Let’s get the cold hard facts out there right away - Men of War: Assault Squad is a deep and complicated multiplayer-focused RTS that is not a good choice for those new to the series. It exists as a stand-alone expansion of the original Men of War, and while the bolstered gameplay and balance fixes will excite some, the steep learning curve and lack of campaign will send others running for the trenches. It’s a game that’s either too complicated for its own good or a dream come true for hardcore RTS fans, and it certainly makes no attempt to bridge that gap.
Assault Squad takes what was (and still is at less than two years old) the beautifully intricate WWII era RTS experience of the first Men of War and adds layers of graphical and technical polish. As is the norm for any RTS game, you’ll control the standard infantrymen, trucks, tanks, air strikes, etc. What sets this game apart though - for better or worse - is the startling depth. The environments are destructible, the cover system is surprisingly varied, and the sheer number of ways you can go about some missions is frankly alarming. You’ll need to meticulously micromanage almost every unit you control, and if you want to stay alive longer than five minutes, you’ll need to seriously ramp up your average actions per minute (APM).
With a loot system rivaling Dragon Age or Diablo and character animations that more closely resemble Gears of War than StarCraft, each solider becomes a self-contained powerhouse. Your men can pick up weapons from fallen enemies, siphon fuel from crippled vehicles, and become ammo-toting mules no matter what class they’re originally branded with. This unit versatility allows you to change strategies on the fly, meaning even the direst of combat situations can be spectacularly salvaged with some quick thinking and creativity.
For example, imagine your small army of foot soldiers and turret trucks has just been devastated by well positioned enemy artillery and camouflaged troops. The bloodbath has left you with only four soldiers. Frantically, you fall back a short distance, sending one soldier to man a nearby heavy machine gun. He covers your remaining squad as two men dash forward to salvage ammo and precious grenades from fallen enemies. The fourth man hurries to repair a nearby farm tractor. Thankfully, you have air support available to destroy the enemy’s suppressive long-range weaponry. After a couple minutes, you hitch the gun to the back of the tractor and your men haul ass back to camp where you regroup and plan your counter-attack. This tiny scenario is only one of thousands that are possible, and it illustrates how the Men of War experience is less about building one massive attack wave per mission and more about the numerous mini-dramas that play out every time you play through a map.
Above: Get off my property!
Unfortunately the lone single-player mode (skirmish) feels almost like an afterthought. Though the setting and units change for each mission, the objectives and general layout of the maps are virtually identical. You’ll begin with a laughably small force and work your way up the map by capturing and holding objective points. Over and over. Even playing cooperatively with up to three friends will get boring after a short while, and you’ll inevitably end up where Assault Squad really wants you to be – the multiplayer lobbies.
Multiplayer is the true focus of this title, and it’s obvious. There’s been an open beta since November, and as a result, the four modes are extremely balanced and refined. There’s also a ton (30-40 at the moment) of maps available, depending on the mode you choose. Unfortunately, online play can be prohibitively difficult for newcomers. The lobbies aren’t as populated as we hoped, and a lot of those inside are seasoned Men of War players. This means you’ll have to get some friends together or simply cross your fingers if you want to find matches against similarly skilled opponents. The Men of War community is, however, very passionate and knowledgeable, so you can get up to speed fairly quickly by browsing the forums or watching YouTube videos.
There’s no doubt that the gameplay of Men of War is brilliant, but seeing as Assault Squad is only a multiplayer expansion and features a steep learning curve, it’s hard to justify the $35 asking price. Fortunately, those seeking a more campaign-based experience won’t have to wait long - a Vietnam-themed title is due to be released shortly.
Mar 7, 2011