I have often wondered why we have so many World War II games around, and why so many more are still in production. I believe that part of the answer lies in the arsenal that was available to all parties involved. The Great War was a dirty and stinky trench business and nowadays the very flammable terrorists are quite hard to find, but WW2 was as balanced as any war could be.
The German Schmeisser was all but similar to the American Thompson, while the Messerschmitt flied without shame alongside the British Spitfire. Surely the T-34 was a menace for the German tanks until the Panther arrived, but it’s this very technological race that enflamed the imagination of all players, particularly because the conflict was resolved in the end by an economical superiority, rather than a technological one.
This is the reason why game producers struggle to bring realistic and historically accurate titles to players in order to win their hearts. Company of Heroes managed in it’s time to masterfully combine an addictive gameplay with historical accuracy, and now Men of War is bringing everything to a whole new level.
So what are we conquering?
The single-player campaigns are a bit more important in these types of games, due to the background, and MoW does not disappoint. There are three campaigns available: Russian, Western Allies and German; not very long, but well-designed. They take place during Operation Barbarossa, Operation Torch and during the adventures of the Afrika Korps in Tunisia.
The missions are scripted, but with common-sense, while the objectives are varied and with multiple ways of completing them. You can control your troops in teams or individually and depending on how well you perform you may receive reinforcements to replace the losses. Not all allied troops will be under your control on a specific map however, so you can choose to help another unit or mind your own objectives, although in the long-run only you can do the hard jobs.
Some missions may have secondary objectives, at which point a side-quest will be started. For example, the enemy is about to set up a rocket battery to destroy your artillery, so a commando unit is created on the spot to take care of the issue. This stealth mission may or may not be successful, which means that you can either continue to use artillery in the main mission, or just watch it being destroyed. Scripted as it may be, it’s a good.
Furthermore, each campaign has its own little story, with a thumbs up for the Russian campaign which looks very much like your favorite war-movie. The only let-down of the single-player campaigns is one of a more personal nature, as it is difficult to find a title that will satisfy me in this respect : the voice-acting. It is my belief that for an authentic war experience, the rugged German language should be shouted by a hysterical German officer, while the Russian should reek of vodka a little bit, but here we find an anchorman who narrates with little emotions or accent. On the bright side, this only occurs in the cut-scenes, because on the battlefield the little soldiers scream and die in their respective languages quite well.
Taking a cue from the game title, the producers have brought the action to a new level of detail and complexity, where each soldier is crucial and the variety of actions at your disposal will make you lose nights on end in front of the monitor. The soldiers under your command can be handled in platoons as well as individually, and for the foot soldiers the two main parameters are cover and stealth.
Both the position the soldier is currently in and what lies between him and the enemy counts as cover. Almost anything can be used as a shield: haystacks, walls, bomb craters, you name it. Stealth is also very well implemented, by assigning each unit a sight range which can be learned by selecting that unit, much like in Commandos. A well-camouflaged soldier will be difficult to see unless someone is very close to him, at which point it may already be too late. The sniper, a unit that doesn’t particularly like being seen, even carries a couple of bushes with him to hide in plain sight.