Hands On With Men Of War

By Jim Rossignol on January 8th, 2009 at 5:49 pm.


One of the most intense Ukrainian games destined for our hard-drives in 2009 is Men Of War, which I’ve been lucky enough to have some time with over the past couple of weeks. It’s rather similar to previous games Faces of War and Soldiers: Heroes of World War II, but since that’s not exactly the most universal reference point I’ve written some impressions of the new game beyond the jump. They should give you some idea of why this particular RTS is so interesting.

Another World War II game? Oof, it would seem like a game too far, especially when it’s not from one of our pop favourites like Relic. But there’s loads here that feels fresh and seems to resonate on an entirely different level to the Hollywood WWII we’ve so often been fed. It’s detailed, bleak, and quite difficult to get to grips with. While not exactly one of those impenetrable wargames that we’ve all spend the last decade avoiding, but definitely and RTS with a bit more substance.

The first level of Men Of War is, of course, fairly tutorial-driven. I’d played some of it before at KRI, but spending some more time with it now makes me realise what a heavy dose of tactical gaming this actually is. The most striking thing for anyone used to the C&C lineage of games is that every single soldier has his own inventory. There could be dozens of people on the field of battle, and each one will have his own equipment, in an inventory that can be looted after death. Yes, it’s that kind of game. Then there’s the sheer time it takes for your little dudes to fix a damaged tank. You feel like actual field repairs could take place in that aching stretch of time. We’re so attuned to the NOWNOW GO pace of these games that something that expects you take your time seems strangely obtuse. Sure, this is a game that makes lots of concessions to its gaminess, but realism and simulation loom large in the design. The different between high explosive and armour piercing rapidly become clear, for example, as you can happily shoot through the side of a building and into the body of a vehicle if you get the right ammo set up.

And it’s just really damned hard. The first level is long, with multiple objectives that can easily be failed if your tank gets messed up or your dudes happen to take the wrong piece of cover. Nor does it necessarily recognise when a level has gone too far to be rescued, leaving you to flounder and struggle with your inadequate resources. The path-finding doesn’t help: your autonomous chappies regular get themselves shot if you try to use a grenade, and a tank will happily drive through a tractor if it’s in the way of where you asked it to go.

Nor does the game seem to worry about the kind of step-by-step progression towards complexity that most game designers seem to believe is necessary. The second level throws you from the first level’s stealing a tank and attacking a convoy into a massive hour-long defence of some factory yards, where waves of Nazis are trying to get to a train that is being loaded with industrial equipment. The change in scale is huge, and it’s absolutely awe inspiring to watch this unfold, especially as the game begins to unveil its damage model. Buildings collapse beautifully, and the exchanges of howitzer fire between mounted guns start to knock dusty chunks out of debris, and the buildings break up to reveal detailed little interiors. It’s the point at which criticisms of the game begin to dissolve in the light of its excellent complexity. This is a splendid experience.

What’s most interesting about Men of War, however, it that just a short time with the game shows off the sheer range of Men Of War’s ambition, right there on that fighting retreat. While some levels rely on your using the range of skills supplied by a small group of infantry – you take to a running away process of guerrilla war in the later levels for example – the game itself can handle huge battles where most of your units are acting semi-autonomously. In that second level the game feels far more like some kind of battlefield model or simulation, where you are a spectator making some tweaks, than it does any kind of traditional RTS. This kind of situation crops up several times during the game, with immense, sweeping battles taking place right under your nose. This change of pace is no bad thing, either: this is a richly detailed, beautiful, ambitious game of war that doesn’t necessarily try to do one thing well, but to do lots of things impressively. Sure, it’s probably going to put some people off with the amateurish front end and sheer fiddly-hardcore nature of its design, but this is a vast, heavy game, with almost too much to do. It’s exactly the kind of game I will never finish, but also exactly the kind of game that I am genuinely glad exists.

Another Russian masterpiece? That might be a bit strong. It’s certainly unique, and it’s definitely one of the most interesting World War II games I’ve ever had the pleasure to play with.

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32 Comments »

  1. Flappybat says:

    Heroes Of War was awesome, Faces Of War was awesome therefore Men Of War will be awesome. QED

  2. phil says:

    I found Soldiers: Heroes of World War II was slog difficulty wise, though that was more a realisation that tank rushes don’t work when you only have one tank, made out of old tin cans and string. The new game looks seriously good.

