Men of War: Vietnam: review

We recommend you play Men of War: Vietnam with a shower cap on your head, or at least something that makes your hair harder to grip in spur of the moment frustration. Right from the off the uninitiated will be tearing clumps of man-fur straight from their skull as this game sets out to kick you in the mouse hand before you can acclimatise to the harsh realities of jungle warfare. Does four men against an entire company of hostiles sound fair to you?

1C Company really set the outgunned and outnumbered atmosphere in the first level, where control is handed over to the player just after all but four soldiers of your platoon are vaporised by a Huey gunship. As there is no tutorial level you may want to take this time to gain your bearings and figure out the controls. Unfortunately, if the first few orders to your squad do not take them into the treeline, the war machine returns and happily evaporates your forces in a second strafe. Assuming you survive, you then need to take out the patrol that has been sent to ensure you are dead. This game doesn’t just drop you in at the deep end; it throws an anchor in on top of you and raises the water level.

Some people learn you should stay in the trench the hard way.

The entire game is like this. About halfway through this same, introductory mission, you get the optional objective to take out some grounded helicopters. This definitely seems like a good idea, but killing six pilots or blowing up three helicopters is not subtle and will alert every guard and his assault rifle. Failing this side objective means the rest of the mission is peppered by random rocket strikes from mysteriously stealthy helicopters that easily go unnoticed. Mission objectives that evolve over time and carry heavy consequences dependant on their outcome are very good concepts, but they steepen an already perilous difficulty curve in this case. On one hand it keeps the action fluid and full of surprises. The on-edge factor adds a great sense of tension, but it also means you will be saving and reloading your game constantly when these surprises turn out to be nasty.

To top it all off, once a man is dead he is gone for that mission. You can’t revive him in the field or attempt to drag his body to safety; your team will have to struggle on minus his presence. It’s all very well making a game hard, but there are no game mechanics that let you redeem a single mistake. Those new to the Men of War series will even struggle on easy mode. The difficulty scales might as well be labelled ‘hard’, ‘very hard’ and ‘bloody maddening’.

When you can get through one lengthy mission to the next the objectives are drastically different which gives the game a pleasant amount of variety. Later missions occasionally give you access to additional soldiers to command and a few opportunities to drive armoured vehicles. There are 15 missions in total; five in each campaign and five bonus missions. This may not sound like many, but each mission is so long and often complex that you can easily get over ten hours from the single player game, should you persevere with the challenge. The tactical depth on offer also means that each situation has multiple solutions, allowing you to replay the game with completely different routes to victory.

Can you get breakdown cover in a warzone?

You need to master stealth early if you want to get far. You can click on an enemy unit to see his field of vision and slowly manoeuvre your troops around him. Unfortunately the AI is clunky at times and doesn’t respond immediately. They won’t always go prone when told or fire at the very instant you ask them. This is frustrating, especially if you are trying to act out a carefully constructed plan. Success or failure often seems to be a random lottery as to whether your squad does exactly what it’s told or not. A neat feature is the direct control option. It lets you control one soldier’s movement with the arrow keys and their shooting with the mouse. Whilst it’s a good concept, it’s a monumentally bad idea to employ; braving Men of War: Vietnam as a third-person shooter will end in tears and a splintered desk.

Most environments are jungles with the occasional outpost slotted into the odd clearing. Whilst the dense tree canopies brim with detail, the overhead RTS view means that it is very hard to spot enemies that are camping in the shade. It’s far too easy to stumble into an ambush and lose your squad, prompting a reload to an earlier position. Unlike the trees, character models and animations look distinctly stiff and more robotic than man-like. Pair this with terrible voice acting and it immediately strips away any potential war movie immersion the cutscenes may try to convey.

Narrow boat intolerance gets nasty.

Framing the harsh madness is an intimidatingly complex user interface. In the absence of a tutorial you are left to click by trial and error. It gives you a surprising amount of control over your men, including their stance, fire orders, formation and each man’s personal inventory. This should excite those who love micromanagement sessions as you can carefully equip and position your squad before each encounter. It’s just a shame the same precision can’t be applied during the intense fire fights for which you can prepare. Co-op multiplayer lets you run through the campaign with friends and spread this management complexity.

Men of War: Vietnam is a hardcore real-time strategy game that will challenge your RTS skills. It will also challenge your patience, tolerance and mental fortitude. The difficulty is a barrier for those unfamiliar with Men of War, making the game as accessible as a member’s only club that insists on an assault course instead of a front door. If you can tolerate this then there are several hours of strategic play, extended by multiple routes through missions and online co-op.

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Written by Anthony H

Anthony has been playing games for far too much of his life, starting with the MS-DOS classic Mario is Missing. Since then his tastes have evolved to include just about anything, but his soft spot lies with shooters and the odd strategy game. Anthony will inspire you with his prose, uplift you with his wit and lie to you in his biography.

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