You won’t construct bases, produce units, or command vast forces in Ubisoft’s latest WWII real-time strategy Faces of War. No, this time, the Great War takes its cues from a completely different genre.
You're in charge of a single squad, and while you can direct units with traditional point and clicks, Faces of War’s unique Direct Control command allows you to move, aim and fire manually with the keyboard and mouse, much like you would in a first-person shooter. This feature works well with the game’s realistic physics engine, as line of sight, range and cover all play a role in how damage is dealt and received. However, you'll want to remap the controls from the arrow keys to the standard "WASD" movement keys you're familiar with. Also, due to the unpredictable AI, you can’t count on your troops to behave sensibly or shoot accurately without it.
Faces of War takes micro-management to a frustrating new level; you’ll constantly switch between your troops with Direct Control to prevent them from throwing grenades at each other. The result feels like a disjointed first-person shooter from a third-person perspective where you try to prevent the entire team from killing itself.
Although it adds depth to the gameplay, managing your squad’s inventory will drive you nuts. Looting the corpses of fallen comrades and foes will replenish ammo and supplies, but it’s easy to accidentally load up on ammunition or medkits that someone else sorely needed - and it's cumbersome to correct. War is messy in more ways than one, it seems.
Faces of War delivers stunning visuals with fully destructible environments. Large objects like buildings crumble and fall when hit by artillery or tank fire, while barrels and crates splinter under extended fire. But these effects play an important role in gameplay as well. Walls, trees, rocks and the wreckage of over-turned vehicles will all provide cover (while they last). Knowing how to take away your enemy’s advantage of cover is equally important. Having trouble advancing past a MG42 holed up in a building? Send a rocket their way and blast a hole through the wall leaving them vulnerable - if they survived the attack, that is.
Above: This house used to contain snipers and several heavy machine gunners - now it’s just a pile of rubble.
Whether you take up a single-player campaign for the Allied Forces, German, and Soviet armies, you’ll wage war through the usual locations and events like the Normandy beach landings, the Battle of the Bulge and the Battle of Berlin. They're entertaining, but you won’t notice any major differences between the three campaigns, which mostly consist of standard scripted “kill the enemy and move forward” objectives. Same for the equipment: only the names seem to differ between the Allied M8s or German Panzers.
The single player campaigns pale in comparison to the online action which offers eight multiplayer modes. Four players cooperatively storming Omaha Beach on D-Day is a blast. We even liked the weird modes like Chicken Hunt - kill more chickens than your opponent to make your soldiers fed and happy.
Faces of War wins on several fronts with its attractive destructible environments and solid multiplayer options; unfortunately, it falls short of total victory with frustrating AI and extensive micro-management duties, especially in single-player. Faces of War's unique perspective on WWII will give buffs something new if they want to mix it up online, but that new viewpoint is still looking at D-Day for the umpteenth time.