  3. Alex says:

    If this is in the same vein as its predecessors, I will excitedly buy it, and continue playing it even as it kicks my arse in terms of difficulty. I suppose I’m just a gaming masochist.

  4. unclelou says:

    That sounds terrific – I loved Soldiers: HoWII to bits.

  5. MetalCircus says:

    HoWII was hell for me, Faces of War was better, and I enjoyed it muchly, and probably would have finished it if it wasn’t for the game-breaking bugs I personally encountered. By all accounts though, this is something to look forward to. Can’t wait!

  6. Pags says:

    and a tank will happily drive through a tractor if it’s in the way of where you asked it to go.

    As long as said tractor is mooshed and explodamarated by the tank, I fail to see how this is anything but awesome.

  7. Jim Rossignol says:

    It’s actually more comedic when its a mounted gun crew dragging their burden through the side of a farmhouse.

  8. The Hammer says:

    I really enjoyed the demo of Soldiers: Heroes of World War 2. I keep seeing it in GAME for a fiver, and one day, I know I’m gonna see resistance as pointless and futile, and buy the damn thing. Despite how generic and uninspired the settings (and names!) of these titles are, they’ve always got gameplay innovations that are a joy to handle. So consider me interested

  9. Gap Gen says:

    I like the sound of your men fighting competently without your micromanagement. I really dislike having to tell my men to do everything myself or face having them die horribly – there’s only so much I can concentrate on at once.

  10. Heliocentric says:

    When i heard bad path finding the game was instantly religated to budget purchase.

  11. Rob Zacny says:

    When you say that each soldier has his own inventory, I have to ask: does this game actually expect the player to bother with that? Attention to detail is one thing, but I’d just as soon not be telling Alexei to go grab rifle cartridges off Ivan’s corpse while trying to manage a a major battle. That’s what Jagged Alliance 2 was for.

    I’m having trouble getting a fix on how finicky this game is going to be from your article.

  12. Jim Rossignol says:

    Yes and no. I mean there are some missions where a central character’s inventory becomes important, but the rest of the time it just seems like an extra layer of detail.

  13. Junior says:

    I’m excited, but after my performance in Heroes of WWII I have to ask.

    Is there a level where I get to drive a Tiger tank around a sleepy french village blowing up shermans? Because that’ll sell it for me.

    Especially if I get artillery to play with too.

  14. clovus says:

    First, I wanted to say that the title of this game makes me laugh each time I hear it. Why does every WWII title have to have an “X of Y” title? (Call of Duty, Faces of War, Medal of Honor, Company of Heroes, etc.) This has been remarked on in the past, and so it is a fun game to think of new ones. “Men of War” the kind of ridiculous thing you would come up. It’s like trying to think of manly Anchorman-esque names like Chuck McBrawnley.

    Also, as someone mentioned, I can’t stand bad pathfinding either. This has always been a gamebreaker for me, which is why I’ve never really enjoyed an RTS. I guess there are other reasons for that though. I haven’t gotten into Sins of a Solar Empire even though that game effectively avoids the pathfinding problem by having no “paths”. Is there any RTS that has great pathfinding? And if so, can that games makers pass the algorithm onto every other RTS designer?

  15. Noc says:

    WWII game? I thought it was a hardcore jellyfish sim.

    Shows what I know.

    . . .

    Re: Inventories: Will soldiers do things with it automatically? As in, will soldiers who are low on ammunition scavenge about the bodies of the fallen for more, and the like, if left to their own devices?

  16. Pags says:

    It’s actually more comedic when its a mounted gun crew dragging their burden through the side of a farmhouse.

    Well this has gone from “slight curiosity” to “must-buy game of the year”.

    Sometimes I wish someone would make a game purely about murdering tractors.

  17. Skurmedel says:

    This looks really interested. Thx for the heads up.

  18. Gap Gen says:

    Pags: I’m reminded of the PCG Tractor Race in Operation Flashpoint, where they had to race tractors while being chased by a helicopter gunship.

  19. Jim Rossignol says:

    We actually did that. Man! The best stuff we did for that “Game For A LOL” column was amazing.

  20. Jezebeau says:

    How many other intense Ukrainian games destined for our hard drives in 2009 can there be?

  21. Pags says:

    I miss Game for a LOL. Even more than I miss Gamer Snap.

  22. Novotny says:

    So glad you guys are paying attention to the eastern scene, and delighted to see Oleg Maddox being referenced; you mentioned you had met him Jim – is there an interview possibly?

