In June of 1941, the German Blitzkrieg began rolling across Eastern Europe and into the the Soviet Union. With a force of 3,000,000, the Germans advanced along an 1,800 mile wide front against an unprepared foe whose leadership had been weakened by Josef Stalin’s purges. As the Germans made deep penetrations into Russian territory, nearly 5,000,000 Soviet troops were captured. However, many avoided capture and continued fighting behind enemy lines as irregular forces known as Partisans.
What is Partisans 1941?
Partisans 1941 is a real-time tactics game with stealth elements. Players lead a band of Russian partisans against the German invaders by performing tactical raids while also gathering resources and building a base for their operations. The game is designed by Alter Games and published by Daedalic Entertainment. Partisans 1941 is available on Steam for PC and sells for $29.99.
Playing Partisans 1941
Partisans 1941 begins right after the German invasion with Commander Zorin, a Soviet officer who has been captured during the Eastern Blitzkrieg. During the first mission, you help him escape using stealth tactics to meet up with some allies. Since they are behind enemy lines and their units have either been killed or captured, they begin fighting against the invaders as partisans. The game is divided into two main parts: the tactical missions and the strategic operations. During the missions you directly control up to four partisans as they work to complete their objectives. In-between each mission, you spend a few days at your base hidden in the woods. This is the part of the game where you prepare for future missions. Let’s take a look at each part individually.
When you set off from your base for the tactical missions, you can select up to three partisans for the job. During some missions you may find a fourth character who will join your band as you fight against the enemy. In every single mission, you are outnumbered and outgunned. Therefore, stealth becomes a key part of gameplay. As they move, your characters make noise. To move, just select a location on the map and left-click with the mouse. The character will begin walking to that location. If they are near enemies, they will automatically crouch down a bit and move slower and quieter. You can double-click to make your character sprint or right click to cancel an order which is useful if you run into a previously unseen enemy. There are also many bushes on the maps in which your partisans can hide. When in hiding, their image on the screen turns to a silhouette to show you they cannot be seen by enemies. The game uses fog of war so you can only see enemies on the map if your partisans are close enough to detect them.
The enemies vary in ability. During the early mission, you are mostly dealing with Polezei who are the lowest ranking enemies. In later missions, the Wehrmacht soldiers are more difficult to kill and are more dangerous when they attack. By right-clicking on an enemy, a vision cone appears showing you where the enemy is looking. Often the cone will move back and forth as the enemy scans an area. As long as your characters stay out of the vision cone, they won’t be seen. When an enemy either sees or hears you, an exclamation mark appears over their head. While it starts out hollow, as you continue to make noise or are within the vision cone, the mark begins to fill. Once completely full, the enemy is alerted to your presence and they start attacking.
Since your partisans can’t take on the enemy in regular firefights, you need to use stealth attacks to whittle down their numbers. Commander Zorin has an ability to throw a knife. This attack makes little noise and kills an enemy instantly. Every character can be given a knife and assault enemies. However, the enemy will fight back and this often causes some noise. Depending on the character’s melee combat ability, and the type of enemy, your partisan could take damage or even be killed during such an assault, so it is best to avoid those confrontations. All characters can use items to distract enemies. Pick up rocks from locations on the map and throw them to cause enemies to look in the direction where the rock lands. Place bottles within the vision cone of enemies and they will walk over to investigate, luring them away from their comrades and into one of your traps. One of your characters can even use a special ability to appear as an innocent teenager and walk right among the enemies so long as he does not go into secure areas of the map. With upgraded skills, he can even talk to enemies and focus their attention on himself. There are even bear traps you can place along an enemies path that will kill them when they step on it. Be sure to hide the bodies of your enemies in the bushes. If they are spotted by living enemies, they will know you are in the area and begin a search. As long as they don’t come across your partisans, they will eventually go back to their regular locations or patrol routes.
While you can accomplish a lot through stealth tactics, there are times when you need to use your firearms. Every character has a backpack and can carry several items of equipment and weapons. Though each partisan can specialize in one or two types of firearms, outfit them how you see fit. You can assign two weapons to have at the ready and with a keystroke, switch between the two. Ammo is also important. Make sure you have the right type of ammo and enough of it in a character’s backpack or they won’t do much shooting. To attack an enemy with the currently selected weapon, left-click on the enemy and your partisan will move into range if not already so and start shooting. Once a firefight starts, all of the partisans will automatically start shooting at the enemies closest to them. You can assign them targets as well. A nice feature that comes in handy during a firefight is the ability to enter a slow-motion mode by pressing the space bar. This slows down the action quite a bit so you can easily give orders to all of your partisans. Press the space bar again to return to normal time. The slow-motion mode is great for starting an attack such as during an ambush. Press the space bar and then cycle through your partisans to give them each a target. It is also useful once the fight has begun to order characters to move to other positions, change weapons, or select a new target. In order to minimize the amount of damage your partisans take, make use of cover. Vehicles, fallen trees, wall, and buildings all provide cover. If you move the cursor near these items, you can find positions of cover. Click on them to send a character to take cover behind that object.
