Wot I Think: Men Of War: Red Tide

By Jim Rossignol on November 3rd, 2009 at 7:00 am.


In between leaving pumpkins uncarved and scary masks unworn, I have been playing 1c’s new RTS, Men Of War: Red Tide. The standalone expansion features twenty-three new missions with naval bent, and a small museum of new units. But is it any good? Here’s Wot I Think.

Men Of War is beginning to look like my game of the year. Nothing else has kept me coming back, nor experiencing that nagging “brain-still-quietly-working-on-it” feeling you get from the finest gaming obsessions. The messy ultra-functionality of a game that models environmental destruction so meticulously, and throws out missions like handmade cryptic death-puzzles, is somehow an inevitable subject of admiration for the Rossignol brain. Defeating the enemy with a stolen howitzer is my kind of emergent entertainment. Not that this expandalone really changes that sentiment one way or another, because many of the faults of the original repeated here, and much of the new content isn’t worth getting excited about, as I’ll explain in a moment.

Red Tide returns to familiar territory, that being a take on the complex Eastern front campaigns throughout the war. With the naval focus you can expect plenty of coastal skirmishes around war-ravaged cities such as Sevastopol. In fact much of the campaign is given over the exploits of the Black Coats, Russian marines operating in the Black Sea theatres. That means boats. The boats are, sadly, a little choppy. Some of the larger scale stuff, such as when boats come in off a coast to add fire support, is well done. But actually moving dingys and motorboats around to navigate the mpa coastlines is decidedly clumsy. You have to click several times to get all the soldiers off a boat, and then they’ll probably jump into the water and paddle around for a bit before they actually make it onto land, possibly getting shot in the process. It’s occasionally infuriating.

Additionally, I feel as if path-finding isn’t quite as good in this game as it had been in Men Of War. It’s exacerbated enormously by the problems with the boats, so much so that I went back and played the original to check. Of course it’s exactly the same engine, and so the same glitchiness is still there: men retracing their steps before actually setting off in the direction you’ve pointed them in. Nevertheless it does seem more prevalent in Red Tide. Perhaps that’s because of the boats, or because of the amount of focus on small unit action, where you’re focusing on the exploits of just a few men. The up-scale enormo-battles are here, but I they’re not quite as regular as in the original.

That’s not to say there aren’t some sweet engagements. Storming a pier at night is brilliantly done, and another brief defensive mission lasts mere minutes, but is ludicrously intense. The stuff that makes Men Of War so brutal and fulfilling remains, and I found myself yodelling with horror as my tiny heroes were gunned down by yet another poorly conceived assault.

The unbelievable difficulty of some of the levels will put some folks off. The second level is a ludicrous epic that unfolds in three stages. The first stage sees eight marines capture an officer protected by dozens of Romanian troops and armoured vehicles. The second stage sees the same handful take out a tank-escorted convoy, and finally you have to escape the village, avoiding a heavily armed base, a tank patrol, and a minefield. I was screaming in the RPS chatroom, so indignant was I at the challenge laid before on the second level of the game. The satisfaction from beating it was overwhelming. Ultimately though I felt let down, because it was unfair level design in which it was impossible to bodge the execution. I had to have played and failed, and already known the sequence of events if I was to have a chance of getting through. Quicksave clairvoyance always bugs me, and this is an ugly case of it. No matter the absurd escalation at the end.

Once again Red Tide reflects Best Way’s peculiar approach to their campaigns, which I think might have come about thanks to the way Men Of War, as a repurposed chunk of Faces Of War, was itself basically an expandalone release. The second level of that game, you may recall, was similarly out of pace: a vast defence of a trainyard that ticked towards your inexorable defeat over a huge chunk of time. It seemed somehow inappropriate, but was nevertheless brilliant, and its these moments of brilliance – the times when the level designers really demonstrate how a single level can balloon outward from a single man to an entire battlefront, that keep me fixated, fascinated and engaged with the game. They’re here in Red Tide, of course, along with all the historical detail that makes the game so appealing for those gamers who want to play a World War II game that doesn’t involve anything to do with Normandy or the Battle Of Britain.

