This week I've been submerged in the murky jungle waters of forthcoming real-time tiny-men commander, Men Of War: Vietnam. 1c sent over four levels from the full game, and I've played through them. I've given a little overview of each of these level below, and have discovered that my description represents a sort of plan of the increasing degrees of excitement that I am experiencing. In fact, I've drawn a graph.
Here is my graph of excitement over time for the four level preview build of Men Of War: Vietnam that was sent to us by 1c.
The levels, as you might have been able to interpret from my infographical illustration, are called "Until The Trouble Troubles You", "Gatecrashers", "What A Job!" And "Die Hard Attack".
Let me tell you about them.
Until The Trouble Troubles You troubles me. It's a level where you have a small squad and are required to infiltrate a base, kill some dudes, knock out an enemy helicopter, and then escape in a stolen vehicle. It's a tall order, and frankly I found it a bit of a task. The stealth systems in Men Of War do work, sort of, but only after a fashion. It's often difficult to precisely determine when you are going to be spotted, and setting off lots of enemies and getting suddenly murdered is a clear problem. It made my heart sink a bit from its usual peppy buoyancy. What does seem promising from this first taste of the game, however, is the jungle environment. I am not sure I prefer it to 1940s towns and shattered Russian villages, but the game pulls it out without a hitch, vegetation sprawling everywhere. Great!
Anyway, having begun this troubling level thinking “hmm, I don't like these small squad stealth missions much”, I am pleased that it's actually pretty meticulously constructed. I could probably have done with a bit more room to flank the enemy base, however.
I should note, at this point, that the voice-acting is terrible, too, which seems faithful to the Men Of War experience. I jotted down “voice acting terrible” in my notepad, and that's /good thing/.
By the time I hit level two, "Gatecrashers", I was feeling more confident that the game would throw interesting things at me. For this second level it's a classic base defence of the kind that Men Of War does really well. American enemies are attacking and you've got to use tanks and infantry together to hold off the assault. There's an extra element in there for this one: spotters. These are dudes with binoculars who need to be killed to stop the Americans calling in air support on you. Taking them out is essential, or you get F4s dropping bombs on you, which does not help with victory.
As the level goes on, however, I find it a bit of a grind. Hmm. That's not like me and Men Of War, we made for grind. But then I guess this new experience of the tiny heroes is being contrasted against my recent experience of the insane 30-minute defence scenarios from the Assault Squad DLC, against which this seems a bit tame and muddy. Hmm.
LEVEL THREE. Eugh, this DOES look depressing. You play as an American patrol which has to go into Vietnamese villages looking for Vietcong sympathisers. You get ambushed and kill the ambushers. Lots more jungly fighting follows, along with some fighting in Vietnamese villages. It's hard work, and morally quease-inducing. And where are my tanks? This is not where Men Of War shines.
Fortunately we can back out of these squalid squad-based rat tunnels and move on to the aptly titled Die Hard Attack. Die Hard Attack! You can imagine what this might be. It echoes a number of the best levels from the World War II Men Of Wars, and it's a huge assault scenario that starts small and blossoms into a field of rosy explosions. Essentially, there's a single road to get your forces up into enemy hilltop defences, but it's mined, and you have to knock out machinegun nests if you're going to be able to clear the mines and hit the dug in force with your main attack. This means that the level starts out as a small recon-unit flanking attack, and then unfolds into a huge assault that sprawls into the enemy fortifications. Yeah, you can imagine what I made of that. But it's not just that you get to roll out the big guns - there's real tension at the start as you try to winkle a hidden sniper out from the jungle. He's invisible, and you basically need to triangulate to catch him. Men Of War is best when the battles are evolving and sprawling and messy, and need to bodged to victory through lots of fiddly direct control, but there are little scripted touches in some of these maps that are just icing on the battlecake.
Despite this high point, I should say that the graph cannot be take as truly representative of my Men Of War: Vietnam experience. Overall, I would say, it has me feeling pretty sceptical. It can be difficult to get the Vietnam setting right, and the ethics of the situation are far less clear cut than, say, games set in the Second World War. While the game has clearly managed to create some interesting scenarios that show off armour and so forth, and I am still a bit less enthused about this than I am the skirmishy enormities of Assault Squad, That's precisely because I think what the Men Of War games do best is the escalation from A Few Good Men to A Fucking Load Of Tanks, and all the sprawling quasi-simulatory battlefield messiness that goes in between. That works better in World War II than it does here. It'd be really interesting to see it wind back to World War I, perhaps, or sidestep genres into spacewar.
Also, Vietnam doesn't feel like - and just isn't - a sequel. Not really. It's a standalone expansion, like all the other Men of War bits we've seen the past couple of years. The formula is unchanged - for the better, some might argue - but still unchanged. That said, there do seem to be some visual tweaks and a few new effects here and there. It's cosmetic stuff, but it means they're doing more than just pumping out new maps. Whether we'll get a genuinely new iteration of Men Of War soon, I have no idea. But I hope.
To sum up, then:
- Preview excitement ends on a high, but it's been a rough road.
- Historical accuracy might be a bit dodgy. There's a pretty heavy Russian presence in the game, which I am not really sure represents quite how much influence the Soviets had in the region. North Korea and China make sense, but the Russian missions seem more like they are made up to appeal to a Russian audience. That's fine, I like playing Russians.
- I'm not sure I like Vietnam as a setting.
- The big assault on DIE HARD ATTACK is just glorious, and suggests that this is probably going to be another wonky classic of real-time strategy. I look forward to getting my hands on the full thing when it arrives on October 29th.