The Games Of Christmas: December 10th

By RPS on December 10th, 2009 at 11:40 am.


If there’s one game this year that the leader of the Autobots didn’t expect to enjoy, then it was the next one you’ll find behind today’s door in the seasonally festive advent-o-calendar. He just loved it, and thanks to Hivemind’s cheery commentary, you can learn to love it too.

Men Of War!

Jim: While I have long been an advocate and disciple of the real-time strategy, I have seldom shown much love for a World War II setting. Countless excellent games have found themselves embedded in that noble conflict, but I’ve always looked elsewhere: to something more fantastical, to something with a little more imagination. I’d only really end up in the realms of the WWII game is the job demanded it, and that was the case with Men Of War. Fortunately, I’d already had a taste of this particular game. Having missed Soldiers: Heroes Of World War II entirely, my first encounter was with one of the developers at KRI in Moscow. Speaking through a translator, the weathered-looking producer told me all about how armour piercing rounds would shoot through a building, while high explosive rounds would detonate, and bring it down. The Russian PR man rolled his eyes, but it was pure gold. The demo had me entranced.

Six months later the game arrived in the UK and I was tasked with reviewing it for PC Gamer. There wasn’t much excitement, until I showed the team the second level of the game, where a huge number of Russian troops must defend an evacuating factory from the inexorable German advance. At this point, seeing the astounding detail and effortless complexity of Best Way’s battlefield strategy, people started to get hold of the game for themselves. The next day we had a co-op game at lunchtime.

It was classic Men of War: a battle to take a fortified hill that we’d then have to defend from the German counter-attack. Having seen most of our troops massacred by the defending Germans, we finally took the hill with a tank that we’d rescued from a nearby village, and patched up to fight another day. It was clear that our lone tank couldn’t defend the hill on his own, so I took two of my men to crew an abandoned artillery piece further down the road. The grabbed a motorcycle and sidecar. I might not be on the hill, where my co-op chum was defending with the tank, but at least I’d offer fire-support. The Germans arrived before I got there, and a well-placed shell blasted the sidecar out from under them. Miraculously, they were not dead, and – under fire the whole time – the crawled the finally twenty meters to the gun, and begun firing back at the German column. I had become progressively more excited as they made their victory crawl until, finally, my arms were in the air, and I was screaming: “They’re TINY FUCKING HEROES!” It was a scream I would utter several more times as the year went on.

Men Of War is probably my personal favourite game this year. There are better games in lots of wars – ambition, craft, art, originality – but this was the one that made me whoop with joy.

Alec: If it were just Jim and I chiselling the holy RPS games of 2009 list into the stone tablets of the internet, this’d be a strong contender for the Bestest Of Them All slot. The denizens of this electronic debating room would grumble and gasp, of course. This? It’s a dated-looking World War II strategy game, it can be infuriatingly brutal, and it’s by a developer most folk have never heard of. Oh, look how achingly arch and anti-mainstream we are.

Our love for MoW has nothing to do with that, and everything to do with this being the finest real-war RTS since Company of Heroes – and it’s a whole lot better than even that in a bunch of key ways. Tactics, variety, challenge, logic, destruction: it is strange and difficult king of all these things. But what really makes it is something that no-one else has really thought to do. It’s something I’m amazed has been so overlooked – all this frenzy to make singleplayer RTS relevant again by adding a cavalcade of experience points and unlocks, and it’s all missing the obvious, the one thing that could comfortably rescue any campaign from the formulaic doldrums.

RTS levels aren’t believable places. They’re not living worlds, full of people going about their business or actively sniffing around for trouble. They’re resource points and magic tank factories and glowing flags. You can’t lose yourself to the fantasy with all that crap on the screen. Men of War, though – that’s in a real place, a collection of huge, dense environments waiting to be destroyed, pillaged or snuck carefully through. Chaos theory governs it – a small misstep on your part leads to a breakneck sequence of guerrilla skirmishes, desperate hiding and feverish attempts to swipe scraps of ammo from dead men’s pockets before you’re caught in the headlights of a Panzer.

It’s never as simple, as obvious, as sterile as Go Here And Fight Until Someone’s Dead. It can never and will never play the same way twice – MoW is a series of war stories, played out organically, and with all the troughs of disaster and peaks of against-all-odds victories that this entails.

It’s a strategy game, but more importantly it’s a roleplaying game – putting you square in the boots of a few outnumbered, under-provided 1940s Allied soldiers. The land and its contents is all they have – and the source of far more meaningful interactions for these particular hero archetypes than any amount of dialogue options could ever be. It also has a fine selection of lootable hats, and there’s no more sure sign of a game being an RPG than that.

