Step By Steppe: Men Of War

By Jim Rossignol on April 11th, 2009 at 1:01 pm.


I’ve been playing through a number of the Men Of War levels again for a second time, trying to feel like I’m somehow closer to mastering the game. I wanted to break down how one of the levels plays out to try and explain the game to people who haven’t yet played it. This afternoon my level of choice was an assault on a German hilltop entrenchment, before an attack on a fortified base. It takes about an hour to play through, and my first time around it was one of the most chaotic gaming experiences I have ever known. After perhaps fifty hours of play I should now be a veteran of the game able to breeze through this early challenge quite easily. Right? Wrong.

Just as in almost every attempt to complete a Men Of War level my initial attack goes completely haywire. Despite exhibiting the kind of caution a Manhattan Project scientist must have shown when arming the first atomic bomb, I fluffed it completely, and ended up plunging headlong into a sprawling moment-to-moment crisis management that would last for the rest of the level. This time I did manage to hit the gun emplacements that should have taken me down, but my first tank was nevertheless immediately destroyed.

So – as is so often the case in Men Of War – it was down to my infantry to make the first push. The plucky little guys got shot to pieces while making a dash for the first line of trenches. Nevertheless they got there – with a hint of sniper covering fire and a smidgen of direct control of individual units – and began to kill the heavily entrenched infantry. Getting grenades onto mounted guns is usually a good start – with as much flank activity as possible.

Soon I captured an artillery piece and began to make short work of the hillside defences. My submachinegun troops were going to assault the right flank and take the hill. I say were, because they had a little run in with this flamethrower guy:

Everybody died, and NPC soldiers were left to their own devices on that flank. Fortunately, Russian tanks are more resistant to flames, and by this time I was beginning to call in armored reinforcements. The map had begun to open up to the wider battle, making more options available to me. It’s worth remembering that all this time I’m fighting and picking my targets, and there are dozens of allied NPC units all conducting their own attacks. When things get really tough the only option is to resort to an airstrike.

My tanks, however, are still getting ripped apart by anti-tank guns, rocket launchers, and mortars. Like so:

We aren’t making much progress. The map is now a vast battlefront, in which I am only a very small player. Keeping track of what’s happening requires the processing power of around four human brains. Tanks were easy prey to the dozens of infantry pouring from the German lines, and so I had to resort to something fast-firing, yet tough. Enter the heroes of this particular battle, the bizarre 37mm mobile gun, the ZSU-37.

I spend my reinforcement allocation on three of these things and send them up onto the hill after a second airstrike. I’ve taken out the worst of the heavy armour, and if these things can hit the crews of the gun emplacements before they’re themselves exploded, I can make some progress. That’s precisely what happens, with the fast-firing 37mm cannons taking out multiple targets with each magazine, including picking off individual infantry at range. Mortar crews and mobile gun teams are shot to pieces as the ZSU spearhead moves. It’s one of those moments that must have happened in real warfare: the brutal tide turning of exactly the right tactic deployed at the crucial moment. The enemy base is now in sight. The ZSUs are killed off by mortar fire, and I reinforce for a final assault: two tanks, and as many infantry as I can afford. The heavy tank gets stuck on the side of the hill. Is it a bug? Or just too steep? It’s hard to tell, but the little men won’t get out to push.

Nothing will keep me from the enemy base how, however. And with a mixture of captured artillery and the firepower of my own tanks, we head down into the defences. A final line of Germans is picked off by my amazing surviving sniper (alive from the first moments of the game), as I ready my tanks to go in.

The final battle is fierce, but there’s no way we’re going to held at bay now. Tanks and guns bombarding from the hills, I send the infantry down to capture the trenches, and to kill-off the mortar crews. Two German tanks – weird, long-barrelled beasts that I don’t recognise – make a valiant defence and blast apart many of the approaching infantry. As ever in Men Of War, however, even this kind of last-ditch commitment is not enough. It takes just a couple of grenade-tossing soldiers to get into range for these steel beasts to be silenced. Soon thereafter, the Russians hold the base.

Finally, a fuel-dump goes up in a titanic end-game explosion. That’s all the punctuation it needs. The Germans are defeated.

