutes, so I’d imagine only the most dedicated fans will attempt the game on the hardest difficulty, and even have several playthroughs under their belt to learn the ins and outs. It’s not just knowing the best method for each mission, but also understanding each of the character’s strengths and weaknesses and how to fully utilise their abilities.
Between missions, there is a base-building aspect in which you must look after your camp. Each day, you can decide what work you set your characters too, from fishing and collect food, to logging and gathering other resources. Alternatively, you send them out to ambush convoys for you or deliver propaganda leaflets to boost morale. With these resources, you can then build various buildings, such as a hospital tent or workshop, which can then craft items for your upcoming missions and eventually upgrade your weapons.
In theory, your partisans can pick up ‘long term’ injuries during missions. While most of the time you can use health kits to regain heath, other injuries will persist throughout the mission, requiring you to then patch them up at the hospital tent once back in base. In reality, I found that unless each engagement went in my favour, I’d simply reload the last save and give it another attempt. Of course in the hardest difficulty this isn’t possible, so it’s pretty much a feature you can be ignored on the easy and normal difficulties.