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53 Comments »

  1. Ian says:

    It’d never caught my interest before but the way you guys write about it here makes it pretty appealing.

    Alas, I’m considering giving up on This Sort of Thing because with strategy games I tend to find myself loving it for a few hours before getting stuck/bored.

  2. Dante says:

    That section has actually sold this game to me more than any of the praise lavished on it earlier this year.

    Especially the comparison to Company of Heroes, I love that game.

  3. Isometric says:

    I totally agree with this. Best RTS of the year and possibly my personal favourite game of the year.

    They’ve achieved the atmosphere i’ve been wanting from an RTS for a long time and i genuinely care for all those tiny little men i’m reluctantly sending toward enemy fire. I really feel terrible when they die. It’s devastating if you lose any armour. Not to mention the tactics involved to keep them alive can be so well implemented if you’ve got the nack for it.. I also like to think of stealing hat as war trophies. Great addition to the list, i’m glad to see it here.

  4. Wilson says:

    This is very much a good game, and I’ve had a lot of fun with it. That said, I kinda wish the AI was better. It’s not bad, but every now and then your men do stupid things, or just aren’t capable of looking after themselves.

    For instance there aren’t options to have your men conserve ammo or resupply themselves (who can be bothered to fill twenty guys’ pockets with more rifle ammo manually?) and you can’t set tanks or AT guns to only fire on armoured targets. I find this somewhat spoils some of the bigger battles, because there’s too much micromanagement, for my liking anyway, but it’s still a very different and fun game.

    • Kommissar Nicko says:

      Indeed, it’s the brilliant moments that will make you laugh (a guy lobbing a grenade at a column of men at the other side of a wall, all without breaking cover OR STANDING?! Brilliant!); and the sad moments that will make you cry (a guy running valiantly again with a grenade, toward the flank of a tank, circle around to the front, pause, get machinegunned while arming said grenade like a goddamn doofus, and then nobly die with the grenade un-thrown in his hand. Saddening.).

  5. Heliocentric says:

    If stalker is the eastern european crysis, mow is the eastern european company of heroes.

    Its not better, its not worse. But despite being genetically similar they have little in common.

  6. Miles of the Machination says:

    The thing that I find appealing about this is that it actually goes back to that strategy thing, ignoring the conventions of “Send 500 troops at the enemy and see if they die” and actually putting some more thought into managing the livelyhood of smaller group of individuals you actually care about. Also, if anybody is interested, somebody has made a STALKER mod for Men of War, it actually looks pretty cool.

  7. Alexander Norris says:

    Oh no! Another game for old people. I am not pleased, Jim Rossignol. You only think of the 28-30 demographic!

    Jokes aside: it’s a fun game. I never got past the second mission. I blame that partly on the fact that the second mission is murderously hard, and partly on the fact that since it was an hour long mission I moved onto other games once it became clear I needed to replay it from the start (at the 55mn mark). Bit of a shame, really, since once I’d lost it became pretty clear how I could have placed my units in order to ensure a win – the problem being that that didn’t become clear until I’d wasted 60mn on a mission that was unwinnable given my troop disposition.

    I got two copies when it was on discount a while back, but my friend has played it even less than I have. I still haven’t worked out how the game decides which soldier gets grouped into which squad when you select a bunch of them (although that may just be that I need to RTFM), and the one attempt we made at co-op (on the aforementioned train mission) ended in disaster about 10mn while we were scrambling to figure out who had control of which unit.

    Still, we had a fun time – but we then went back to compstomping in Company of Heroes, because meeting Men of War’s interface feels like running headlong into a brick wall.

  8. Collic says:

    This game is utterly amazing. Best RTS ever in my eyes (not counting command and conquer, but only because that was something utterly new and fantastic to me when I played it).

  9. Schaulustiger says:

    This would be one of my favorite RTS of all time, if, yes IF they just had implemented the slowdown-option for Co-op. My mate and I simply can’t handle the bigger missions in real time. Still, it’s more our fault than the game’s.

    Otherwise, this is how a proper epic RTS should be.

  10. Nathan says:

    I picked Men of War up in a Steam sale earlier this year (it seemed like a good deal, even though I’d barely heard of it at the time). From what I’ve played of it so far, I can only echo what others have said about the attachment that I felt to my little men. Though the difficulty is quite a stinger (and I also find it hard to find people to play against).

  11. DMJ says:

    I’ve bounced off Men of War’s learning curve more often than I bounced off Dwarf Fortress for the same reason.

    Yes, I realise that this technically makes me insane.

  12. Gunrun says:

    Clicking on the image for this post sends me to a 404 page, anyone else?

    Men of War is bloody fantastic though, such a shame the expandalone misses out coop.

