Stealth and tactics games go incredibly well together. Shadow Tactics was a smash hit game that had a heavy emphasis on stealth, and Desperados III took that same formula, and upped the ante with great level design and impressive character synergy. When I got the chance to play Partisans 1941, I expected a whole new take on the real time tactics genre—what I got instead was something that feels like an homage with a few twists.
Partisans 1941 is a real time tactics game with a stealth focus. You control up to a three person squad as you complete objectives across various missions. You control a team of Russian partisans, behind enemy lines in occupied Russia. You will lead a resistance cell through various insurgency operations, and even manage the day-to-day activities between missions, such as gathering food, and bolstering the resistance.
Being a freedom fighter in occupied Russia is dangerous work. Your team won’t survive out in the open, so cover and stealth is key. If you get your team into a good position, you can ambush your enemies—or take them out one by one, silently, by sneaking up on them or luring them into a trap. Of course, you’ll want to hide the bodies so their friends don’t get suspicious and hunt your team down. To have the most precise control over your units, you can slow time to issue orders.
The gameplay in Partisans 1941 is immediately recognizable. You can hide in bushes and certain structures, you avoid enemy’s sight by looking out for their cones of vision—the usual type stuff. But when my character started throwing knives and distracting people with rocks, it started to feel an awful lot like Desperados III. I know those mechanics aren’t exclusive to Desperados III, but it’s just so damn close. The similarities aren’t only in the gameplay, but also in the characters. There’s even a character that whistles to attract Nazis into bear traps. But hey, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and Desperados III got it so right that I’m actually pleased to see similar mechanics in Partisans 1941.
Partisans 1941 doesn’t end up feeling quite as polished, though. Don’t get me wrong, it’s oh-so-close to being great, but it has some issues. Pathfinding is a big one, as characters seem to want to always take a path in front of cover when you’re trying to put them into cover. Also, world hazards are a little underwhelming and don’t work as I expected. In Desperados III, for instance, I could drop a bell from a bell tower, but enemies around wouldn’t suspect it was foul play. In Partisans 1941, most of the time killing an enemy with a world hazard would aggro them as if I attacked them outright. Not cool.
Despite being similar to Desperados III, Partisans 1941 does have some features that I haven’t even seen in a real time tactics game. In between missions there is a sort of management simulation game. In it, you have to upgrade your camp, gather food, and other tasks. These events are pretty important, as they give your characters experience and items, including weapons. You also have to make sure you have enough food to keep your team’s morale up. While you’re out on combat missions, there is an extra incentive to explore, so you can find food and other items. This frees up your team members to do other tasks between missions besides being stuck gathering food.
As you progress through Partisans 1941 certain missions will unlock new members for your partisan outfit. Each of these members has a unique set of skills—usually a talent that is unique to them, and a specialization in a specific firearm type or two. As you deploy these characters in various tasks, and during combat missions, they’ll gain experience which you can use to customize their abilities as you prefer.
There are about fifteen or so missions in Partisans 1941, and once you’re done, there isn’t much else to do. Each of these missions will take at least thirty to sixty minutes to complete, though—especially the missions that fail instantly when you are detected. The best idea is to save early and often—that is, unless you’re playing the hardest difficulty, which means you can’t manually save—and every decision is final. Mastering that mode can certainly be an incentive for replaying.
The production value in Partisan 1941 is pretty high, especially for what looks to be a debut title by Russian developer Alter games. The voice acting is pretty well done, though I wish real time tactics games would learn a better way to tell their stories than long dialogue dumps as you stare at the top of the character’s heads. Oh well. The graphics are perhaps the only thing that is strange—it looks fine while you’re playing it, but characters look like they’re made out of plastic.
Partisans 1941 could easily be a mod for Desperados III—and I’m okay with that. It doesn’t advance the genre, but it does add some interesting management aspects between missions. It has good production value, and a decent amount of content—but little replayability, outside of personal challenge. If you’ve played Desperados III and want more, Partisans 1941 will scratch that itch.
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Partisans 1941 is available today on Windows.
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