It’s not often you come across a tactical WWII game that features the fascist invasion of the Soviet Union. Partisans 1941 changes this. Usually, games that do focus on the Soviet Union’s efforts in WWII focus on the counterattack and inevitable capturing of Berlin. These events occur much later in the war than the events of Partisans 1941. Which is one of the reasons Partisans 1941 can be a refreshing experience.
Partisans 1941 is a real-time tactical game. As the player, you control a team of three partisans over several free-form missions. The game attempts to blend action gameplay with stealth tactics in a way that is refreshing compared to other games in the genre, although not as successful as it could have been.
I want to start by saying when Partisans 1941 plays well it is one of the most fun real-time tactical experiences I have ever had. Setting up an ambush and quickly dispatching a squad of Nazi soldiers, to then quickly disappear back into the underbrush is a joy that cannot be overstated. Unfortunately, Partisans 1941 doesn’t always play well.
The control scheme for the game heavily relies on using right-click to “cancel” prepared actions. Otherwise left-click is used for just about everything. This can be really frustrating since most squad-based tactical games use right-click to move your units. Individual unit selection is done with the number keys. However, for whatever reason, there were several times that re-loading a save would re-order my units so knowing which unit I had selected was tricky. These are minor frustrations to be sure, but in a game that is stealth plus quick bursts of chaos misusing an ability or moving the wrong unit usually means a quick trip to your last quick save.
The actual gameplay is basically if Desperados III was actually fun. You even have a few characters with very simial abilities, everything is real-time with the addition of a “tactical” time allowing you to set multiple units to begin actions at the same time. Similar to Desperados III there are a number of characters with their own abilities. Most of the abilities are unique enough to keep the characters interesting, unfortunately, they’re not all useful.
Partisans 1941 has two game modes. The first is the tactical gameplay. The player moves their trio of partisans around a medium-sized map avoiding and engaging enemies as is appropriate for their skills and positioning. The second is a camp management game. Where you balance your supplies and food. It’s much less complicated than the base management in XCOM which I really appreciated. There are constructions projects giving your partisans access to a field clinic and workshop. This helps you maintain your stockpile of weapons and give your partisans opportunities to heal in between sorties.
I played the game on one of the more forgiving difficulties. In my opinion, doing this did take the pressure off the camp management, but I don’t think the game would be enjoyable in any of the more difficult settings. I say this because the enemy alert logic is relatively inconsistent.
The game utilizes a Desperados III vision cone system for the enemies. This works well enough. Although there are times were “notice” builts for seemingly no reason. I think this only “got” me once, but I did see it enough to know the harder difficulties would be completely ruined by this unpredictable behavior.
On that note, Partisans 1941 also has what I like to call “The Splinter Cell Problem” which is to say enemies can notice bodies but there is no way to know for certain if you’ve hidden a body well enough to avoid it being found. This is especially a problem in the one (and a half) completely forced stealth missions where enemies are getting all excited on the other side of the map. This is a huge problem because you only get three quicksave slots and it seems like in those missions your tapping it every 30 seconds. Of course, the equally as stealthy Hitman series solves this by letting you hide bodies completely. Not that I think about it, Partisans 1941 has this as well but the body bids aren’t as numerous as you need them to be.
Speaking of problems Partisans 1941 shares with other games. Does anyone remember Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction or Mercenaries: World in Flames? Well, Partisans 1941 also suffers from the “I might need it later” problem the airstrikes in that game did. By the end of the game, I had so many mines and grenades I was just going ham for fun. Which is actually one of the reasons I’m writing this. There is a very late game mission where getting seen is punished very severely and that can be short-circuited by building a kill box and minefield. And let me tell you, doing that was probably the most fun I’d had in a tactical squad game in a long time.
My final negative note is that you build a partisan cell of about twelve fighters throughout the game. Unfortunately, the skills in your team are very varied and some characters are completely useless except for specific situations. The mission descriptions do a poor job of telling you what will happen in a given mission. To the point where the best loadout is always heavy so that way if things do go wrong everyone can survive. Which makes about 9 of the characters completely useless.
For my money, I got 15 hours of playtime from Partisans 1941 and it was nice fun, and relatively light. I didn’t get frustrated by failure when it happened as I did with Desperados III and I didn’t feel like the base management was screwing me over as I did with XCOM. I like that you can get “found” in a mission and if you’re quick to act you can resolve firefights without the whole level coming down on you. That being said you can also choose to dig in and make a stand, which as I said was some of the most fun I’ve had.
I should note: big fans of the real-time tactical squad genre seem to have had problems with this game. For my money, it was worth it. There are some recent circumstances that may have changed this for many people.
I bought this game before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And while I am not a fan of punishing people for the actions of their leaders, this game has some undertones that in the current light of Russia’s aggression are concerning. The game is made by Alter Games which is a small game studio in Moscow, Russia. (Given the brevity of the credits this game is amazing.) The problem is the game has very nationalistic vibes and very pro-military language. (Military games made in the United States have this problem as well. In itself this is nothing new.) Combined with some problematic treatment of characters that are career criminals and allusions to traditional values, the messaging in the game felt difficult for me given the current war of aggression perpetrated by Russia in Ukraine. That being said, were times different this game would firmly be on my “get it on sale” list for people who enjoy tactical warfare games. You will of course have different criteria than I do.
Sorry to end on an unconventional note, but Partisans 1941 is a complicated game, deserving of complicated thoughts. If you’re interested in picking Partisans 1941 up for yourself, you can get it on Steam for $29.99 at full price.