Men of War: Condemned Heroes|
I have to start this review for Men of War: Condemned Heroes by saying that I have never been particularly “good” at real-time-strategy (RTS) games. I have been playing them since the days of Command and Conquer, dabbled in the “crafts” of both the Star-, and War- varieties, and even spent some time on the battlefield of Company of Heroes, etc...I have never excelled at these games. If nothing else, these games have always given me a newfound appreciation for military geniuses who are able to make life-or-death decisions that may seem crazy or ill-advised at the time, and turn certain defeat into historic victory. It also makes me realize that I will never be one of those people.
Though I have played my fair share of RTS games, I have never played any in the Men of War franchise before now. I have, however, played games by 1C before and know that they focus primarily on Simulations. I capitalize the word intentionally, because to me, there are games that claim to be sims, but are actually arcade games with a few extra buttons, and then there are real Simulations, which are an entirely different beast than a Game. Sometimes, Simulations can be fun, like a Game, but sometimes, Simulations are made for people who have spent large portions of their lives studying that particular subject and who want to experience that thing in a way that all the books and TV shows they’ve watched have not been able to do. Sometimes, a Simulation is only interesting. And sometimes it is only interesting to a certain audience.
The difference between Game and Simulation leads me to my first and, probably, biggest complaint about Men of War: Condemned Heroes. Though they start you off simply, with only a couple of men under your direct control, and steadily increase the complexity of the situations that you are faced with as you become more and more acclimated to the game mechanics and controls, there is a shocking lack of what I would consider a tutorial. A Simulation with this many options, from the ability to change stance and each individual soldier’s inventory, to the specific enemy he is firing upon, I was expecting a little more direction at the beginning to acclimate me to the environment. Instead, you are thrust headlong into the terror of battle against the German foe, using small, often outnumbered Russian forces, and you start off with the unmistakable sensation of being a tasty morsel laid out in front of a pack of hungry wolves. Luckily, the game auto-saves frequently, which allows you to start back at fairly comfortable points along the way if you happen to make a bad decision and get everyone you control slaughtered like sheep.
One of the gameplay elements that I found myself thankful for with this particular RTS is that the enemy AI seems to be fairly reactive to your choices. So, unlike some RTS games that make me feel rushed and “against the ropes” frantically clicking to try and salvage my units’ survival, this one makes me feel like I can play at my own pace. If I need to stop and think for a minute about my next move, at least in the beginning portions of the game, it doesn’t overrun you with a blitzkrieg of enemies that take advantage of your indecision.
The concept of the game is interesting. It places you in the unique role of squads of Russian prisoners who were set free to fight for Mother Russia. This is cool because you play a much more down-and-dirty type of warfare where you are repurposing equipment you scavenge on the battlefield to your own uses. You will find destroyed German tanks and repair them to use them against their own troops. You will kill the crew of a gun emplacement and then turn the gun around. You’ll raid dead bodies and plunder them for their ammunition and weapons, discarding your own along the way. This aspect of the game is pretty cool, but it can also really bog you down. If you took the time to manage each and every soldier’s individual inventory as you played along, you would quickly find that you are spending more time in inventory management than you are in planning and tactics.
And the game is extremely difficult. Maybe this is just because, as I said earlier, I have never been particularly good at these types of games, but I found that many times I would be forced to do each segment of a mission several times before I found the right approach and survived. Usually, I would end up getting all my men killed as they hopelessly fought from open and unguarded positions. I could almost see them looking up at me, a careless god, who had forsaken them, yet again, to the enemy.
Sometimes, however, I’d like to blame dumb AI. Even though it seems like the troops in the game are trying to be smart and take cover when they can, a lot of times, I felt like I was leading a bunch of mindless buffoons around the battlefield. I would click on something that provided cover and they would walk around to the side of the cover that the enemy was on. Why? Shouldn’t the AI be smart enough to know that I meant to hide behind it, not in front of it? I am not asking for the game to play itself, but I want it to be intuitive enough to know that I obviously wouldn’t march my troops into the middle of a clearing when there are enemies pointing lots of guns right at them.
The missions, on the whole, are fairly repetitive. Often, you will be attacking enemies who are dug-in along trenches or in buildings, and while this affords you the “reactive” pace that I cited above, it also makes it feel like you are just going through the same motions over and over again to do very much the same things.
The graphics are decent, but there aren’t any effects or models that are just amazing. There are a lot of drab environments, which one would expect on a battlefield in Eastern Europe, but there is little that instills a sense of awe. The sound effects are only average, as well. There is no sense of a larger battle going on around you, even if the game leads you to believe there might be. Explosions are not much more than glorified firecrackers. Gunfire is solitary and unimpressive. The voice acting is uninspired and makes you forget that you are supposed to be playing Russians at all, for lack of any kind of an accent.
There is a multiplayer aspect of the game, but the styles are limited to Capture the Flag and another mode called Victory Flag, which is a slight variation of Capture the Flag. Apparently, co-op has been made available through modders, but it is not a part of the original game. Overall, I felt that the game was interesting on the level of allowing history buffs to play as Russian prisoners and to see the war from that perspective, but I feel that this game really falls short on the “fun” side. Mostly, it is frustrating with a steep learning curve and stupid AI that sometimes seems to have a death wish.
I have never given a game all 5’s before, but I really feel that this game is purely average in all respects. It isn’t bad, but it isn’t great, either. I think that people who particularly enjoy World War II RTS games that focus on realism and detail will probably enjoy this game, but I don’t think that people who are just looking to have some fun controlling military troops on a battlefield will be overly impressed with this game on the whole.