Hands On With MOW: Assault Squad

Yesterday afternoon, Phill and I managed to spend some time initiating the deaths of historical combatants in Men Of War: Assault Squad, which is the forthcoming multiplayer reworking of tactical cleverness simulator, Men Of War. We weren’t picky: Americans, Britons, Germans, Russians, they all took their turn on the field of co-op glory that is Assault Squad’s skirmish mode. Read on to find out what it was that we discovered.

The first challenge, of course, is to install and log into the game. It all worked! Saying our thanks to the Gods of compatibility and optimisation, we entered our Gamespy logins (fresh in our minds from having been dusted off for Borderlands, after years languishing in obscurity) and entered the lobby system. Skirmish isn’t the only option that awaits us, of course, because Assault Squad has two other competitive multiplayer modes. But those were not today’s task, instead we were going to fight our way to co-operative victory. Or so we thought.

I’m not sure what difficulty level Men Of War defaults to when you don’t pick one, but it’s clearly the one that reads “Too Hard For Us”. After making our first attempts to take a European town from its American occupiers, things weren’t looking great. We had the right idea: soften them up with some mortar fire, but our little men were getting cut to pieces. Gradually, painfully, we advanced, remembering Men Of War’s various lovely little features as we played.

Foremost among these features, of course, is that hats of anyone on the field can be shot off. But it’s not just about head garment dislocation, there’s the totally destructible scenery, the use of cover, and the glorious ability to take direct control of any of your units on the battlefield. Direct control turns this from indirect RTS commander experience to something more like a shooter. Deciding exactly where tanks shells are going to go is a splendid extension of normal RTS power-fantasies, but it’s also very useful when you’re trying to execute tricky or imaginative tactics. I used this to pretty effectively to take control of a machingunner and storm some trenches and, at one point, used a grenade and a pistol to kill ten entrenched enemy soldiers, before capturing the point. It was such an accomplishment that sang with joy, making our decision not to use voice-comms seem sensible.

And speaking of points, I should come around to my point about points: MOW:AS’s skirmish maps feature a series of strategic points which are, at the start of the game, held by the enemy. You defend the single one you start with, and unlock (or relock) greater quotients of reinforcements as you capture/lose each line of enemy points. This means every battle is an escalation, culminating in a crescendo of tanks and heavy support. Unfortunately for me and Phill, our first crescendo of tanks turned out to be purely enemy ones. We’d been stuck at the couple of lines of enemy defences, and then overstretched. Had we taken some time to dig in and shore up our own position, we might have been okay. A wave of tanks and infantry meant that we weren’t. We were beaten right back to our home base and defeated. This beating wasn’t without spectacle, however: seeing Phill take out a tank which had run him over – thanks to a dropped grenade – was a beautiful moment.

Ruefully flicking the difficulty down to Easy, we had a much smoother ride with the second map we played, which was a desert scenario in which British forces were attacking German defences. This really showed off some of the breadth of units that the game gives you. While we were back with the mortars for hammering enemy lines, we were also using recoilless rifle chaps to take on armour, snipers to take on infantry across the wide open desert spaces, mounted guns to give things and explosive biff, and finally several tiers of tanks to make that final assault, tooth-and-nail assault genuinely interesting. Air power, one-shot power ups of artillery-mashing splendour, also made itself known.

Having learned our lesson from previous encounters, we made sure to rush the first line, and to entrench ourselves a little better with machineguns and other support weapons. Keeping momentum up is essential: if you haven’t unlocked the better equipment by the time the enemy tanks and other tools of destruction arrive on the field, then you are going to struggle.

In the end our victory took the better part of an hour, and saw several hundred tiny men sent to their deaths. There were moments of extreme heroism, and moments of horrible futility (like when I wasted a dozen lives trying to capture a huge enemy artillery piece, which then proved too slow to turn around and shoot the enemy reinforcements before they arrived to retake it), but overall a solid Men Of War experience.

All of which leads me to concluding platitudes. The Men Of War engine and systems aren’t exactly flawless, but they do have a kind of intricate beauty that I don’t seem to be able to get enough of. They’re just detailed enough for you to really feel like the smallest decisions are vital. A few people have expressed doubts about Assault Squad because it doesn’t feature a campaign, and I have to admit I share this worry, because we’re not entirely sure about the price. Going by this afternoon’s experiences, however, I don’t really care. Balls to stealth missions and other such distractions: the meat of Men Of War is in the escalating firefights through dense and destructible environments. It’s the sheer fact of seething detail on a huge battlefield – those little moments of awesomeness amid a rolling mill of carnage. On the basis of what we’ve seen so far, I think Assault Squad is going to be a splendid addition to the Men Of War line up. Skirmish might not be enough for purely solo players, but I suspect the co-op and competitive rewards for folks who want to play with other humans will be a decent payoff.

No firm release date on this, I believe, but it shouldn’t be too long. We’re looking forward to judging the full thing, and we’ll probably have a glance at those competitive game modes before then. More soon!