    Oh and apologies for the drunken ellipses rant to whoever deleted it. But something must be done at some point surely

  23. Gap Gen says:

    Pags: Yes, Game for a LOL was amazing and a revival (or even reposting of old columns) here would be great.

    Pags: No, Gamer Snap was hideous. At least, after Garry’s Mod, when homoeroticism seemed to be the only possible entry.

  24. Pags says:

    Yeah, I believe we had some Gamer Snap nostalgia recently; everyone agreed that after Garry’s Mod, it sucked. I preferred it when it took a mixture of luck and bad clipping to stumble onto homoeroticism.

    On the topic of this game, I can’t see anything in the article so I’ll ask here: does it have multiplayer?

  25. Gap Gen says:

    “How many other intense Ukrainian games destined for our hard drives in 2009 can there be?”

    Is Cyrillic Megabiff still in production?

  26. EBass says:

    Soldiers and Faces are both great games.

    If there is one big problem though, the interface is not very user friendly. At times the game can be a bitch to play, if you put your men in any sort of danger they WILL die unless you are directly controlling them.

    Also the inventory is great, but as some people have suspected it is fiddly. Its not too bad when you’ve only got one or two men but when you’ve got a whole squad to keep supplied it does become a bit tiresome. There really really should be a “scavenge” button in the game.

    The thing I’ve found with a lot of the Eastern European devs is that they are very good at acting out an initial concept, but very very bad at improving what was actually wrong with the game rather than simply adding more content. (Faces, Clear Sky and IL1946 are all perfect examples of this)

    I’ll get it, but full price or budget will depend on if they have fixed some of the more glaring interface and control mehod.

    Also, bring the destructability threshold back to Soldiers level rather than Faces level. (Except keep the gimped AT nades, they were ridiculous in Soldiers)

  27. Kong says:

    How did I miss the predecessors? Eventually a game to take the crown of Close Combat: Invasion Normandy? (which is missing a scavenge function; very annoying to run out of ammo when there should be plenty of loot lying around)

  28. Pod says:

    “And it’s just really damned hard. The first level is long, with multiple objectives that can easily be failed if your tank gets messed up or your dudes happen to take the wrong piece of cover. Nor does it necessarily recognise when a level has gone too far to be rescued, leaving you to flounder and struggle with your inadequate resources. The path-finding doesn’t help: your autonomous chappies regular get themselves shot if you try to use a grenade, and a tank will happily drive through a tractor if it’s in the way of where you asked it to go.”

    Basically sums up the previous two games as well. Not that they were’nt excellent – oh no, but some missions just dragged for ages, as you spent 25 minutes gathering all the tanks shells from all the crates in the base so that you could stock up your brand new Tiger tank that you’d need to keep alive for a billion million hours fo combat D:

    To hear that the large scale battles of FOW are kept is a good thing. S:HOWWII was a bit more like Hidden and Dangerous goes RTS, which was great but sometimes a chore. Having disposable men made some of the larger battles in FOW much more fun.

    Also: Can you still “be” the men? That’s clearly the selling point. It’s a fantastic sub game into itself, that is. Just picking up the MG42s and charginthe guys

    @Kong: How was Invasion Normandy the best of the CC series? it peaked at 3 and 4 was utterly horrid. 5 was alright.

  29. Quine says:

    Heroes of the W.I and Faces both had moments of true gaming awesomeness.

    Where else could you drive a tank through some farmer’s house, chase their chickens, and then burn all their fields?

    Some of the levels seemed purposely designed for the delicate interplay of destroyed bridges, motorbike sidecars and lots of mines, and you could kill dug-in bunkers defenders by looting the big MGs and chipping their health away via double-ricochets like it was Arcade Pool.

    If the next one has more of the same and doesn’t thrash decently-specced machines then I’m all over this one.

  30. Farsight says:

    you still can directly control units, and for about 75% of the game, id say thats what you spend your time doing, setting up a good offensive line with your units, and switching between them to utilize them most effectivley.

    there are some bugs in the game, id have to say, and the voice acting is WOEFUL, but the core of the game plays brilliantly. i remember in particular one mission in snowy russia where i was tasked with defending against hordes of german infantry and armor, with a rather puny selection of anti tank cannons and light tanks, but with a little creativity, was able to kill a Flak 88 crew who were slowly wheeling their gun to my frontline, then navigate it back to my base where i was then able to use direct control to destroy the enemy with impunity!

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