Shooting makes a lot of noise. If there are other enemies who can hear they shooting, they will come running and join the combat. Therefore it is a good idea to clear out nearby enemies with stealth tactics before you get into a firefight. If your partisans are wounded, characters can carry first aid and medical supplies for healing. An interesting feature is that characters can gain severe wounds such as broken bones. These can limit the character until they are treated back at base or given medicine that temporarily eliminates negative effects of wounds. For example, a partisan with a broken arm can only use a knife or a pistol, not a submachine gun, rifle, or shotgun.
Since your partisans are on their own and do not have a supply of weapons coming from the Red Army, they have to scrounge for their weapons, ammo, and equipment. Some can be picked up from fallen enemies. Throughout the missions, there are crates, shelves, desks, cabinets, and other objects that hold items. Pressing the ALT key will reveal these locations as well as doors and even enemies. In addition, to getting weapons and ammo, it is important for the partisans to look for food, medical supplies, and other resources they need back at base. As a general rule, never leave anything behind when leaving a mission.
Finally, since you are likely to make mistakes, the game has a quick save and quick load feature. With a single keystroke, you can save the game. Another keystroke will load your last quick save. This feature allows and even encourages players to experiment with tactics as they learn the game and master partisan combat.
When you finish a mission, your partisans return to their base in the woods. There is not much there at the start. However, over the course of the game, you can build structures for healing wounds, providing food and resources, upgrading weapons, and even making your own equipment such as mines and grenades. Each day at the base, you can assign your characters various operations. Since the partisans have to eat, you need to ensure you have enough food for them. You bring back any food you collect during missions. However, you will need to find other sources of food. Assign a character to fish or once you build structures such as a smokehouse, you can have characters make more food. Other operations include making resources so you can expand your base. There are also raids and propaganda operations to which you can assign partisans. These reward you with weapons, ammo, resources, and/or experience. These usually have a percentage chance of success which increases as you assign more partisans or resources to these operations. What you do during your days at the base can have an impact on your tactical missions.
Each partisan gains experience during missions as well as through successfully completing operations from the base. As they level up, your characters earn skill points which you can use to upgrade them. Every partisan has a special skill you must purchase with points and can then upgrade it further. As mentioned earlier, Commander Zorin’s skill is knife throwing. By upgrading this skill, you can increase the range he can throw knives and even get a second knife so you can attack two soldiers before having to retrieve his throwing knives. Other skills include pistol attacks, submachine gun bursts, shotgun blasts, and sniper shots with a rifle. Some of these skills require the character to have the correct weapon equipped to use them. In addition to special abilities, partisans can use skill points to specialize in certain types of weapons. Zorin can upgrade his abilities with pistols and rifles. Others specialize with shotguns or submachine guns. Further skill points can be spent on improving melee attacks, stealth movement, and getting more protection from cover. These skills let you customize your partisans to your style of play.
I have been a big fan of real-time tactics games for over 20 years after playing Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines. More recent games such as Desperados III, which I reviewed a few months ago, continue demonstrating that this type of game continues to be popular. Most of these types of games focused on just the tactical missions with characters that were set and could not be upgraded. Each had a specialty and only certain actions they can take. While gameplay may be similar, Partisans 1941 takes the genre in a new direction that really fits the theme. Just like the real partisans of WWII, your characters have to be resourceful and use what they have and what they can find to complete their objectives and live to fight another day. The operations level of the game is also something new which really adds to the strategic part of the game. As you gain more partisans, you use up more food each day. Therefore, you have to use some of them to gather food or collect resources rather than going on raids. If you don’t treat a wound back at base, they will still have that wound for the next mission. Items you use in one mission, such as tripwires and mines, are no longer available for future missions unless you build them or find more during missions. This logistical element creates a campaign feel to the game.
While there is a lot of emphasis on stealth tactics, in fact it is difficult to win without it, firefights are also a lot of fun. You rarely win an engagement by going in with guns blazing. Instead, setting up the perfect ambush can be very rewarding. Choosing the right location, making sure your partisans have cover, taking advantage of special abilities, and ensuring each of your characters can use their weapon effectively are all important. Throw in mines, grenades, or other explosives and your firefights will literally be a real blast.
Though this is Alter Games first release, this Russian company is staffed by people with a lot of experience in successful video game design. Partisans 1941 is a great effort. As a history major with an emphasis on military history and a lot of research and study into WWII, I really enjoyed the theme of this game. Too many games focus on D-Day, the big battles, or armored combat with lots of units. Partisans 1941, though it states it is not recreating actual historical events, does a great job telling a story of what partisans did on the Eastern Front. Most people do not even know they existed and those who do only know generalities. These brave men and women fought how, when, and where they could and created a resistance behind enemy lines. While they did not win the war, they did force the German Army to keep units back from the front to try to pacify these fighters.
Not only do I appreciate a new and unique story, Partisans 1941 is a lot of fun to play. While other games of this genre tend to have a puzzle aspect to them, this game offers more flexibility and customization as you can choose how to upgrade each partisan and then decide which three you will take on a mission. Who you select can really determine your tactics. I am really enjoying playing through this game and like trying out different partisans and new tactics. Each mission is a bit different with objectives ranging from blowing up an enemy tank while it is being repaired to saving civilians from being executed or searching for missing partisans. While this game is not for everyone, I highly recommend Partisans 1941 for those who enjoy a thinking, real-time tactical game with both stealth and action as well as an engaging, original story.
Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes. The thoughts expressed in this article are my own and not that of the publisher or the editors of GeekDad.com.