Oh, and here’s the new trailer:


  1. CaptainEnglishPants says:

    How does it handles in FPS mode? And do you share the same rts controls with another/other player(s) in co-op?

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      Direct control isn’t FPS, you have 3D camera from the normal RTS mode. And yes, you have normal RTS controls. There’s no-base building as such, so in co-op each of you simply looks after his own troops (although you share reinforcement pools.)

    • pingualot says:

      In the editor that comes with the game it is possible to go into a kind of FPS mode. If you make yourself near invincible u could take on an entire mission by yourself.

  2. Heliosicle says:

    Ahhh I want this! Only ever played it competitively though, never played co op on the original.

    Have they upgraded the engine in any way? Or is it just that those shots are more compact?

    • pingualot says:

      The engine has been upgraded quite a bit. The shaders are much better and so are all the model textures and ground textures. Also you can turn the view distance much higher than in normal MoW.

  3. caesarbear says:

    But can you change the game speed?

  4. Nallen says:

    I’m a little confused about this, but interested. I play a lot of co-op with my brother.

    If I start with Company of Heroes (It’s The War, things are destructable) then cross it with Dawn of War 2 (no bases) and make the maps bigger…am I close? am I a million miles away?

    Direct control has me a little lost too, is it a third person shooter now, or just a really zoomed in RTS?

    I think I need some demo based action.

    Also sorry if all this is clear from the video, I can’t watch it at work.

    • Wilson says:

      @Nallen – Yeah, it’s a hard game to describe. It isn’t as polished as COH, and it’s more detailed (e.g. all your men have individual inventories full of grenades and ammunition, and you can scavenge more from corpses).

      The direct control allows you to move individual men and vehicles using arrow keys and mouse to aim/shoot. You keep the same view, but it tracks whatever you are direct controlling. Your view tends to be quite close to the action anyway, so it doesn’t need to zoom in further or anything.

      I think it’s a great game, but it could really use some better AI for your individual units, just to automate some of the less interesting tasks (such as rearming your guys). And yes, playing a demo would be a must for this (I’m pretty sure it has one?)

    • Ginger Yellow says:

      “If I start with Company of Heroes (It’s The War, things are destructable) then cross it with Dawn of War 2 (no bases) and make the maps bigger…am I close? am I a million miles away?”

      Somewhat close, but not quite. CoH is probably the closest comparable (apart from the game’s direct predecessors), but it feels very different. On the one hand the scope of the game is much, much larger – it often feels like a proper battlefront, not just a small scale skirmish. On the other hand, it gets almost RPGy in the way each soldier has its own inventory and you can pilfer ammo from dead enemies (or comrades). The unit AI is also surprisingly self sufficient (if somewhat obtuse at times), so you can to a certain extent focus on a small part of the battle for a while and let the AI deal with the rest.

    • pingualot says:

      link to gamershell.com

      That’s the original demo. Should clear most issues. In many ways it’s in comparable with both those games. I.E One man with an AT grenade can take down the best tank in the entire game if he gets close and lucky. Those games don’t do that :)

  5. Ian says:

    Is there a mode dedicated entirely to shooting the enemy’s hats off?

  6. Wilson says:

    So I take it the maps aren’t random, though the units you’ll be facing in them are? Is the AI any better do you think? How many maps are there for skirmish mode? It sounds really good, but I was a bit disappointed with the main game, and especially Red Tide, though that was partly my fault for not realizing it wasn’t co-op (god knows why not).

    • Chris Kramer says:

      15 skirmish for 5 nations. The defences of the AI are random, as well as where and when they attack you. The variety of units you face also depends on the difficulty you choose.

  7. pepper says:

    First of all, its mostly a “normal” RTS, although dont expect tank rushes with 20 tanks. The most tanks I’ve had under control at any one time was 12 in a coop game.

    You control a army on a level varying from a platoon to a squad. You can control individual soldiers or group them up. The AI is amazingly smart and dumb at times, but manages to save its own buttocks, so you dont always have to baby sit them and can just focus on where you are forcing a breach.

    Direct control allows you to take control of a single unit(either a man, or a vehicle). The camera’s dont change, but you suddenly can drive the tank, aim the turret, change ammo, etc. Then you can happily driva a tank in a assault, or my favorite technique, take a scout car and see whats behind enemy lines(destroy there blasted 150’s!!).

    There is a popular mod, GSM 2010 that adds a bazillion new units. And from what I understood so far is that the new game is a combination between the old coop/MP mode and skirmishes from most RTS’s.

    You can download the demo from the game through steam, it should give you a good idea how it works.

  8. nichevo says:

    As a Men of War fan, I hope this lack of campaign does not mean less cutscene opportunity for hilarious voice acting.

  9. Heliosicle says:

    Oh and another question, what kind of size is the force you can make? Is it very against the odds ish like in the SP, or more even like in competitive multi?

    • pingualot says:

      At the start of most of the skirmish’s you have a small force but by the end you will have multipletanks and near 100 inf. especially if you play as USSR.