  13. Duffin says:

    I want this now. Curse you.

  14. cyrenic says:

    The co-op in this game was utterly fantastic. I need to round up some friends and go finish up all the missions. Didn’t much care for the stealth missions, though.

  15. espy says:

    Loved the demo, despite it chugging along at 20 fps on my notebook. With a better PC, I’d have bought it immediately.

    But ze voice eckting! Atrouschus.

  16. Collic says:

    That link should have been gamereplays.org. I clearly buggered up the tags. Ah well.

  17. Lucas says:

    I played a lot of Faces of War with a friend, but he has mysterious interface issues with Men of War and just can’t get into it. IMHO, the Men interface is much much better. My friend tends to use odd keybindings (like run foward on a mouse button for FPS games) and couldn’t understand the unit resource model in multiplayer, which I will admit is not very transparent. It’s a shame, as I would love to play more of this. Maybe we can start over with a mode you can’t get wrong (no resource ticker to exhaust), or in co-op.

  18. nickski says:

    best. voice. acting. EVER
    I’ve never laughed so much while feeling terror at the prospect of yet ANOTHER wave of nazi pig dogs rolling over my poor many hatted few. Agree about the resupply, annoying as hell having to send individual guys to an ammo box in very brief moments of respite. Am i right in remembering there was no drag n drop from the crates also? fiddly for sure.

  19. Dominic White says:

    I remember when a bunch of major sites/magazines actually gave Faces of War (the previous game in the series… kinda – MoW is all the Russian expansions for FoW rolled into one cohesive whole) really terrible scores simply because it wasn’t Company of Heroes.

    Apparently it was also highly formulaic, despite not playing like anything else.

    I sometimes wonder if the big sites/magazines just give the lesser-known games to the angry interns with no idea of what they’re doing.

    • MD says:

      It’s also a good opportunity for them to show how tough and critical they are, without risking the ire of fanboys/,ajor publishers.

    • MD says:

      ,ajor = major (sorry, not logged in so can’t edit)

    • MD says:

      “Look at us, we’re accused of rating on a scale from 7-10, but we totally DO use the entire range of scores!*”

      *when we find a soft enough target, something to slam without ruffling any feathers that matter to us

  20. Neut says:

    A few friends and I played this in multiplayer skirmish and it’s a blast. I got it for the coop and single player first but I’ve found that that’s actually too “serious” for this game. This game is all about the crazy ridculous fun you can have in FFA games.

    One time I loaded up a flamethrower guy in a bike, charged it headlong into a heavy tank my friend had spent ages building up the resources for, set its engines on fire at which point it blew up taking with it the flamethrower and the bike. He was raging and laughing at the same time.

    Another time for some stupid reason I decided a pillbox surrounded by combustible ammo would be a good place to park my flamethrower dude, needless to say at the first sight of enemy infantry he panics and fires his flamethrower, the flame hits the inside wall of the pillbox, setting himself on fire, and the fire spreads to the ammo boxes, which explode killing the machine gunner I also had guarding the pillbox. The enemy infantry that the flamethrower panicked at was some random scout that was just passing through.

    And then there was the time me and 2 other friends spent the entire game trying to see who could hijack the single tractor that was in the map for the longest without blowing it up/getting blown up.

    It definitely makes for a welcome change from the balanced seriousness of Company of Heroes.

  21. kwyjibo says:

    This has got to be a finalist for the most generic name of the year.

  22. Hentzau says:

    Multiplayer Men of War is the most hysterical game I’ve ever played. The best thing I’ve seen so far was the flamethrower man who took a machine gun bullet in exactly the right place for him to embark on an impromptu re-enactment of The Rocketeer before exploding at the apex of his flight arc. The emergent situations that the game engine makes possible aren’t necessarily realistic but they are immensely entertaining.

    • Gabanski83 says:

      That was definitely one of the most memorable multiplayer rounds we’ve played, Hentzau.

      Love this game. It can take a bit to get into (and you most definitely need to go through the manual/key bindings before playing, as the interface is a little difficult to get to grips with), but it really isworth it. Great multiplayer gaming, a fantastic single player campaign (playable Soviet, German and Allied missions) with some inspired scenarios. Definitely recommend to anyone.

      Russian KV-2′s ftw.

    • Andrew Dunn says:

      Sekrit Forum Men of War multiplayer acolytes unite!

      Easily one of my favourite games of the year. Singleplayer, co-op, adversarial multiplayer… it’s all gold, although it’s the ‘proper’ multiplayer that’s kept us so very entertained for so long. I loved the singleplayer enough to write an AAR of it, though:

      http://bluecasket.sekritforum.com/?p=439

      It is of course about that notorious second mission.

