Men of War: Condemned Heroes Review (PC)

Men of War has always been about getting the most action out of a RTS set up. Players must keep their units topped up with ammo, provide sufficient cover, and make sure the right objectives are dealt with by the right units to make sure you keep the edge over your opponents. All this makes for a challenging, yet wholly rewarding experience.

Mow: Condemned Heroes has taken a step further into the ‘action’ genre with the new ‘direct control’ feature, which allows you to move and fire characters and vehicles as if you were playing a rather bizarre third person shooter. However, while this new feature proves to be both fun and useful, it does highlight the main problem in Men of War: Condemned Heroes, and indeed, the whole series:

Cannons can do huge amounts of damage to the enemy

Not being able to control all units on the screen is damn annoying. It’s fine in any other genre, and indeed a lot of squad shooters that try and give you maximum control over others don’t work out (such as Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising), but when you have a whole platoon doing jack squat while you watch the few you are able to control simply get mowed down becomes very annoying very quickly. Of course, if an enemy enters their line of site, they’ll fire, but when your objective it to occupy an enemy trench full of machine guns and mortars, and you only have a handful of units to control, you’re going to find most of your strategies fall flat on your face due to a total lack of support. And that’s just the tutorial mission.

Furthermore, the AI doesn’t do anything when neutral. While the death animations in MoW are good, when your team isn’t firing, they’ll just stand there not moving an inch. This also applies to the enemy troops. They don’t even occupy vacant weapons, meaning if they’re standing next to a machine gun that could mow down the enemy, and your squad are on the other side of the map, they’ll just stand there picking their noses waiting to die.

This problem manifests itself in a plethora of ways other than not having enough controllable firepower to overpower your enemy. The other problem is, when you complete an objective, the fog-of-war ahead of you pushes back for you to continue onwards, however, it then swallows the previous area up. This means if you had any units occupying artillery or vehicles, they are swallowed up too. When units are few and far between, this can be a real game changer. If one of your troops is swallowed up, you still continue to play, meaning when everyone you’re controlling dies except this non-existent unit, the game leaves your control, and turns into a mediocre battle-sim.

There are probably 3 units in there that you're in control of

This happened in the very fist mission when I had only one unit left plus a swallowed up unit and I had to repel a counter attack of German troops and tanks galore. I had the one unit occupy a cannon to take out the tanks, but when he died; that was it. No troops occupied the cannon, and my other unit was out-of-action, so I had no choice but to sit there and watch these tanks drive straight past the unoccupied defenses and straight into my troops. It was frustrating, and unavoidable, if a few tweaks were made to gameplay.

Luckily the game auto-saves regularly enough at ‘checkpoints’, so as long as you notice this before its too late, you can usually load up not too far from where you are. But, due to being so out-of-control of situations in the game, a well-aimed grenade or mortar strike can really change the tide of battle, and if you haven’t saved regularly, you can find yourself replaying large sections over and over again. Events like this can be frustrating as the game is difficult enough without adding cheap deaths into the equation.

While each mission is engaging and challenging, they do become a rather linear affair, and the storyline is so-so, with very little characterization. Similarly, the voice acting is annoying and overdramatic to say the least. The music fits the game well, but the graphics are mediocre. The animations for the soldiers are floaty but are nice and fluid for the vehicles, and this reminded me of the vehicle handling in Halo: Wars. Explosions also look nice, and throw up debris with great realism. Vehicles have various components, including wheels, engines, and turrets, which can all be destroyed individually. While these can be repaired, doing so is risky in the heat of battle.

Other ways the game tries to innovate the RTS genre are features previously found throughout the series; Units can run out of ammo and grenades and have to loot enemy units for items to put in their limited inventory. However as limited as it is you’ll rarely find yourself filling it up, whether that be because there’s not enough to fill it up with, or just your unit doesn’t live long enough to get bogged down with weaponry.

Pop up shooting galleries were super-realistic back then

I feel that I should also point out some bugs in the game before I finish. There was nothing too major in terms of performance, but it throw the gameplay off at times. Firstly, I lost the mouse a fair few times while playing, and had to open the menu for it to return. While it was nothing major 90% of the time, when I’m trying to time when and where I place my shots in direct control, having the mouse disappear was a big deal. Secondly, a lot of times when units went to occupy a mortar or machine gun, they’d just sit in it and not do anything. This meant that that weapon was rendered useless, and when the game places items at your disposal to allow you to continue, not being able to use them obviously means you’re not going to be able to progress.

Men of War: Condemned Heroes is a good game. The question is; do you have the patience to play it? Newcomers to the genre probably won’t, and even veterans might get easily annoyed at the feeling of helplessness the game can give you when there are so many units but such little control. If you’ve played the series before and like it, then you’ll probably like this one too, especially with the new direct control feature. If you’ve never played the series before and this review sounds like a challenge you’re willing to take on, then this game’s definitely for you. And if you’ve read this review and you’re not sure, then I’d recommend buying the first Men of War. It’ll be cheaper, which means less money to dish out when you ultimately throw your keyboard through your screen.

Top Game Moment: Taking control of a tank and utterly owning enemy troops from afar.

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By Mugzy (I just got here) on May 10, 2012
"Direct Control" has always been in the series, nothing new there.