by Andrew Hallam
reviewed on PC
War Never Changes...
Or does it? Most RTS games fail to take the genre anywhere new, apart from a quick change of scenery. Admittedly, it is hard to change something that has worked for decades. Compare, if you will, the recently released Starcraft 2 and the classic Red Alert. Both distinctly different in design, one being about time travelling scientists killing Adolf Hitler in order to prevent World War II only to cause the Soviets to take his place in an alternate history scenario. The other involves the typical xenophobe human space marines marching around the universe acting as universal pest control against hordes of ravenous flesh eating alien bastards. While both of those scenarios were distinctly interesting in their own right, the gameplay of both is largely the same. Collect resources, build unit building structure, mash the button to build inexpensive unit, rush enemy base, win. It all tastes much the same.
That is where the Soldiers series comes in. Initially developed by Ukrainian company Best Way, Soldiers: Heroes of World War II was one of the first real-time tactics games of its type to be set in World War II. Now, you may roll your eyes and say to yourself “Bah! World War II? I heard enough about that from my grandpa! Lets go fight off alien scum or disgruntled Chinamen as samurai!” but Soldiers was the innovation that RTS games needed. Now, after years of success world wide, especially in Russia, the Soldiers series has received its latest edition, Men of War: Assault Squad.
Developed by Best Way's co-developer Digitalmindsoft, Assault Squad takes the original formula and enhances it to an even greater level. The idea behind the Soldiers series was to create a RTS game that had its roots deep in realism, a place where few games dare to tread. However, its reliance on real ballistic models, realistic damage as well as deep focus on providing an intense and tactical take on the RTS model is what makes it truly great. Now, think of all the things that you attribute with RTS games. Health bars, resources, bases and throw them all out the window. Men of War is brutal, challenging but, above all, a whole load of fun.
Show Me Your War Face!
Those familiar with the Men of War series will find a lot to love in Assault Squad. It takes what made Men of War great and cranks it up a notch. Instead of being solely split between single and multiplayer the focus this time seems to have swayed towards the multiplayer elements of the game. Assault Squad is a game that is more about tactics than long term strategy. Instead of building bases, advancing up tech trees and gathering resources, games are set out as if they were taking place on a real life battlefield, with units being brought in as if they were arriving as reinforcements. Units are bought with points that are accumulated in a variety of different ways depending on the gametype. For example, in Frontlines game types, points are awarded for capturing lines of defense throughout the map. These points can then be spent on a vast list of units, ranging from the lowly Conscripts to mighty Howitzers and Heavy tanks. The interface for buying these units is streamlined, simple and overall easy to use. There are a number of categories ranging from Infantry and Support weapons to Artillery and Heavy tanks. Each unit has its own historically accurate description as well as stats such as top speed, armour thickness and shell penetration that can be viewed before purchase.
What makes the Men of War series truly unique is its amazing destructive model. Anything within the world can be destroyed. A house lies in the way of your AT gun shooting that tank? Throw some TNT in through the window and BOOM, no more house. Each wall can be individually destroyed with even more freedom than any other game that promises the same experience, with the ability to make craters in all terrain, level any building to nothing and destroy literally anything and everything on the map.
While multiplayer elements may have been the focus of this latest standalone expansion, that's not to say the game is devoid of any single-player missions. For those who prefer to do it alone, there are sixteen different single-player missions called 'Skirmishes', three for each of the five factions as well as an introduction mission. Surprisingly, its the introduction mission which is the most enjoyable, starting out with giving you a small squad of men to clear a Japanese beachhead and then advancing on to the usual skirmish gameplay. Now, sixteen missions may not sound like a lot, but each skirmish mission can take a couple of hours to complete depending on your skills and the difficulty level. Skirmishes are essentially long maps that are divided into four sections of defense which you can choose to tackle however you please.
A vast improvement on almost all aspects from the previous instalments. Fun, balanced multiplayer.
Lack of proper campaign, skirmishes have low replay value, voice acting is utter crap.