While the scenario was identical to the first time I played through, the way I resolved it couldn’t have been more different. This is perhaps what’s most exciting about this wargame: diversity that leads to an organic, evolving experience. I only wish all the other RTS games we seen so far this year had as much scope for messing around, coming up with madcap plans, and clawing back victory from the brink of ludicrous, hyperbolic defeat.

__________________

« | »

, , , , .

83 Comments »

  1. loci says:

    *wipes tear from eye as ‘adagio For strings’ plays

  2. Alex Norris says:

    This really, really makes me want to purchase and enjoy Men of War. Unfortunately, the amount of micromanagement skills apparently needed are putting me off (as is the completely irrational belief that with graphics like that, it has to be as poorly optimised as STALKER – I know; different game companies, different countries, etc.).

    That, and I used to restart a mission whenever I lost a single unit playing Fire Emblem. I dread to think what I’d do with Men of War.

  3. Dominic White says:

    This stuff is why Faces of War/Men of War (MoW being two expansions for FoW glued together to make a full game) really should command more respect. It’s a pity they get shat on by most reviewers for not being identical to Company of Heroes.

    I love the concept of being a single commander in the middle of a gigantic battle. It makes co-op all the more fun, as the more players you have, the more human brains there are at play, and the more crazy maneuvers you can pull off if orgnanized well.

    Good stuff.

  4. Janek says:

    I’d say that Men of War is weighted pretty much perfectly, in terms of difficulty – for me at least. On the easy setting. Weep.

    But yes. Have to fight tooth and nail for every victory, for every small advance, and only just manage to defeat/hold off the enemy by a hair’s breadth.

    It’s really quite exquisite.

  5. Sum0 says:

    I’d vaguely been following RPS’s love of Men of War, but now I’m convinced. I must play it!

  6. Joq says:

    Been playing the campaigns in co-op mode with two other fellas. The big missions are still a tad chaotic, but heaps more fun. And the commando missions always end up in lolz.

  7. Barky says:

    Why do WW2 RTS’s always have dire names?

  8. Ben Abraham says:

    This sounds like the kind of “improvisational” game style that CLINT HOCKING mentioned in his recent talk at GDC. FWIW I thought the ebb and flow of battle in Far Cry 2 was probably it’s single best feature. If Men of War is even mildly similar, colour me extremely interested!

  9. VPeric says:

    I couldn’t even finish the first mission on easy. =\

    Still, it definitely sounds epic enough to merit a second (and a third) try at some point in the future.

  10. Lack_26 says:

    Congratulations, you got 3 of the handful of ZSU-37s made in time for the war killed. I hope you feel proud of yourself.

    Also, I really need to get this game, I love the demo.

  11. jackflash says:

    Jim, great article – I’ve been waiting for an equivalent to the sprawling Empire : TW play-by-play.

    Honestly, this game is heaps better than anything I’ve played in the Total War series (which, in my view has been hopelessly broken since Rome, and has never gotten better).

    In the U.S., MoW is $28 – even in a recession, there is absolutely no excuse not to buy it, right now. It is an instant classic, despite a few rough edges. And there’s no DRM. Vote with your wallets, people!

  12. Rei Onryou says:

    Once I get through the 17 new games I have to play on my shelf (games remain from xmas and birthday, with little time to enjoy), and some of my Steam purchases, I will come to this.

  13. Nutkins Victory Otter says:

    Keep preaching it bro. I hate to say it, but bitches still don’t know.

    This is the depth of game that makes all other titles in it’s genre superfluous. You know them when they come along; well if you have this, you don’t need anything else to get your RTS kicks.

    I’m not saying I don’t also own Relic games, because I do. But, and I hate to say this too because it’s such a cliché now, they are so gamey and formulaic… whereas this is PC sandboxing chaos at it’s finest.

  14. EBass says:

    What I don’t understand is why everyone seems to be going nuts over Men of War, but Faces and Soldiers were pretty much ignored.

    Certainly to my mind Men of War has the weakest line-up of solo/co-op missions so far.

  15. moo says:

    the great thing about Men of War is that you don’t need to micromanage everything all at once — your allies are all smart enough to hold their position for a good while before your attention is needed.
    and yes, i’m also fighting through the game on easy. and i’m getting through by the skin of my teeth.
    i read your review using the voice of the central character from the POW jailbreak stage “i’ve got to help these guys, i cannot be a cow-ward!”

