Company of Heroes basically established a new sub genre for itself when it was released. Based primarily in the Real Time Strategy genre, the game focused specifically on the troops you had with you on the battlefield. Other games had in the past done the Real Time Tactics found in CoH but none had managed to be as playable. Men of War 2: Assault Squad takes a similar approach to gameplay. Lets clear the fog of war a little and see how they did.
The game is clearly meant to focus on the multiplayer aspect. While there is a skirmish mode for players to learn how to play the game there is no overarching story line, no silly excuse for you to appear in different locations at the most crucial moments. Just a little bit of dialogue at the beginning of each battle explaining what you are getting yourself into, and then it’s off to the races.
Some of the battles in Skirmish mode are meant to be completed without calling in reinforcements, and you will be rewarded for doing so with the knowledge that you were able to take out a garrison with only four men. Fortunately the developers realize that not everyone is a grand tactician and so if you must call in extra troops you won’t fail the mission.
At other times the game will ask you to hold out against attacking forces for a period of time before sending you reinforcements that you can’t control. They are there to allow your much smaller force to tip the battle in your country’s favor.
Battles are won in Skirmish mode by capturing vital spots on the map and then continuing onwards to the next objective. Some battles will have layers of defenses that you can choose to reinforce or to abandon depending on how the battle is going.
There are five nations you can choose to play as in the game. I’m sure you can guess but here they are anyway: USSR, Japan, Germany, Britain and the United States. There is also a sixth faction you can play as, this being the British Commonwealth nations of Canada, Australia and New Zealand. From what I played of this faction it didn’t seem all that different from the British, but as a Canadian I appreciate the inclusion.
All of the skirmish campaigns feel like they were designed around the same idea. The first mission is a tutorial for the game, and is basically the same mission, no matter which country you play as. So you’ll learn things like ordering squads into cover, how to revive a wounded soldier, how to use grenades, and how to repair vehicles to use as your own. Overall the game does a pretty good job of explaining how it works. Certain levels especially are terrific fun when you can find a way to turn vehicles around and use them against the enemy. One map in particular has the Germans sending wave after wave of tanks against your lines, and you have to position your forces to guard against attack from the front and the side. Sending soldiers out to repair tanks can make that level far more manageable.
Reinforcements are acquired by spending command points. These command points are earned by destroying enemy units and by capturing strategic points on the battlefield. Basically if you’re ordered to do something and you succeed you will be granted more points to buy reinforcements. These reinforcements can be any number of things – airborne troops, tanks, snipers, or my personal favorites the Devils Brigade.
All of this is a great way to teach players how to compete against each other online, as the online portion of the game allows up to eight people to fight. It can be pretty hectic when you’re playing on a team of 4 vs 4, but it’s quite rewarding to call in a tank to help out a friendly infantry unit and then with their help push forward. Not all game modes require you to capture objectives – some merely need you to destroy a certain amount of enemy. I liked this mode a little more because there is nothing but you and your team against the enemy.
It has to be said that the controls aren’t exactly the most refined in history. Resupplying your units requires you to open a crate and physically choose what you want that unit to take from the box. Nice for customizing but not so nice for simplicity and playability. You can modify the interface to put special unit abilities along the top of the unit command bar, and these buttons are also mapped to the function keys on your keyboard. This means the game is probably more playable if you learn the hotkeys. Still, I’ve never been able to play an RTS without using my mouse, so I’ll just admit that the problem may just lie with me.
The graphics are very good. The models of the units, the tanks and the infantry all look quite good, and when the tanks explode they look amazing. The foliage looks quite nice and so do the towns and environments, which are destructible by the way. Bonus marks for that.
The voice and sound effects are all adequate, though the voice work is comical at times. At one point in the American campaign you’re urged to push forward to victory, “For Freedom!” The music isn’t really all that noticeable, but it isn’t terrible either.
One last feature I should bring up is the ability to take command of specific units while they are deployed on the battlefield. This allows you to control a tank who won’t fire when you know the shot is there to be had, allowing you to be the hand of god. I don’t know how often I’d use it in multi, as it can leave the rest of your units exposed if you’re not careful. Still, it’s a neat feature that I cannot remember being used by any other RTS that I’ve played recently.
Short Attention Span Summary:
A pretty good game over all, but I would have enjoyed more variety in the single player.