  10. Alexander Norris says:

    I don’t really understand why this is being sold as a separate game rather than, say, an expansion to Men of War. If I own MoW, what incentive do I have to buy Assault Squad, other than the chance that it might draw all the players/modders away from MoW?

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      Well it’s an “expandalone”, right?

    • Alexander Norris says:

      Jim: expandalone always conveys a kind of “sufficiently different from the base game to warrant being a separate thing” vibe to me; not sure why. Either way, I’m still left wondering if there’s anything at all that someone who owns MoW might get from buying this. It just sounds MoW without the single player and with a few new maps/game modes?

    • Chris Kramer says:

      You should check the developers updates and or more news on the developers website. MoW:AS leaves pretty much nothing untouched and could be considered as a MoW 1.5.

    • Nick says:

      “expandalone always conveys a kind of “sufficiently different from the base game to warrant being a separate thing” vibe to me; not sure why.”

      I can’t think of any expandalones that have been different. They are prety much all just expansion packs that don’t require the original game.

    • John J. Rambo says:

      People who would purchase MOW: Assault Squad as an expansion for MOW would, for the most part, buy it as an expandalone. However, by making it an expandalone they also net those who are interested in getting in Assault Squad, but would not buy the original to be able to play it. In fact, this describes all six or seven of my friends.

  11. Subject 706 says:

    Sod this WW2 tomfoolery! I want to know more about Men Of War : Vietnam!

  12. kulik says:

    Absence of replay system is dragging the game down for me, c’mon even freeware startegies already have replays.

    • pingualot says:

      The one reason why there aren’t is that each individual bullet is registered and so is every bit of everything that moves in the game. Now imagine that in an engine that was built with replays in mind and you can see the problem.

  13. Rinox says:

    I wish I could shoot people’s hats off in TF2.

  14. HDCrab says:

    Does this have a chance of becoming America’s second-favorite war-themed hat simulator?

  15. Gumbomasta says:

    Men of War is an awesome awesome experience, but I always lamented the inability to save games during the campaign missions I played with my friend in co-op mode. We’d have these hour-long epic rumbles and we’d screw up in the closing moments and have to start over.

    Is there a save-in-the-middle feature in AS?

  16. Jog says:

    For those of you that don’t understand how direct control works – think of it as a top down shooter like Alien Swarm. Except you can take any unit (infantry, tanks or even the artillery) from the battlefield and control it with your mouse and keyboard. The camera doesn’t change. It’s still a standard RTS camera, but you want you can control any unit from the top down view like in Alien Swarm.

    • pingualot says:

      Don’t forget you can also change the camera to look anywhere, As in right behind the turret on a tank.

  17. donjasjit says:

    Jim, is there no single player at all? That will be sad.

    But of course there is Men of War-Vietnam to look forward to for a single player experience.

    • pingualot says:

      The skirmish can be played SP. And with 15 its the same as normal MoW.

  18. EBass says:

    Faces of War was still the best in the series, had the most variety of missions and scope.

    Still if my mate Marcus who I play this with decides to pick it up I guess I will also.

  19. Jimbo says:

    I was planning on skipping this due to a lack of campaign, but the structure of the co-op / skirmish sounds pretty good. I had a lot of fun playing CoH the same way (using the excellent Infantry Only mod).

  20. The Innocent says:

    Well, I’m definitely getting it. MoW is the best RTS out there, and skirmishes in which the AI is actually doing something is a tremendous boon.

  21. TychoCelchuuu says:

    I hate to toot my own horn, but for anyone having trouble imagining what Men of War looks/plays like, I have a YouTube channel chock full of videos, including my most recent video of the Assault Squad beta.

    • Huggster says:

      I like your video.
      Now I am stuck because I am tempted by the beta, but it appears to be just around the corner for full release. I must say I tried either FoW of SHOWW2 in MP but it did not seem to grab me. I am hoping this will provide more noob vs noob public battles. Personally I have no issue with them releasing what is basically revisions to the original game, as each time is gets more and more refined and balanced.

  22. Antihero says:

    This is just a reboxing of Soldiers: Heroes of World War II. Don’t be fooled!

  23. Vinraith says:

    This sounds interesting, though I wish they’d take it to its logical conclusion and give us an official version of the dynamic campaign generator, with co-op support. I’d preorder that in an instant.

  24. malkav11 says:

    Gamespy? Why? WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY?!?! -post-trauma flashbacks begin-

    • pepper says:

      Hamachi. I have never even used the official network thingy for MP. I always setup a hamachi network with the people I play with.

  25. Huggster says:

    Well I have purchased beta tester access.
    Its pretty good though probably pretty ruthless on beginners – for example I thought my point allowance was shared with the other players so was not buying stuff! This is in skirmish only I gather.
    However now I understand the mechanics properly I will get stuck in again. Having played the previous games will help a lot, if not keep playing the skirmish mode over and over using direct control.