Take No Prisoners
Here’s one for the gamers that like it rough. Men of War is not only rough around the edges but it’s a tough game to get a handle on. It’s challenging, but too much of that challenge is attributed to the not-so-user-friendly control scheme. This is not a game for the easily frustrated, but there is a payoff for the hardcore strategist willing to memorize the key commands and ride the crest of excessive micromanagement to the shores of victory. There’s a decent war game here, but it’s going to take a lot of sifting to get to the gold.
I’ve played my share of RTS games, but I’m not a fanatic about the genre. I do appreciate the recent trend towards streamlining the micromanagement, and the addition of more real-time control. At the same time, I do understand the value of tradition, and I can appreciate when a game tries to remain true to the heritage of a specific genre. There are RTS fans out there eagerly anticipating the next big challenge. While I can testify that this game is definitely challenging, not all of the challenges are related to the actual gameplay. As I mentioned, there are some control issues to contend with, in addition to some programming flaws that may or may not be intentional. Even on the easiest setting, the game always pits you as the underdog. Regardless of what you do, the odds are always stacked against you. The enemy will outnumber you. They will have more firepower. The soldiers are stronger and better trained. You will be at the mercy of the pathfinding system that will see your units move into enemy territory instead of taking a faster and safer route. I don’t know about you, but overcoming some of these kinds of obstacles is not my idea of a fun challenge.
As far as war games go, Men of War delivers a gritty, realistic, and exhilarating portrayal of WWII. Sure, it’s been done to death, but let’s face it, that was one hell of a war and there’s going to be many more games inspired by it for millennia to come. True to real life, soldiers don’t come back from the dead in Men of War. They take a hit and they’re gone. Lose too many units and you’re going to have to start over. Reinforcements can be deployed, but you can’t always count on them to show up in time, but that’s not necessarily a flaw, as some of the situations are predictably unpredictable. That’s what gives the game a sense of realism. You don’t have complete control over all variables, just like a real war. I’m sure that purists would be able to excuse most of the flaws by deifying this unpredictability/realism theme, but let’s not make excuses for sloppy programming, and there’s plenty of examples of that.
In the single-player campaign you will play as the Russians, Americans, and even the Germans. An online mode will give you access to the Japanese, but more on that later. The missions must be played in sequence, but with so many different options and strategies to exercise, the gameplay is anything but linear. As you progress in some missions, more of the map will open to reveal a larger battlefield. This gives the game more continuity and helps you to see the big picture rather than reduce the game to a series of levels. It’s not always clear as to what you should be doing next, and often you’ll find yourself waiting for some kind of direction. This dead air adds to the anxiety that you’ll already be experiencing from trying to keep your guys from getting killed. There’s also a lack of tutorials that would allow you to practice with new weapons and skills.
There’s a lot of commands to issue, and thanks to the excessive micromanagement, they can be a real drag to have to execute during an engaging battle. You’ll have a variety of units at your commands, including a good assortment of weapons and vehicles such as tanks, jeeps, cars, motorcycles, and trucks. Issuing commands for these can be as simple as pointing and clicking, but then you’ll have to access the interface to ensure that these vehicles are all gassed up and ready to go. No, you can’t just run into battle, you have some responsibilities to take care of first. You’ll constantly be toggling between real-time control and interface commands, a process which just doesn’t feel natural.
The environment is totally destructible. Trees, fences, walls, buildings, and vehicles can be blown to bits or rolled right over with a tank. The resulting debris can provide cover for your troops, but a few mortar rounds can turn your safe house into a vacant lot. The battlefield is ever-changing, requiring up-to-the-minute adjustments in strategy, totally engaging the player.
Your units do tend to obey your commands well enough, despite some of the pathfinding issues. They will take cover, shoot when necessary, and work together as a team to disable enemy war machines. They will even use med kits to renew their health when appropriate. Due to the large number of units, you will still have to be mindful of a few of the slower ones, not to mention having to hide the bodies of the ones that didn’t make it, much the same way as in Splinter Cell.
Online modes include cooperative play as well as Capture the Flag variations. You typically won’t be committed for longer than an hour at any session. Since the game has been out in Europe for a while, there’s no shortage of players online. Technically, the games play identically to the single-player campaign. There are some response issues as with the single-player mode where some commands don’t register, but generally there is no latency or slowdown.
The environments are not incredibly detailed, but they do blow up real good. Huge explosions send debris flying in all directions. The framerate is steady with smooth and realistic animations. Soldiers have faces with expressions, and vehicles display moving mechanical parts. The closer you zoom in though, the uglier it gets. Cutscenes are a welcome site, as they indicate that you’re actually progressing. The voiceovers are terrible. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cringe, so I did both. The music is generic as are the sound effects. Thankfully, the sound can be turned off before it turns you off.
Men of War is not going to appeal to the casual gamer. Only hardcores will be willing to attempt to crack this nut – it almost cracked this nut.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
Average-looking graphics, but the environments are totally destructible and interactive. 2.2 Control
Lots of awkward interface issues. Excessive micromanagement is not easy to perform. 1.8 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Incredibly poor and inconsistent voiceover work. Music and sound effects are generic. 3.1 Play Value
Among the flaws is a diamond in the rough. 2.8 Overall Rating – Average
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.