I'd planned to have a review of Men Of War: Vietnam up for its release tomorrow, but I won't be able to. The reason is it has taken the majority of my time for this review getting past the first level. I know, I know, games journalists are terrible at games, but I've long taken sad pride in being a bit more hardcore in my tastes and abilities than my peers, and I absolutely love the Men of War games. This time, however, I am slamming my tiny fists down on the table in indignation. I won't admit defeat, of course, but there it is: this one is too hard, and I am cross. I've been chatting to Tim Stone (who is also playing the game for another publication) and he's long past that first level, leaving me in his dust. Nevertheless he too admits that the difficulty of the full game is "mad", which does not bode well for my overall consternation. And I envy the brain that could get through this baffling exercise in frustration. Let me explain a bit more about it, below.
I'd had a go at this level when I looked at the preview code - which contains levels that were a lot more entertaining, and which I'd like to be play again - but when this first bit of the game got too hard I just moved on to one of the other samples, figuring I'd come back to it when I reviewed the full game. I did, of course, because it's the first level. It begins easily enough: hide in the jungle to avoid being blown up by a passing helicopter, kill the infantry patrol. That's pretty much teaching you what you need to know to complete the level. These are its principles, and that's great.
The story is that my group of Russian advisors are trying to escape the scene of an attack on their convoy with a Vietcong ally. This means there are just four of you, but you're pretty well armed. Sniping from the jungle will be my most potent ability. Play very cautiously and your men will barely even come under fire. Or that's the idea.
I continue to the first objective, which is to take out a hilltop camp full of American soldiers. Easily done. From there we have to tackle a bridge so that we can get into a camp full of soldiers to steal a truck. That has to be done without alerting the body of the camp's men, because if that happens the chopper pilots will run to their Hueys and we'll have to spend the rest of the game hiding in the jungle to avoid being slaughtered by rockets from the sky. I get past the bridge by sniping away the guards, and then put my men in the jungle on the other side of the river. From there I spend a couple of hours just trying to figure out how to neutralise the helicopters without dying. There are patrols and guards all around the camp, and I start by meticulously trying to take all these out. Sadly, however, after an hour of this I am unable to do it in a way that doesn't set the helicopters off. Reloading, reloading, reloading. I decide, instead, to try to take out the chopper pilots. I send a guy back across the river to get some RPGs that were in an ammo pile, and I creep onto a nearby hillock and blast the chopper pilots with the RPG. Brilliant, I think. But then the Hueys take off anyway, and everyone dies.
Hmm. I look closer. There is a second group of pilots, out of range of the RPG, and not in a position to be sniped, either. Ok, screw it, I'll just have to keep to the jungle and just deal with the fact that the rest of the game will have my four men being hunted by heavily-armed helicopters. Time to get that truck! I work my way closer and closer to the truck. Eventually I just send a guy to run and jump into it, hoping I can hotrod my way out of the base. At this point the game autosaves and says "hey, these trucks are all broken!" and a fog of war lifts, revealing a boat we can steal, back on the other side of the river. You mean that boat that my dudes had not seen, but can now see somehow, but that is MUCH closer to where I started? That lightly guarded boat that is a much easier proposition for escape than the intensely defended base I have been trying to get into?
Ok, fine. I tramp back over the bridge, and take out the boat's guards. There's no fuel in the boat, of course, so we'll need to look for that. My team all die. Why? Ah, because of those helicopters. I realise, suddenly, that the helicopters don't make any noise. I can't tell if they're approaching unless I stare constantly at the mini-map. Eventually I survive three chopper attacks and search the area in which there is supposed to be fuel. There isn't any. The objective pointer is pointing back at the heavily defended base I just left.
Sorry, Men Of War, but this is where even my patience starts to run out. I've got Rock Of Ages next on my list of games to play, and that is already feeling like a direct antidote the frustration I feel here. My sense of this game is that it's great that the Men Of War engine can cope with foliage enough to represent a jungle. It doesn't, however, make me want to continue playing when I can't see what I'm doing, or when the difficult and incoherence of the missions match those of the actual war. If what I am faced with is more save-game attrition, and more barely being able to see the objective for the trees then no. I can't take any more convoluted, uninspiring sneaking about. Bollocks to it. I'd rather play some more Assault Squad.
Men Of War: Vietnam is out tomorrow, and we'll have a Wot I Think for it when I am feeling much less cranky.