reviews\ Mar 18, 2009 at 8:00 pm

Men of War - PC - Review

Men of War is a real-time strategy game that takes place, like so many others, in World War II. Several campaigns are available for playing through the game as multiple factions during the war, although they must be unlocked in sequential order. Mechanics are somewhat revitalized by extending the point-and-click gameplay of the mouse to manual controls using the keyboard. This means that rather than clicking away at different points on the map, players will be able to move units around using the keypad buttons, as well as a few other buttons on the keyboard. In fact, the game makes extensive use of the keyboard. This “direct control” makes for a somewhat cumbersome experience, and detracts substantially from the slight immersion offered by a relatively close birds-eye camera following the action. Once they are mastered, however, the game does present a few interesting opportunities for each combat scenario.

The beginning player’s confusion is exacerbated by the partially unintelligible symbols lines the bottom of the screen, and while the game does offer hints to aid in their use, it does so in a very linear fashion – at times, indifferent to the player’s actions. This makes learning the control scheme an inherently awkward process. The exclusion of any real tutorial or training mode worsens things still. The player’s only hope is to follow the sporadic text that appears just above the command icons, and try to remember skills that the game does not actually require you to demonstrate before moving on to the next section. Control inconsistency is a problem, as well. Pointing and clicking might work well enough when moving a firing squad from one point of cover to the next, but an entirely different control scheme is required in order to operate a tank. The switch is often jarring, but after some work and a lot of patience, the mechanics fall into place. One of the benefits of the simple maneuvering is that it allows you to see precisely how an infantry unit will be arranged at a certain piece of cover before actually sending them there, rather like Republic Commando of the olden days. Unfortunately, outflanking and grenading a machine gun emplacement feels somewhat robotic and offers limited thrill. The best bit of excitement comes from the knowledge that attacks can be executed in different ways. I can flank from the left in my first playthrough, or try a direct frontal assault with the tanks on my next try. This adds a measure of replayability to the game, rewarding players who invest heavily in its mechanical design, but it is questionable just how deep even the most devoted RTS fans will be willing to go for this game.

Graphically, the game falls pretty flat. Running “high end” graphical settings doesn’t seem to drag the game down noticeably on a high-end computer, and this is likely due to the simplicity of the outdated graphics engine. The only significant benefit to this is that the game achieves a steady frame rate of 60 frames per second, though this looks rather silly when a soldier smoothly dashes through a shrub, and the shrub reacts by thrashing at something closer to 5 frames per second. This also allows the maps to cover great tracts of land, but there’s nothing terribly beautiful about the environments (these are war zones, after all). Perhaps even more disturbing is the audio. While the musical compositions are nicely varied, the voice over work is atrocious. The accents are inconsistent and inappropriate at times (Russians with French accents?). This is actually a minor offense when compared to the quality of the voice acting, which is distracting at its best but often downright painful to hear, as though the actors were random people pulled off the street. All other sound effects are mediocre, which makes them a comparatively fantastic element in this game’s soundtrack.

Men of War includes online multiplayer functionality, but you have to enjoy the design of the game itself if you’re to gain any pleasure from these gameplay modes. Again, for those who are willing to offer a certain level of devotion, the online battles will bear some nice cooperative and competitive gameplay. The game mechanics make surprisingly good use of this; having a teammate cover your back or offer medical assistance really makes for some interesting moments. A game map editor is also included, for those who feel tempted to build bridges cluttered with chickens and horses. Frankly, I would have preferred to see a smaller game that has fewer available modes with smoother execution. All things considered, Men of War is plagued with numerous problems inherent in its design, but some interesting gameplay for those with a lot of free time on their hands. If you can look past its flaws, you’ll find something that just manages to work out a balance between harsh leaning curves and enjoyable tactical gameplay.

Review Scoring Details for Men of War

Gameplay: 8.0
Some elements work, but once you get into it, there’s some fun to be had.

Graphics: 6.0 
Smooth animation is the only highlight of the game’s outdated visual design.

Sound: 5.0
The music and effects are Ok, but the voice acting is some of the worst I’ve ever heard.

Difficulty: Medium/Hard
There’ll be quite a few challenges waiting, and not always the good kind.

Concept: 6.0 
There are a few interesting ideas here, but the game generally feels like it could use some streamlining.

Multiplayer: 7.0
Yes, it’s there, but make sure you’re willing to withstand the single-player beatings before taking this fight online.

Overall: 7.5
Even hardcore RTS fans will be torn about this one, adopting a “take it or leave it” approach. Those that take it will be fighting an uphill battle, one that will reward the persistent tactical player above all others.



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