Hands On: Men Of War Assault Squad 2

Men Of War: Assault Squad 2, or MOWASTWO for short, is now available to those who buy into the ongoing beta. Full release is scheduled for the 20th of March. Needless to say, Jim dove in, headfirst.

I’ll admit that I’m a bit in love with the Men Of War games. It clouds my judgement. The series is flawed, even occasionally lame, but always so beautiful to my eye. Many games have attempted to sell us the idea of War, and even more the idea of Men, but it is only in Men Of War that these two ideas fused together, like desperate lovers, to produce a simulationist battlefield mutant that looks at us with terrible eyes and says: “Aim is in the reach zone!”

I’m sorry, it’s been a while since I wrote anything. All my metaphors seem to have become sticky from neglect.

You should know about the Men Of War games. Perhaps you don’t. If you don’t, then your life has a hole in it, a big hole that can only be filled by the exploding battlefields of this lurching World War II-themed monstrosity. It is a complex, messy thing, and like war itself it is mostly about sending tiny men to their deaths to test whether doing that will win the battle. All too often, it doesn’t.

Unlike most finely tuned and well-poised RTS games, these games are more about the action than the balance of play. It is more about the joy of tank damage models than it is about fairness, or even realism. This is no carefully wrought game of soldiers like Company Of Heroes, no, it is instead a barbed-wire-filled no man’s land of off-screen dice and destructible scenery that lies between the RTS and a full blown simulation. Everything has its own stats, its own AI, it’s own goddamned damage models and individual inventories. The Men Of War games are overblown, teetering on the brink of collapse from all the mayhem they try to cram into their khaki knapsacks.

Its fair to say that this hasn’t changed much since the first game in the Men Of War series. MOWAS2 is little different from its predecessors in this regard. The same features – including glorious direct control – remain unaltered. While the series has made some advancements here and there, with new things to destroy, bigger maps, a better editor, and some engine improvements, it has never really taken a big step from the technology or the template of that first game. Assault Squad itself was an attempt to push the series in a direction that coped better with multiplayer, by making the entire thing more skirmished-led, with lashings of co-op, and providing a number of game modes more suited to multiplayer than the original campaign. This sequel simply places its feet in the same shoes and tries to stumble a bit further through the Eastern Front snow decals.

Something you should understand about the scope of the Men Of War games, including this one, is that the levels range from precarious “stealth” scenarios where you’re expected to take out a tank-zoo of defences with a handful of commandos, to vast, ongoing armour-slaughters, where waves of hapless infantry smash themselves face-first onto the raging guns of entire lines of heavy weapons, bunkers, and happy Panzers. It is a game that has an enormous amount going on, but at the same time, if you’ve played a previous game, you’ve pretty much seen everything that MOWAS 2 has to offer. Every game in the series does everything, which seems like an odd sort of methodology.

Like its predecessor, MOWAS 2 doesn’t have a full-blown campaign – the tedious Vietnam was the last game in the series to try that – but it does offer a handful of skirmish missions. The first of these levels (all of which are playable single player) is a brutal assault in which you have to conduct both defence against tanks and armour, as well as recapturing a damaged tank and then using that to spearhead an attack of your own. The second level, meanwhile, sees you controlling a single squad which has to assault an enemy-held town, quietly neutralizing both snipers and artillery stations. Like I said, it comes with a barrel-load of variety, even when the new offerings are slim.

These maps are radically different experiences, and both test the game engine and your patience in quiet different ways. Personally I’d be happy just to thrash my way through the intense firefights, and I get to do that if I play multiplayer. In fact I have to get it there, because there are only these four new skirmish levels to get through solo. That doesn’t seem like much, but actually there’s a lot more in multiplayer options – fifteen new maps in all. The game has also eaten the original MOWAS, so all those maps are in there too. That’s… a lot of maps. The multiplayer offering is now as huge as the scope of its battlefield brawls, and the original MOWAS was also swollen by numerous free updates of maps, game mods and units. I’d anticipate much the same level of support for this game. Indeed, 1c are already touting that as a reason to buy.

Despite these comforting promises, the same old awkwardness that the original games demonstrated appear in this game, despite the years of familiarity and polish. People are still complaining about crash bugs, and I still find tanks that have “got confused” during battle and need to nudged into actually attacking anything. The Men Of War games have always been a clever toy stuck in a spider-web of feature complexity, and that’s part of their charm. Nothing else attempts this. At the same time, well, it’d be nice if all that iteration had smoothed out the fundamentals. It seems it never will.