  16. Gap Gen says:

    I bought this and *still* haven’t played it. I blame Empire, and not finishing Mass Effect yet.

  17. Jim Rossignol says:

    The voice acting is ultimate.

  18. Weylund says:

    Aaagh! This sounds awesome. Unfortunately I’d planned on buying Dead Space with my monthly gaming monies, having spent last month’s on Ubisoft thingies.

    Atmospheric Dead Space awesomeness? Or what sounds like the best RPG/RTS/wargame of all time?

  19. Aubrey says:

    Alright, alright! I’ll buy it already!

    /me opens Steam…

    What the hell, Gabe? Get your act together!

  20. Weylund says:

    Yeah, it not being available on Steam isn’t helping. I would have grabbed it last time RPS did the ‘ol “Oooh… ooooooh… AHHHH!” about it, were it a Steam title.

    Dead Space, though… that’s available on Steam. And Peggle. Mmmm. Peggle pack. Must have.

    And Metacritic gives Dead Space 7 more points than MoW, which must mean that it is a) worth seven more dollars, b) 7% more [sic] better, and c) soooo much cooler.

  21. Gap Gen says:

    Well, Dead Space is a romp, but it’s more gory than scary thanks to having similar encounters in pretty much every room (oh look, a corpse that will come to life when I approach it) and weapons that are pretty powerful.

  22. Jim Rossignol says:

    I really enjoyed Dead Space too. It could hardly be more different, however.

  23. Sp4rkR4t says:

    I’ve been ranting about Men Of War to anyone that will listen, and quite a few who won’t.

    It’s simply superb to find a game that you can’t just breeze through without having to think, however they were taking the piss slightly when they called the lowest difficulty setting ‘easy’, they should have been called ‘mildly difficult’, ‘bloody hard’ and ‘no hope’.

  24. PleasingFungus says:

    Yes and yes with regards to Men of War. I’ve found myself playing on slow-motion (backspace-1) at nearly all times, just because it’s utterly impossible to keep track of what’s going on otherwise. (Normal difficulty, Russian campaign, the mission right before the one described in this post, I think.)

    So many splendid moments to relate, but one that especially amused me: lurking on top of a hill captured by my penal brigade, I saw an enemy aeroplane try to strafe me. “Bah!” I cried and unleashed my captured flak guns. They didn’t manage to take it down on the first pass, but when the plane came back for a shot at the Russian armoured column that I was supposed to be protecting, it went down in flames… onto the column… destroying four tanks in a spectacularly explosive trail of destruction.

    Oops.

  25. jackflash says:

    @PleasingFungus -

    That’s hilarious. The level of unpredictability in this game is splendid.

    One of my favorite little touches – how helmets fly off and bounce away when a stray round hits a soldier in the head.

  26. Torgen says:

    Reading all these AARs, I weep for death of the “playback” ability we had in games like the LucasArts WWII flight sims. If only there were a way to capture the action on fraps minus the UI.

  27. DTKT says:

    Men of War is an awesome game.

    In regards to the micro, I think there`s some damn good AI sometimes. In some missions, you are advancing on two fronts at the same time.

    I think it was the german missions where you are parachuted with 3 guys and need to go rescue some captured paratroopers. In this particular mission I was concentrating on the right flank, leaving just a few guys and armor on the left flank.
    After 20 minutes of heavy fighting, I made a quick pass over the other flank to realize that the units had progressed even more than I did…

    If you give them some freedom, I think they can move on their own and that`s pretty good.

    I love this game. :P

  28. TariqOne says:

    Two words: Men of War Coop with a great gaming buddy. Or is that nine words?

    Either way, fun fun fun. Not easy in the slightest, but definitely a heckova nice way to spend an evening.

  29. TariqOne says:

    I should also note for those worried about the complexity: I’m terrible at RTS. Yet somehow the straightforward nature of MoW, without all the base building and other nonsense I usually associate with RTS, makes it a very different and much more tolerable than most such titles.

    Buy it.

  30. psyk says:

    Why not go down a shop and buy it or order it online why do you have to get it through steam.

  31. Heliocentric says:

    Mr helio’ hears that men of war causes cognitive panic and mr helio’ likes what he hears.

