Partisans 1941 Review

October 21, 2020
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Of all of the games I’ve wanted to be made, few have been more desired than a proper resistance game. Although I found some enjoyment in the actual Resistance games, and Homefront was okay, neither one of these let me take proper control of a rogue band of guerrilla fighters. The closest I’ve come to my fantasy of overthrowing a fascist government by micromanaging my team’s equipment was in XCOM 2, but that game lacked the realism that I’ve been seeking for so many years. Fortunately, after playing Partisans 1941, I am happy to report my search is over.

As the title of the game suggests, in Partisans 1941, you take control of a group of Russian partisan fighters in, you guessed it, 1941. After escaping from a Nazi concentration camp on the Eastern Front, you quickly find yourself in the woods and wanting revenge against the people that imprisoned you. With the leader of your group being a Soviet captain, this quickly ends up with you setting up a base and then launching fifteen or so guerrilla attacks on the various Nazi infrastructures around your camp.

Because your group is poorly armed, these attacks end up being stealth missions, with you taking control of the ever omnipresent deity that issues orders to your fighters in real time. In other words, Partisans 1941 is a fairly standard real-time tactics game with a heavy focus on stealth, which works pretty much how you’d expect. Each mission starts you in an undercover mode, then you’re given tasks that can be completed without firing a single shot. You order your troops around with an intuitive interface, have them execute enemies that follow set patrol routes with melee attacks and then you move to a set exfiltration point. 

Slight problem: I ran out of bullets about 20 Nazis ago.

All of this works well enough, and it’s just as satisfying to execute a perfect stealth mission as it was in 2003’s Commandos 3. However, what makes Partisans 1941 more than a glorified successor to that game is that you can always resort to just shooting all the enemies, which is something that isn’t possible in a lot of stealth-driven tactics games. Although doing this drains your resources, it’s stupidly engaging to get into a pitched gunbattle or to pull off a perfect ambush with the help of grenades and rifles. Doing this manages to capture the essence of films like Red Dawn and Defiance in ways that few other games have, with your group of renegades using tactics and cover to take out enemies that by every right should’ve won a battle but don’t. 

This is a feeling that’s enhanced by the game’s base-building and inventory management mechanics, too. Like in This War of Mine, in every playable mission, there are lootable objects and enemies which reward you with items that can be used to develop your base and equip your troops. You start off the game with little more than a few knives and a cabin, but over the course of the ten-odd hour campaign, you slowly develop an impressive arsenal of small arms and a sizable camp. Like with the gameplay, this isn’t anything that’s particularly unique, but it’s still fun to micromanage your force’s equipment and to build a base that provides you with genuinely useful rewards for the actual missions. 

Is this supposed to be a metaphor about the war in Ukraine that’s been going on for almost seven years?

Another thing that makes you feel like a true resistance leader is Partisans 1941’s non-playable missions. As your garrison size increases, you can choose to send some of your fighters to do jobs that you don’t directly take control of. These glorified errands involve things like looting crop fields or tearing down propaganda posts, and although it’s a small thing, having your troops do more than just move from level to level makes it feel like you’re having a real impact on the game’s world. Plus, if your troops succeed with these assignments, you’re rewarded with experience that can be spent on individual skills that you can use in the controllable missions.

The final thing that makes the game fulfill that aforementioned fantasy of leading a guerrilla movement is the surprisingly engaging story. It’s not exactly War and Peace, but the story follows a set cast of characters on their journey from various backgrounds into fully-fledged war fighters hell-bent on revenge. It mimics the very best World War 2 movies and books based on the resistance movements, and although it rarely goes anywhere that movies like Defiance haven’t gone, it does a lot to make the game more engaging. 

This is what I get for trying to help seize the means of production

Plus, the game looks surprisingly good. It has an artstyle that’s weirdly reminiscent of Disco Elysium, and because it runs as well, it’s engaging to look at when your party is crawling around the world. The game also sounds good, with some excellent sound effects and solid voicework. It’s nothing particularly outstanding, but given how bad some of the games we’ve played this year have been technically, it’s always appreciated when a game isn’t annoying to look at.

Overall, then, Partisans 1941 is a great experience that’s ideal for anyone looking to lead a virtual resistance movement. Although the in-mission gameplay feels a bit uninspired, this is more than made up for by some great grand strategy elements and an enjoyable story. Anyone looking for a more updated version of the Commandos franchise could certainly do worse, and for people that want to play a somewhat less depressing This War of Mine, there’s nothing quite like this game to scratch that itch.

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Partisans 1941 combines fun real-time stealth strategy gameplay with some stupidly enjoyable base-building mechanics for an overall experience that genuinely makes you feel like a leader of a group of guerrilla fighters.
Derek Johnson

Somebody once told me the world was going to roll me, and they were right. I love games that let me take good-looking screenshots and ones that make me depressed, so long as the game doesn't overstay its welcome.