And of course that means this is very much more Men of War for the existing adherents, and is unlikely to win any newcomers over to the cult. It’s understandable that many folks have ignored this, a World War II real-time strategy, but I cannot stress how much its creaky complexity as won me over in 2009. If you’ve not take a look at it yet then at least play the demo of the original game, and then consider that it hardly touches on what the game has to offer. Of course, if like me you’re already transfixed by the complex quasi-simulated battlefields of the original then you’re probably already on course to buy this.

One peculiar observation to finish: the one thing they’ve “fixed” is the voice acting. Instead of being enthusiastically spluttered by a faltering amateur the vocals are now supplied professional American voice actors. That’s certainly a more professional finish, but the Americanised delivery of dialogue uttered by hardened Black Sea officers doesn’t sit quite right. It also seems like a peculiar thing to have fixed.

Red Tide is out now on GamersGate and on Steam.

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34 Comments »

  1. Vinraith says:

    Intriguing, thanks for the surprise WIT Jim.

    Any word on how Red Tide will fit into the existing modding scene? I bought the original Men of War more for the Dynamic Campaign mod than for the actual game, I wonder if a version utilizing Red Tide will be forthcoming.

  2. bill says:

    RTS games that require that kind of clairvoyance REALLY bug ne.

    I guess it’s true that war is fluid, and you never know what you’re going to face next… but it really bugs me when I find a nice, elegant, minimal solution to the GIVEN mission, only to have the game suddenly throw additional objectives at me that i’m totally unprepared for.

    It’s exacerbated in RTS games with hugely long missions, and without quicksave. (i’m looking at you Ground Control.).
    I remember being really pleased when i figured out how to finish a mission using only one sniper unit… only to have the second part be one of those “ok, now 100 enemy are going to attack your position – defend!” missions. Which of course I couldn’t, as i hadn’t moved in with a huge force.

  3. donjasjit says:

    Hi Jim, how would you rate this as compared to Men of War in

    1. Variety of missions 2. Difficulty level

  4. destroy.all.monsters says:

    To Vinraith – Well the DMS forums are ablaze with people wanting to do just this so I reckon it will be a matter of time.

    To Jim – thanks for this. Any word on whether any patches to help pathfinding are forthcoming?

  5. MD says:

    Much as I enjoyed laughing at the voice acting, I think I will miss it.

  6. H says:

    Definitely going to get this. I only recently, as in about a week ago, bought Men of War and have been hooked ever since. Company of Heroes has the edge in what I would consider standard RTS-stakes, but this is pure balls-out tension and adrenaline. I was addicted from the moment I started playing the demo. Soon as I was done I went back to Steam and bought the game and have been playing it ever since.

    Broken bodies flying through the air, real attachment to tiny soldiers and the ability to control a sniper and rack up many, many kills. This is a game more people should play, whether it’s a break from your normal MMOG diet or just to sample something different. It’s been a breath of fresh air.

  7. Heliocentric says:

    I own mow and don’t feel like i’ve strained all the fun out of it yet. This sounds pretty non-essential. While this expandalone will have been developed sharing much of the core game and reflects that i am excited to see how they could refine the production values and sharpen the feedback and control in a real sequel.

  8. Isometric says:

    Thanks for this early morning “Wot I Thunk.”
    Brilliant to know that it is essentially more of the same awesome MoW experience.
    Can’t wait to try it out!!

  9. LEEDER KRENNON says:

    i really need to go back and get more out of the excellent initial release.

  10. EBass says:

    Just out of interest Jim do you prefer the enormo-battles or the more “commando” small ones. I’ve always felt Men of War is the weakest of the series because of the focus on enormo-battles. While they look very cool and all I just don’t find the control system is made for it.

    For just one example example in the trainyard mission, because of the inventory system most of your men will be out of ammo before the end of the mission. With no group command such as “Scavanage for ammo” the only way to get them combat effective again is to INDIVIDUALLY run all your dozens and dozens of men around manually picking up ammo one by one.