    When playing multiplayer games, great ones i get stressed. Even a little endorphine rush causing me to get over passionate and start acting like the game is serious business, i like this feeling as its a great stress relief. Indeed its only ever been multiplayer which can fatigue me in such a way i stop playing and enter what can only be described as afterglow.

    Sure you can screw around but when you are trying as hard as you can to win a game of company of heroes multi its a version of a state i’ve read about called ‘cognitive panic’. Puzzle games with time limits of any kind can be best played in this state.

    That men of war has this stress down to a fine art, stress over meaningful choices. With high’s and lows allowing the mental abuse the game causes to be tolerable sounds excellent. More of these games please rps.

  32. Junior says:

    Great little article, I love hearing about your exploits in games and obviously it’s a terrific advert for the game too.

    I’m curious as to what those long barreled german machines were, I’d have though every pc gamer was a complete buff on these sorts of things by now.

  33. Alex Norris says:

    Yet somehow the straightforward nature of MoW, without all the base building and other nonsense I usually associate with RTS, makes it a very different and much more tolerable than most such titles.

    Technically, that would make it an RTT… Which has pretty much convinced me. I’m attempting to coerce a friend into buying a copy at the same time as me so we can do the missions co-operatively.

  34. Torgen says:

    Junior, it sounds like they are StuGs. From the accompanying screenshot, I’m almost certain, but they have no open tops, and Jim saying that they were taken out by grenades puzzled me. Then I remembered the anti-tank “grenades” (satchel charges? Sticky bombs?) that the infantry gets in the game, and it made sense again.

  35. Torgen says:

    Or it could be a Marder tank-destroyer: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marder_II

    I never understood the “oh, these fellow don’t need cover from small arms fire” line of thinking on tank destroyers. Seems all nations felt like putting the biggest gun possible on the chassis and damn the crew protection was the way to go.

  36. Scandalon says:

    Okay Mr. Rossignol, I downloaded the demo, and played through the first mission/tutorial. On easy. Or, at least, the first section, then the second section…now I keep failing at the top of the hill. And there’s no way to save it mid-game… Is this how the final game works? I enjoyed it muchly, but not having to re-play the same sections over and over…

  37. malkav11 says:

    The level of detail and the dynamism of play really are incredible. Popping into that first repaired tank and marauding through the village was a beautiful thing, watching sponson-mounted machine guns tear apart German infantry concentrations and armor-piercing tank rounds blow the lesser armored vehicles to shreds. Also a couple of tense standoffs as lucky shots got a tread or the engine on my tank and one of the infantry types riding along had to drop down and break out the repair kit while the gunners held off enemy offensives.

    I wish the interface were about 80x more intuitive and there were a proper “talk to me like I have a learning disability” tutorial, though. I was muddling through in a decidedly half-reared fashion that will probably get me killed repeatedly throughout the game.

    And the voice acting….dear god, the voice acting.

  38. Serondal says:

    I played the bonus mission bridge crossing. Managed to sneak an American solider behind the defenses covering the enemy bridge. He went behind an empty building, tossed a few grenades over the roof and soon the deadly defenders were scattered all over the ground choking on their own blood as pieces of unforgiven shrapnel twisted in their flesh. A lucky anti-tank grenade flips the armored car over, it rolls down the hill and crushes some of the people in the trench. A few more grenades and the gun crews are meeting their maker. As the article above says one sneaky solider can do a LOT of damage, or die a horrible death :P

    I took the enemy guns and turned them on the other German’s up the road a bit. The did well and destroyed many of the defending forces until a Stug rolled onto the battle field. Every shot from that thing was a direct hit, all my anti-tank guns down, the mounted MG42 mowed my remaining infantry down like lambs to the slaughter. I lost, but a had a hell of a time :) Thanks RPS for bringing this game to my attention, dunno what I’d do without it.

  39. Jim Rossignol says:

    @Scandalon: There is a normal save function in the full game. I have no idea why they left it out of the demo.

  40. Andrew Dunn says:

    So I caved and finally bought this (I feel it’ll go well with Tales of Valour, which also has a ridiculously bad name).

    Favourite moment so far? Counter-attacking in force with my heavy tanks across a frozen river, and being so used to game logic that I was surprised as all hell when my T-34 cracked the ice beneath it and plunged into the chill waters below.

