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Wot I Think: Men Of War: Assault Squad 2

The Men, They War

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Okay! It’s a sequel called Men Of War: Assault Squad 2, which is a name that will tell you the exact game it is based upon, if you think hard enough. What this means is that we have a new batch of multiplayer-facing missions (although some playable single player) in the fabulously vivid and brutal Men Of War engine. And the Men Of War setting. It’s World War II again, and let’s not forget that important thematic element. Men Of War has not changed. Perhaps it cannot change.

And so did Ass Squad need a sequel? And can I safely use that abbreviation in this introduction. Here’s Wot I Think.

INTRODUCTORY REMARKS

It’s important for us to begin any discussion of a Men Of War game with a preface in what it is, and by implication, what it is not. Men Of War is a real-time strategy game (if we allow that word to basically mean “tactics”, because Men Of War is a game of combat, rather of resource management) expressed in an engine that does more than any other game I can think of. I conjure this hyperbole not to attempt to diminish the likes of the Total Annihilation lineage, because they certainly do a great deal, but to point out that the Men Of War games allow you to individually control every unit, as if it were a third person shooter. As you will discover as you play, everything in the world is a dynamic physics model, with universally destructible scenery throughout. Most breathtaking of all, though, every single unit, including every individual infantryman, has its own inventory which can be sorted, selected, scavenged.

What I am saying is that Men Of War is not like other real-time strategy games, even though it seems to share the same genes. It’s a nature versus nature debate, only the child raised is a child of simulated 20th century battlefield dynamics and not carefully poised build-tree events. This is where Assault Squad 2 gets its power: from a series of games that do too much and look like they should collapse under their own weight, and yet do not. Assault Squad 2 consolidates that power in a game which while ostensibly multiplayer, still offers plenty of engaging hours for the solo player.

Men Of War is not a perfect game series, but it has more strength and character than a thousand AAA releases. It is a wonderful ogre, and Ass Squad 2 continues that legacy.

WHAT IS CONTAINED IN THIS NEW GAME

The reason the solo player is moderately well catered for is that the game has a huge stack of scripted skirmish missions, which can be played by you alone, or with friends. As far as I can tell, Assault Squad 2 incorporates everything from the previous game, too, making it quite the truckload of content. The new missions are as strong as anything in the previous games, and sensibly err on the side of huge battlefield brawls, with plenty of armour, although there is some less intense variety in the mix.

What’s significant about Assault Squad 2, however, is that it goes much further into the multiplayer landscape that the previous game had already conquered. This time you can play an 8v8 game mode, and while some people are still suffering technical difficulties (the series has always run fine for me) new CPU-exploiting optimisations mean that this should, in theory, be the best-running Men Of War game so far, even with these huge new player counts.

The most far-reaching change to how all this works, though, seems to be Assault Squad 2’s Steam integration. This will of course stress those loners who don’t want to see Valve’s distribution tendrils creeping any further into their games, but it’s for the best, I think. DigitalMindSoft have made a big deal out of making use of what Steamworks has to offer, and I do think – given the already extensive power of the game’s editor suite – that the Workshop could be a place to visit in a few months time.

IMPORTANT CRITICAL MIDDLE SECTION

The same issues that have dogged the Men Of War games are still here, of course. The AI can be unreliable, many of the systems are maddeningly fiddly, even as they enable the kind of depth that other games put a line through, crumple up into a ball and throw towards the waste paper basket. This is a game whose feature list is spilling over to the point of making a mess of the whole experience. Sometimes it does, but mostly you muddle on through.

The lack of much genuinely new material might be off-putting to casual MOWAS players, but since no such demographic exists, I can’t see this being an issue.

Perhaps a more important thing to note is that this is not another single player campaign, despite the superb and well scripted new skirmish missions being playable by the lonely.

VAGUE CONCLUSION OR BUYER’S GUIDE SUMMARY

This is more Men Of War: Assault Squad. I love Men, War, Assault Squads, and numbers, so I’m down with the existence of this game. If you haven’t played Men Of War before, then this is a rich and rewarding place to start. And you really should play something in this series if you have the faintest whiff of interest in RTS, because it is one of the great masterworks. To not play it is to waste your life. And you don’t want to have done that do? Can you really deal with that being a deathbed regret? Eh?

APPENDIX 1.0: REMAINDER MUSINGS

The current caretakers of Men Of War – DigitalMindsoft, who are not it’s originators, a company called Best Way – seem to be stuck in a loop. Stuck in a loop. For a moment it looked as if they might break out of their reworking of the WWII obscuro-classic and make a Men Of Modern War, but no. They’re apparently working on it, but… Stuck in a loop. It’s not that more Men Of War is unwelcome, or even that Assault Squad 2 isn’t an essential addition to my collection of real-time tiny men games (it is), it’s just that I’d like to see something else done with the template. World War II is a fine source material, but the fabulous battlefield simulation produced by this engine could do so much more.

I say all this not to judge the game, because we can do that only on its actual merits, but because I want to register my interest in purchasing Men Of War in space. Or in the 21st century. Or in a demon dimension where slave penitents make war with fractal grenades. Because all of those things would be okay. Okay?

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Jim Rossignol

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