    • Doomguy says:

      *salutes*

  23. The Innocent says:

    This is definitely my game of the year, and everything said above is absolutely, beautifully true. Just the other day I finally sat down one of my friends to play co-op to teach him the ropes. We started with the usual first mission, which went by easily enough — and given the praise I had lavished on the game, was possibly a bit underwhelming.

    But then we played that infamous second mission, the defense of the factory town for an hour against overwhelming odds. As we started, I told him, “We’re going to lose. Just don’t worry about it. Just look at it like a playground.”

    The fun stuff happens when you’ve lost countless defenses to three tanks and a hundred elite troops, and then your one remaining rifleman hides and takes down twenty enemies and two tanks before biting it in a hail of gunfire, and then you run in a reserve squad of eight guys and micromanage them and take out everyone else. That sort of thing just can’t happen in other RTSs, including CoH.

    Oh, and we won, if only barely. Our men finished loading the train while the enemy began shelling said train itself. We had lost 150 men and killed 750. Best game ever.

  24. StalinsGhost says:

    See, Men of War might have been my game of the year – except there’s no skirmish mode.

  25. Jimmy says:

    I want this game too, but can’t, as I have work to do. If Msr. Bonaparte had discovered RTS gaming, would he have forgotten to be Napoleon, and have got up late every day and played all day in his PJs?

  26. GC says:

    You’re totally right saying it is a RPG as much as a RTS… I just realized that this game could be really fun with a zombie survival mod !

  27. Sovietmudkipz says:

    Good call. Great game. Maybe this nondenominational-but-still-really-christmas-game-calendar has some hope yet.

    No complaints today.

  28. Serondal says:

    I certainly had many of those moments described above where I’m saying to myself, or out loud, “THOSE GUYS ARE F@#$@# HEROS!” I try to explain to my wife why I’m yelling this and she doesn’t understand :(

    She doesn’t see how one guy running out of a fox hole (While everyone else is pinned down by 4 German tanks and countless infantry) and tossing a anti-tank grenade which destroying one of those tanks is heroic. “He just did it because you told him to! Big deal!” She doesn’t understand that I’m the one who loaded this guy up with anti-tank grenades; I’m the one that put him in the fox hole. By all rights he should have stayed there with his head down like the rest but when I gave him the order to attack that tank he didn’t say “No, I think I’ll stay here” He rushed out into the blizzard of bullets and fire and he did his god D@$@#ed job! Then he threw another one and blew up another tank, and then another and another until ALL 4 tanks were dead! Finally the rest of his mates rallied around him and ran out of the fox holes, mowing down the infantry in a moment.

    This happened on the second Russian level on the eastern side of the compound, you know the part where the tanks just roll right over the wall. This was before I figured out how to use anti-tank mines.

  29. pepper says:

    I love this game so much, i play it online coop/vs on an almost daily basis with people from all over the world. Really having a blast with the GSM mod which allows us to even select different AP shells(APCR, HEAT etc). Its a lot of fun scrounching the battlefield for a repairkit, repairing a 222 with a 20mm cannon, and then blasting through the defenses, taking over a small island in a river, turning those pak guns, and awaiting the coming attack..

  30. Railick says:

    I like that it is one of the few RTS games where you can play on your own terms. The first german mission I beat with just a sniper for the most part up until the end when you need a tank of some kind to take the airfield. Try doing that in company of heros and I don’t think you’d get very far :)

  31. EGTF says:

    The thing that tempts me most to get this game? Hat swapping.

  32. Stu says:

    Pssst… that’s “the one true leader of the Autobots” to you…

  33. Witchdoctor180 says:

    AIM IS IN THE REACH ZONE!

  34. MD says:

    To my shame I don’t have MoW installed at the moment. It’s on its way to my hard drive now though, thanks to this post. I remember loving the demo, buying the game and having some frustrating fun failing the train mission whilst listening to the cricket. (The Ashes, in fact). But for some reason I never really went back to it after a couple of attempts at that mission, and I’ve since reformatted. Kept a copy of my save though! All ‘one completed level’ of it.

  35. malkav11 says:

    I’m not a big fan of the WWII, but this one has such an insane level of detail it makes for wonderful gaming.

  36. nutterguy says:

    I remember being so amazing excited when I found out that almost every vehicle in the game works perfectly.
    Dock: You can shunt trains and carriages around and move cranes!
    Airbase: You can get in a plane and fly it around the map and then BOMB your enemies with it!

    It has ruined all games that have un-intractable vehicles because I presume EVERYTHING now works.

  37. Nickosha says:

    Sweet. I bought this on Amazon 2 weeks ago for like $5.00. I think it’s still cheap if anyone is interested.

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