Thursday, July 15, 2010

Men of War: First Impressions

I bought Men of War having read some reviews which compare it favourably to the Company of Heroes series.  I have only played the first two missions of the Russian campaign but so far these positive reviews seem quite justified.

Much of the gameplay in this squad based WWII real time strategy is very similar to Company of Heroes. You direct squads of infantry and vehicles in real time 3D battles with a wide variety of weapons, armour and terrain. There is no resource gathering and base building element.  In CoH you can replenish your forces at a base but in Men of War you must make do with the troops you start out with, any re-enforcements that the game chooses to give you and whatever you can scavenge from the battlefield. Scavenging is actually a major part of the game as it is the only way I have found to to replenish ammunition. Happily every soldier and vehicle has a surprisingly large inventory and just about any soldier seems to be able to carry and use just about any piece of discarded kit he finds including rifles, machine guns, rocket launchers, grenades, helmets and flak jackets. They can also commandeer some but not all vehicles - enemy trucks appear to be fair game while enemy tanks are sadly not.

The difficulty level (playing on normal) seems a little higher than I remember from CoH but this could be my inexperience. The very first mission (not quite a tutorial more of a throwing you in the deep end) requires you to capture a couple of German holdouts and then stop a convoy armed only with a single tank and a handful of infantry. I had to replay the convoy section several times because even though my heavy tank was more than a match for any armour  the Germans had it was not able to effectively fend off waves of infantry who quickly dispatched the tank with anti tank grenades once they had killed my tiny infantry escort. Eventually I realised that I needed to take a much more aggressive role with the tank, blowing up troop carrying trucks before they could disembark the infantry. My small infantry squad meanwhile hid behind cover waiting to pick off any germans who threatened to get close to the tank.

The second mission is a much more spectacular affair with a massive German assault on a factory complex. You have to hold off the invaders for about half an hour while vital equipment is being loaded on a train for evacuation. You start with a large number of squads, too many to effectively micro-manage but happily the friendly AI seems very good and the pre-positioned defenders do a very good job of holding off the advancing tanks and men leaving you to focus on the hotspots. I was beginning to wonder if I might just leave the game to play itself but when the inevitable massive final push came my defences were overwhelmed one by one and I had to take control of the last stand myself. The number of troops in this battle and the sheer scale of the carnage outdoes anything I remember from Company of Heroes and certainly whets my appetite for things to come.

The graphics in the game are excellent, on a par with Company of Heroes but sound is a weakness. The translated voice acting varies from just about OK to dismal. Have played a number of poorly translated Russian games I would love to have an opportunity to try them in their original language with subtitles. I suspect the overall feel be better. The games ambient sounds are also a bit disappointing. Its is not that the sound effects are bad it is just that there isn't enough of them and the game seems unusually quiet. Unless there is a big fire-fight going on or unless a large convoy of tanks is moving you often hear nothing at all.

The control system is worth a mention because it is different. There isn't really a tutorial, the first mission is a baptism of fire and you much either figure things out by pressing buttons or go off and read the manual. I managed to figure out most of what I needed before consulting the manual because the screen interface is well labelled and fairly intuitive but instead of the industry standard left click to select right click to act Men of War uses left click to select and left click again to act. Right click is used to deselect a unit before moving on to another one. It is taking me a while to get used to this and I still make mistakes with it. Men of War also has an interesting system for automatically forming squads which I am of two minds about but you can turn it off if you don't like it.

Overall an impressive title. Certainly it has a few rough edges compared to the Relic's much better known Company of Heroes series but the added details in inventory management and the very impressive scenarios would seem to make up for that if you are prepared to put up with a bit of a learning curve.

Aside: This is the first game I have bought from Gamersgate. I love the fact that you don't need a client to run their games you just download it with a special downloader and then activate the copy via their site. They don't appear to impose any limit to the number of times you download which is nice. Whatever drm they use means that you cannot use generic patches but must wait for Gamersgate to produce a special version of each patch. I don't know how long this typically takes them but it could be a problem for multi-player games where you absolutely need the latest patch in order to connect to servers.

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