And now for something completely different. A game you probably shouldn’t care about.
If you were sent to an uninhabited island, which one game would you bring with you? I dare to speculate that it wouldn’t be Monkey Island, but it probably wouldn’t be Men of War either. You’d need something repetitive, yet detailed enough to keep you busy investigating all of its possibilities. At first glance, Men of War seems like a sane choice.
With its extraordinary physics engine, user-friendly interface and endless ways of blowing shit up, Men of War is a terrific platform for a game. For those of us who had no prior experience with its predecessors, Soldiers: Heroes of World War II and Faces of War, its lengthy and varied single-player mode was truly a gem of 2009. The real shocker was its innovative multiplayer, which made for truly varied games on the same maps.
Along came the news that a half-finished faction, the Japanese, would also be completed and officially released for the multiplayer mode at some point. How’s that for customer service? Soon afterwards, the beta for the patch appeared in the official forums. And then…
And then, everything went silent. The beta was not touched again.
Instead they released Red Tide. They had evidently forgotten that they’d even shipped a multiplayer mode.
So, do you want to play some more single-player after all that?
Probably yes, to be fair. Their map design was top notch and almost every mission introduced a new concept to mull over. They clearly knew what they were doing back then, can’t hurt to let them do more of the same?
Yet time has moved on. The realisation that absurdly detailed micromanagement with one or two units is much more effective than trying to use everything at your disposal made for some truly heroic games in the original. Best Way appear to have assumed that they had hit equilibrium and decided they would not mess with the unique way you had to play the original. And they’re wrong. It appears that there’s a limit to how many times you can drive through a shop with a tank and think that you’ve found the Ultimate Box of Amusement +2.
The original accustomed us to assume that Audie Murphying everything up was the right course of action. We got better at it, started to see new ways of dealing with the enemy. And finally finished the game that way. Now we’re suddenly thrown back to square one, as if we’d never learned anything. Instead of the original where forming small hero squads or even sending single men to roam behind enemy lines was a new concept, this time we’re familiar with it from the first battle. And it quite simply becomes repetitive.
They haven’t gone backwards. Their level design skills are mostly very evident. It’s you who is ruining the experience for yourself. Because instead of admiring the various places they’ve constructed, this time you’ll immediately know how it’ll all blow up. Which is a shame, because the physics engine (blow-shit-up-engine) is still unparalleled.
The moments of desperation are also definitely still there. Your army has been mown down by a few small Nazi bullets and . A lone anti-tank rifleman crawls along the battlefield, searching for his 14.6mm anti-tank rifle which has been thrown from his hands by a nearby explosion. the rifle is a few craters away, so you slowly crawl towards it. A lifeless compatriot lies beside the rifle, so you check his body for anything valuable. Only being armed with a TT pistol and a huge rifle/cannon hybrid isn’t a good position to be in if you’re completely alone on the battlefield. You grab his submachine gun, a few magazines, treatment for your wounds and lastly snatch his helmet that lies nearby – some additional steel around the brain can’t go amiss, eh?
Slowly you crawl back, deciding to attack their right flank as their stationary machine guns have been knocked over. Then you are hit by a rogue 75mm shell and are pulverised. No body, no helmet. Some red mist escapes and is gone by the time you look up from your despair again. Spelunky be damned, this is permanent death at its finest.
Oh – historical accuracy. The original excelled at familiarising us with new perspectives. The Germans got as much attention as any other military force. The Soviets which had until then also been mostly ignored were heavily featured and rightfully so – their units are at least as interesting as those of the overrepresented US forces. By concentrating on the Black Sea-based Soviet forces, Red Tide attempts to go one step further and falls into a ravine. I simply cannot feel a connection to the Soviet Marines around Sevastopol ca 1942. The attempt to include a mostly unknown battlefield is laudable but not in itself. Brezhnev makes an appearance as a playable (but not expendable, so he’s useless) soldier, monobrow and all. And I’m sorry, but he’s the only connection to my worldview. This is no way to educate gamers.
Interestingly, with only one playable faction, they’ve still attempted to organise the missions into semi-separate campaigns. The result is that some campaigns have six missions, one campaign has one. And with nearly every mission feeling like it’s not connected to the others at all, I can’t help but wonder why they decided to build the game around a supposed clear theme.
I must also mention my surprise when I saw that one campaign is named “Company of heroes.” Go figure.
Still, the absence of a “Multiplayer” button on the main menu is very strange. Most annoyingly, there appears to be no good reason why they couldn’t have added a multiplayer mode. There are all kinds of new and very interesting units around every corner, including the cumbersome, ancient but fascinating French Char B1. And to think that I’m usually the last person to complain about the multiplayer mode being absent or rubbish.
It’s not like we’re out of things to do in 2010. Have you played every top-rated game listed at even, say, Metacritic? Have you read the latest bestsellers? Have you donated to Haiti yet? Have you seen A Clockwork Orange – and every other top movie on this list? (Skip Schindler’s List – it’s rubbish.)
Look, Red Tide is not a failure. If you liked the original, you may well give this one a shot at a discount price. You won’t be appalled by far but you will not get the experience you did with vanilla Men of War either – this thought will sit on your shoulder and laugh at you. Otherwise think of this as a stopgap design to keep a franchise from fading from view. Even if you didn’t care about the multiplayer in Men of War, this won’t make you tingle in any way you should write to your doctor about. I don’t think you should necessarily give a damn.
Good Old Games will never re-release it.