Because of all this, there’s also the lingering issue with having seen many of these assets before. It does feel like very much the same game, because despite a few new models, the old ones are still making their charge up to that bump-mapped bunker. The games have lost none of their chaotic lustre, but the small advances in engine tech – like better support for multiple cores and so forth – simply add a bit of shine to the stark fact that a true sequel hasn’t been attempted. Perhaps it won’t be. Perhaps, wisely, 1c realise that attempting such a thing will lead off the path and into danger. I notice we haven’t heard much from its modern world update, Call To Arms.

Men Of War and I have long been gazing across the internet at each other. And for a while I thought it loved me back. I can’t tell any more, though, because if I am honest MOWAS2 DOES seem like just the same old resources trotted out once again. Not that this will stop me spending time with it. I can’t help being dazzled by its patter and its great big rainbow of strategy-simulation. It still seems like that should be enough, even if our tired old relationship really needs something new.

Men Of War: Assault Squad 2 is out on March 20th.


  1. Premium User Badge

    Lexx87 says:

    Welcome back Jim!

    • tigershuffle says:

      ^^like what he said^^

      Was really hoping that it might change the mechanics a bit more.
      Played all of its iterations since SHOWW2

      Ive even gifted MOW-AS to my 11 yr old from the Steam sale …to no avail

      think ill have to pass on this as Im happy with what ive got already

  2. SuicideKing says:

    Jim, have you had a chance to play any Wargames so far? Like the one in which you can do some Air-to-Land battles?

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      I haven’t, but I’ll make it a priority to do so.

      • DatonKallandor says:

        Well it’s too late now. Closed beta for Wargame:Red Dragon has started today. That means in about a month at the latest Red Dragon is out. And once you’ve got Red Dragon with all it’s Navy and Amphibious Goodness AirLandBattle is hard to go back to.

  3. The Laughing Owl says:

    I really hope all this spam and virus websites makes RPS staff rethink their shitty comment system and implement something better like Disqus already. Not that there is no spam on Disquis, but it’s easier do control it.

  4. Jerppa says:

    These games always remind me of playing with those tiny plastic soldiers.

    • CookPassBabtridge says:

      The ones you stuffed up your bum when you were 7? And had to go to accident & emergency?
      God I hated them.

  5. Thrippy says:

    After many months of the COH franchise being relentlessly bashed by MoW fandom, it’s finally time for MoW to be judged by the same standards.

    • Smion says:

      Did this actually happen? They are two pretty dissimilar games I would argue.

      • Zarathruster says:

        I think it’s just the setting and that they’re both tactics-based RTS’. You never hear MoW compared to, say, Dawn of War or Starcraft.

    • hewhosayszonk says:

      Both CoH2 and MoWAS2 are essentially “what you liked about the previous game, slightly tweaked around the edges”. Although they’re both similar on the surface, it’s really like comparing Arma to Battlefield. CoH is more your “cinematic world war 2 experience” RTS while Men of War is hitting a more sim-like niche.

      Anyway, while I love them both in principle, I am perfectly willing to continue fanboying about Men of War until the cows come home – that is, until I manage to overcome the poor pathfinding of the cows and bring them home using direct control.

  6. Janek says:

    Any word on whether it’s ditched the god-awful Gamespy multiplayer lobbies?

    • haradaya says:

      Oh yes, it is fully integrated with Steam now. So I guess what we’re really paying for here is better performance.

  7. Smion says:

    I think I fell in love around the time I accidentally blew up my own half-track after bouncing a shot off the side-armor of an enemy Tiger-tank.

  8. ukpanik says:

    “doesn’t have a full-blown campaign”

    Which is why I will not be buying it. Shame.

    • Smoof says:

      Not sure if you’ve played any of the previous MoW games, but the campaigns were generally crap. The voice acting and story were absolutely atrocious and not worth listening to anyway.

  9. Smurf says:

    To be honest, I’m more than happy this is the same MoW of always but with a better MP layout\interface, brought by Steam.

    Worth reading, word from a Dev: link to steamcommunity.com

  10. sinister agent says:

    I’ll be happy if they’ve sorted it so that you don’t have to individually equip every unit on the map every time they lose a hat or run out of ammo.