    I far prefered the “Kellys Heroes” feel of Faces of War or Soldiers:Hereos of WW2, just as chaotic but you felt you were at least nominally in control fo your own men.

    • Kommissar Nicko says:

      That trainyard mission made me want to claw my eyes out, and it was PRECISELY because people needed to be marched around to collect guns and bullets. Sometimes the inventory systems led to pure ownage, but more often, it led to me marching guys out to die just so I didn’t have to look at/deal with them any more, and bring in fresh troops.

      I have a very love/hate relationship with Men o’ War. At the same time, this is true for all RTS, so that’s not a surprise.

  11. Carra says:

    I’ve finished about half of the original Men of War: the German campaign and half the Russian compaign.

    It’s a very fun game which takes a certain kind of player to enjoy it. You often have to quickload and try a new strategy. But if you do make it in the end, it’s a ton of fun.

    • tigershuffle says:

      Love MOW too…..any game that makes you want to care about yr ickle pixellated combatants can only be a good thing….but those stealthemup parts just annoy the hell out of me.
      I suppose its great to have the contrast between them and the enormo-battles, but been able to skip them sometimes would help with my sanity.

      SHOWW2 in spangly new uniform would be lovely.
      Like a fool Ive always traded in my games…..and now wish I could play them again on my ‘modern’ pc. Thank god for bargain bins and ebay .. :D

  12. darthpugwash says:

    Nice one Jim, it was because of various posts here at RPS that I picked up Men of War and I’ve really enjoyed it, it is a great game. I’ll probably be picking up Red Tide as well.

    Does Red Tide feature replays? This would be a majorly cool addition and very useful for the multiplayer side of the game.

  13. darthpugwash says:

    Nice one Jim, it was because of various posts here at RPS that I picked up Men of War and I’ve really enjoyed it, it is a great game. I’ll probably be picking up Red Tide as well.

    Does Red Tide feature replays? This would be a majorly cool addition and very useful for the multiplayer side of the game.

    (I think the internet ate my first attempt at a post, so apologies if this turns up twice)

  14. malkav11 says:

    For people who haven’t picked the game up yet (and live in the US, as I dunno what international pricing is like), it’s worth noting that Steam has a bundle of both the original Men of War and Red Tide for $35. Why is this significant? Because they’re still selling the original for $30, making Red Tide effectively another $5. That’s a damn good deal…but only for those who’re just buying in to the game.

  15. The Innocent says:

    I got it the day it was available, and then immediately remembered why Men of War is one of my favorite, and simultaneously least-favorite, games. The first level was a cakewalk, and followed the usual formula: given a pile of soldiers, I lost about half of them in the first two minutes, then didn’t lose anyone else for the rest of the mission. The second level looked hard, but turned out to be easy: just sneak in and hijack everything (almost always the best tactic), then when it came time to run, I just ran and fired, and finished with everyone still alive.

    But that third level… damn. Eight men and I have to do WHAT at the end?

  16. Railick says:

    One question Jim. Do you get to direct control the ships as you do with tanks ect? Can you control their deck guns and fire at targets on the shore ect? If so then I'm totally sold :P I may miss the horrible voice acting like has been said above though, I really loved the horrible voice acting from Men of War :P

  17. KP says:

    Buy Men of War if you haven’t, best game I’ve bought this year.

    That said: Red Tide sucks. It’s obvious that a 3rd party made the game. They mucked with the AI and hopped them up on stupids. Added indestructible sandbags and put them all around static weapons. You can’t capture vehicles. Every mission is a mindless meatgrinder.

    • KP says:

      OK, I got past the Odessa meatgrinder and it’s starting to get fun. I love this small unit stuff. The AI is still fucked compared to MoW. :)

    • KP says:

      I take it back. After those initial meatgrinder missions this is a blast! Taking the town at the end of the Odessa campaign was a proud moment. I flanked around the trenches and killed the AT gun just as my tanks and bulk force assaulted the trench. They took it in seconds and the trench routed and the breakthrough let all the AI forces push past the trenches. I really wish I could do the small team commando missions co-op. Baiting patrols to chase you in to an ambush with 3 machineguns is satisfying. So is ending that first 1-squad mission with 127 dead enemies to 6 friendlies.

