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Men of War

Russian developers Best Way are serious about their strategy games. They’ve already forged some of the most important wargames of recent times, such as Soldiers: Heroes of World War II, and now it looks like Men of War is going to be another high note in their journey towards creating the ultimate World War II game. Men of War is astoundingly detailed and magnificently realistic. In a recent hands-on session at KRI, a Russian game conference held deep in the belly of the Cosmos, a monolithic Soviet-era hotel, we got to see why we should be excited. The demo consisted of two levels. The first was something of a tutorial, the second showed just how enormous and intense this game has the potential to be.

In the first mission we’re put in control of a small group of soldiers. We’re shown the visual arcs of the enemy: we can use these to stay out of sight while our men get into position. Our men are good soldiers: they use cover, crawl through vegetation, and eventually flank some German soldiers, gunning them down to clear the tank we need to repair. We set about patching it up, then climb aboard. Suddenly things start to move rather more quickly. The Russian tank is formidable, with both armour-piercing and high explosive rounds, and two machineguns with a powerful firing arc. Like every other unit in the game, the tank can be micromanaged with total precision. We can decide exactly what it does, or leave it to fend for itself. The same is true of our infantry – their equipment can be selected right down to the exact pistol and grenade that we want them to use.

We select an armour-piercing round for our tank’s first shot at a nearby building. It goes straight through, with little more than a spray of dust. The building is still standing, and still providing cover for the enemy. We switch to high explosive and take it down. The building crumples and collapses. Some trees, a tractor, and a barn follow in quick succession. We’re enjoying ourselves until another tank appears, and infantry begin to flank us... soon, all is lost.

The second mission is even more precarious: the defence of Moscow. This is the series of battles where the Red Army stopped the advance of the Germans. Things are scaling up: dozens of soldiers are on the battlefield now. The Best Way developer, speaking excitedly in Russian, shows us how snipers can climb up trees and, from a safe vantage point in the foliage, take down advancing infantry. The detail of all this is breathtaking. The number of troops on the field, the incredible detail of men crouched behind destroyed APCs that only moments earlier were animated parts of the battle...

And we’re out of time. In a moment, another game is being demonstrated, all snazzy effects and explosions. Yet what we’ve seen of Men of War, with its smoky, pastoral detail, lingers on. It’s a game still months away from release, but we can already taste the long hours of our life we’re going to sink into it.

Aug 7, 2008

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