Combat simulators! They don’t get much more cathartic than Men of War: the WWII strategy game. Not only are enthusiasts of the WWII strategy genre spoiled with everything they could possibly want from Tommy guns to torpedoes, but this game will really do wonders for your anger management.
The possibilities for total destruction are endless, and it is this that really sets Men of War apart from similar war games. After a hard day at work or a bust up with your girlfriend, there’s something incredibly satisfying about getting behind the wheel of an M1 Sherman tank. Tearing through the walls of cottages, machine-gunning geese and fascists alike, reducing an idyllic Normandy village to a blazing heap of rubble. The everyday tensions of the real world just evaporate in a frenzy of virtual gunfire and devastation so intense that after a few hours it can be slightly nauseating and you’ll need a quick lie down. As you traverse the three campaigns of the game (firstly acting as the Red Army, then the Germans, and finally the Allies) you are given the opportunity to indulge in some serious pyromania, laying waste to everything from the farms of Mother Russia to the fuel depots of Crete.
All this destruction takes place within levels so intricately detailed and brilliantly laid out that the designers deserve awards for their landscape gardening skills alone. The environments are also fully interactive; your men can enter houses, take cover behind slabs of rubble, and even find themselves trapped in an upper story room after half the building has been blasted away by artillery. In terms of its visual quality, Men of War is stunning. Whether you choose to observe a huge armoured battle unfold across the fields and Rockies of Eastern Europe, or watch two soldiers duke it out in a Russian peasant’s back garden, it’s much like a montage of scenes from your favourite war films. Historical accuracy feels well placed – although some Professors may point holes – even down to the dogged little jogs of the Red Army soldiers as they trot into battle, just like you see in film reels from The World At War.
Although undeniably superb in terms of graphics and level topography, it is game play which promotes questions. Men of War becomes bogged down by a few issues, and the main problem is the inability to manage your forces effectively. The game combines the control system from its predecessor (Soldiers: Heroes of World War 2, where the player fought across similar environments with a handful of units who required more or less direct control) and the less demanding, larger scale battles of Company of Heroes. The problem is that the designers are too generous with the amount of units they provide. In Heroes of World War 2 it was possible to cope with the five or so men given, but MoW gives you hundreds. For example, in a typically Soviet style mission you have to stall the Germans while some expensive factory equipment is whisked off to the East – a holding action which requires the sacrifice of hundreds of red army soldiers – it’s just impossible to be everywhere at once.
Indeed, the pressure is so intense you can get a bit panicky when trying to cope with wave upon wave of German troops advancing in endless armoured columns. Some players will find MoW much too difficult, especially when it comes to stealth missions, and the AI certainly doesn’t make life any easier. The path-finding is very poor. For example, when facing a horde of enemy armour and ordering an infantryman to attack, he will choose to stand up and walk round a one foot high wall rather than jump over it. Unless you reel him in quickly with direct control, he is instantly vaporized in a cloud of red mist along with your valuable anti-tank grenades. Every mission sees the player heavily outnumbered; it’s a desperate fight for survival -- an issue which has led some to complain, but one which, in my opinion, makes it all the better. After all, strategy games which let you get an easy grip on things quickly become boring.
Ultimately, it all comes down to taste.
To those who enjoy ridiculously hardcore strategy games, requiring a week skived off work because a single battle can last two days; then I say Men of War is the game for you. It’s definitely an acquired taste, and even for those who love it, the game is still plagued by a few issues regarding control, unit management and team AI. If you don’t have the patience to occasionally micromanage your chaps over a fence without dying, look elsewhere.
However, the designers deserve massive credit for the game’s many strengths, including a diverse range of weapons and vehicles, superb graphics, fantastic missions, and landscapes so aesthetically pleasing they rival Monet. At the end of the day it is the ability to destroy their masterpiece in the chaos of warfare, which makes Men of War a true classic.