      Red Tide has new problems that Men of War doesn’t but I’m having loads of fun. :D

  18. Javier-de-Ass says:

    btw. KP, if you're still reading this comment. are you sure your men weren't set to free movement? I didn't notice this at first and was thinking what the hell is going on with these units, they were just running around getting killed. it was set to free movement mode by default.

    • KP says:

      Yes, figured that out after my troops committed suicide by machinegun on the second mission. They still act “different” than vanilla MoW. Like sometimes when they’re in easy weapon range and I give an attack order they’ll run across an open field to use a grenade (sometimes an AT grenade, killing themselves). I’m pretty sure the team tweaked the AI in some weird ways. weapon damage is strange, too; splash damage is tiny on most things. It’s not game-breaking bad, at least.

  19. Jim Rossignol says:

    The Al has to be tightly controlled with fire/return fire and free move/hold position, or the do their own thing.

  20. Johnny Go-Time says:

    I absolutely loved Men of War for a few weeks, but each session would reduce me to a fragile, hollow shell of a man…exhausted and weak…
    And that’s an amazing thing for a game to do, and there were some fantastic moments. But now that I haven’t played it for a few months, I’m afraid of going back to it and getting my ass handed to me for 3 weeks straight. I’m actually *afraid* of the game.
    So I won’t argue with anybody who calls it Game of the Year – but at this point, I’m just not worthy of it :(

    • KP says:

      Played Men of War “WW1 style” with some friends in 3v3 up to 6v6. Riflemen, heavy machine guns, motars, snipers, flamethrowers, artillery; points up to the max. Walking artillery before a coordinated trench assault was incredible. It was horrifying. Deaths at the end were in the thousands. After an hour I’d feel drained.

    • Andrew Dunn says:

      This is an idea that I absolutely must try. Jesus it must be incredible/horrifying.

  21. blaargh says:

    Hm, I didn’t even know about this! Men of War has provided a lot of fun in the past, so this was a no brainer. Just got this on steam (is there an RPS steam link or something, by the way?), and as the intro plays I find the voice acting a little jarring. I miss the old Russian-accented English!

    Hopefully there will be some future features on mods for this. Men of War had some great ones, but it was a little confusing digging through them.

  22. Rei Onryou says:

    What of the hats, man? WHAT OF THE HATS!?!

  23. Andrew Dunn says:

    Good WIT, I agree with most all of it.

    What has struck me about Red Tide is its similarity, in many missions, to Soldiers – the original game in the series. That game was very much all about the ‘here are three men with knives, go take out a fully manned tank depot’ style of mission, and Red Tide has this in spades. The entire Manstein’s Big Guns campaign, in fact, is all single-squad-or-less action. I’m enjoying it but so far it hasn’t had the big standout battles that Men of War had in its singleplayer, such as that factory-yard/train evacuation that was the second mission. It also lacks multiplayer of any kind, and it’s multiplayer that’s really kept me (and a bunch of others) glued to Men of War for months, as good as the singleplayer is.

  24. SHOCKED AND APPALED says:

    IT DOES NOT SUPPORT COOP

    I bought it, expecting the same fun to be had like in all it’s predecessors, and it DOES NOT SUPPORT COOP.

    It’s useless to me now! :(

  25. Jim Rossignol says:

    Ooh, that’s a bad oversight on my part. I hadn’t noticed that. (I had no one to play with.)

  26. Buggy says:

    Anyone reads the encyclopedia? In that, the game developers state very clear what kind of war stories they want to tell us via the game. Some of those “8 men kill all” missions are actually based on real historical events.

    Some of the stories might be the product of over exaggeration and propaganda. But even if half of them are true, it is still unbelievably heroic, consider that these marines didn’t have the save button.

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