    • Everyone says:

      This. So many times this.

      Who ever thought that manually having to reload every weapon on the field of battle was a good idea?!? It turns a great game into an unplayable one.

    • Zarathruster says:

      I was thinking about the comment someone made above, about how the game is like being given a bucket of plastic toy soldiers. The difference is, when you’re given a big bucket, it’s a much more fun experience than just being given a handful of them. Men of War is quite the opposite: when I start a mission and see that I’m commanding masses of troops (oh hi, train station mission), it fills me with dread, because I know that in some way I’ll be accountable for every one of those little assholes’ weapons, ammo, and friggin headgear. However the small-scale attack missions manage to be quite fun in spite of the horribad interface.

      • ItalianPodge says:

        Countless times while playing this I’ve wanted to have a “Gather ammo” button. Maybe you remember at the beginning of Saving Private Ryan, they make it across the beach and then the call goes out “Gather weapons and ammo” and for 30 seconds they break cover and gather what they need to keep going,

        This is really all that I want, it really breaks the pacing of missions to have to stop and sort out each man for needs.

  11. Leb says:

    I really tried to like Assault squad… but it felt like you needed a team of yourself+3 friends who were all fucking experts at the game to make any ground in the skirmish games.

    Singleplayer you get to control more troops at once, which is in no way a benefit, as you are going to be frantically microing which troop ties his shoes or shit his pants when. So you play MP with friends so each person pretty much manages 1/4th of the troops, or takes on a specific function.

    But then your stuck with trying to battle the unintuitive recruitment system (friend calls in troops, they are in my control when they arrive, I have to select them and switch them to my friends control). And then, even after attempting the same map on easy, the AI appears to be throwing more units at you than you could even dream of mustering. Then the tanks roll out and there are so many of them your AT gets overwhelmed.

    I probably sound like a butthurt loser, which I would normally scoff at the site of in a comment threat. But sweet tits of gaming I’m convinced men of war does not want you to win when you play it.

    • Zarathruster says:

      I’ve spent many an hour in Men of War, and almost all of them were on the easiest difficulty with the time slowed to an absolute crawl. I never felt like I lost because I was insufficiently clever, rather, I just wasn’t able to attend to everything at once. (I know you can give orders paused but half the time they never seem to register)

    • MightyWombat says:

      I´m a fan of the MOW and AS (Condemned was horrible and so was Vietnam) and I played it very very often.
      Please try this:
      In AS you have supply trucks in each skirmish mission. Use the “tank stopper” from the truck, you can build as much
      as you want. Same goes for barbed wire. Build up a defense, place some ATs and you are relatively safe. And don´t forget a small opening or you will have to blow up those things later. Most players don´t build defenses (besides the
      sandbags haha).
      Now you got a “base” and can keep on conquering the map. Kill enemy guns with the mortar, machine gunners with the sniper and always have some ATs behind your steadily advancing line of tank stoppers. This even works on hard
      (heroic is insane ^^). Hope to have helped you liking this great game.

  12. BoZo says:

    So basically it’s still the same game as SHoWW2 just more polished?

    Great! Just the way I want it.

    • MightyWombat says:

      That´s exactly, what it is ;)
      With experienced friends, best RTS ever. But you have to think a lot and practice a lot. I think, it´s rewarding and you have so many ways to win the skirmish missions (try snipers and antitank infantry only, for example). I love AS, it´s not perfect, but what game is ?

  13. Premium User Badge

    phuzz says:

    Given that I’m unlikely to ever touch the multiplayer, is there much here for the single player?

  14. bstard says:

    Ohh smeg me, nice, so soon already, all forgot bout this game being in dev. A must buy for me. @above guy: the part1 and all dlc had wonderfull solo and co-op options to pay the campaign. Never touched MP myself since I’m an old guy, notto mucho micro anymore.

  15. Goncyn says:

    Why don’t you guys ever post full-size screenshots with your articles? I want to be able to read the interface text when looking at a game like this.

  16. Javier-de-Ass says:

    “the tedious Vietnam was the last game in the series to try that”

    the also somewhat tedious Condemned Heroes had a campaign too, and it is the latest men of war game/expansion released. :)

    • MightyWombat says:

      Condemned is the worst, I swear ;) MOW for single, AS for multi, that´s all.