  41. Gap Gen says:

    Yeah, that’s something about games where you think “even though this doesn’t make sense in real life, the game totally won’t model it.” It’s always nice to be proven wrong (unless you lose your entire attack force to thin ice).

  42. pepper says:

    Wow, this sounds a bit like Sudden Strike II, back when i played it. I forgot how much fun that could be…

    Jim, did the tank look like a PzKpfw IV II?

    http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panzer_IV

    Its the one with the lengthened barrel, i think this tank shows a sign of the Tiger II.

  43. Sum0 says:

    This is awesome. I just finished the second level and had to quit to tell people how awesome it is.

    I was initially confused by the second level, and it was almost a gamebreaker – training me up on a tank and a few guys and then throwing me into a battle of a scale so epic it would probably come at the end of most other RTS games. But I adapted, learned everything on the fly, and got on with it, which must be the sign of a good UI if nothing else. I can’t wait to see what it throws at me next.

  44. Andrew Dunn says:

    I had a similar experience, Sum0. I love the sheer scope of the game – how it works at every level from stealing enemies’ hats to towing artillery into position and directing reinforcements.

  45. Serondal says:

    I love how they do the German tank killers. I can’t explain the sense of dread I felt when I saw that stug rolling through the hedge row , main gun blasting with deadly accuracy as my troops bodies were turned into hamburger :(

    I agree with what Sumo says about how drastic the second level of the campaigns are. The second German level I didn’t realize my 88s weren’t on the map until I called for them until my right flank was already caved in. About to try that mission again this time with as many 88s set up as possible before those “tommys” show up.

  46. Andrew Dunn says:

    I did the mission described in this post last night and it was flipping huge. So very, very epic. I kept a lookout for those long-barrelled German tanks, but none really fit the bill – there was a King Tiger, which has a long barrel but there was only the one of them, and there were a couple of Panthers which also have long barrels but I think Jim would recognise those. The only other German tanks I saw were Hetzers and Panzers IVs, and while the Hetzers are pretty obscure they can’t really be described as long-barrelled. So.

    The mystery deepens!

  47. prowlinger says:

    Simple put – Men of War is amazing at the price of $29 !!!

    If you like WW2 games, get MoW. If you like RTS games, get MoW. If you liked COH, get MoW!!!

    The modding community is really taking off and supporting this game… so many new units and maps… great stuff!

    Why do I like MoW over CoH? The sheer scope of battles and AI is amazing! What would normally be a large map on CoH is just the “25% of the map” on MoW… I have a fairly old computer / P4 2.8gz (1 cpu), 4mb ram, XP, and a Nvidia 9800 card… and can easily run at 1920 res on max settings (does get alittle slow on massive battles)… but honestly… CoH doesn’t run this well on half the size of map and units, plus you don’t have to log into steam just to play!

    I am just still on single player missions but there already is a dynamic campaign created mod… and the upcoming developer patch will fix many bugs and bring the Japanese and new maps…

    I find control much easier and the game x10 more fun than any WW2 rts games to date! Blitzkrieg, Company of Heroes, Sudden Strikes… they all are nothing compared to this…

    The details… oh the details… I was manning a secured .50 machine gun nest that was captured from the Germans… I had the fort locked down… behind me a nice rock wall… and my gun range covered the alleyways… until… A totally random event… A German Pnz II busted through the wall behind me and proceeded to roll me completely over…. Just little things like this make the game!!!

    There are some things that us MoW owners need to suggest to the developers, everyone please tell them -

    Allow us to toggle on and off the squad symbols and the health bars…

    Allow us to change the volume of the movies and be able to ESC past them if desired.

    It is SO good I am looking at all the simple script code today to learn how to mod it…

    A new sound mod for it? Yup.. I am going to port my old mod over to MoW! :D

  48. prowlinger says:

    Jim Rossignol – Thank you for your continuous publicity of this game! I enjoy your stories and am grateful your work in promoting MoW, without your posts, I may have never even heard of this game before!

    Please keep promoting it… it is such a bargin for $29 and what you get is so much more for the investment!

    :)

  49. psyk says:

    Old pc prowler you sure :p old processor yes.

  50. Inanimotion says:

    Alright you convinced me, I’m buying it.