Men of War: Condemned Heroes: review

We didn’t think much of last year’s Men of War: Vietnam. The dense jungle canopies and the camouflaged enemy forces that merged into every landscape like machine gun toting ghosts didn’t really agree with the overhead view and RTS mechanics. Stepping back into more familiar territory Men of War: Condemned Heroes takes us back to World War II, but this time puts players in control of a force that has been relatively untouched by games so far. But is the slightly fresh outlook the only thing Condemned Heroes does to differentiate itself from Vietnam? On the face of it, yes.

Condemned Heroes drops you in the general’s chair presiding over Soviet penal battalions. The men making up these forces were deserters, gulag inmates and other people who found their way onto Stalin’s naughty list. Their job was simple: go in ahead of the frontline forces and thin out the enemy ranks in a brave and often final rush. It’s nice to finally have a Men of War game that actually justifies the suicidal odds for which the series is known.

Keeping your head down is key to survival. We wish the AI knew that.

Dropping into the game is routine for Men of War veterans. The UI hasn’t been updated at all which makes things nice and familiar to returning players, but is still just as bewildering to the newbies. Tutorial prompts will tell you about the different ways to control your forces with the myriad of confusing buttons, but it doesn’t highlight the specific area of the UI when talking about them. Once you finally manage to bend your head around everything you will find an incredible amount of control over each individual unit on a scale not usually seen in RTS games. This includes stances, personal inventories, fire orders and a whole lot more. It’s just the awkward familiarisation phase that might make you chew your tongue off in frustration.

Direct control returns and allows you to select individual units and play the game like a mildly broken third-person shooter. With infantry this tactic is often suicidal, but utilising direct control with tanks and mounted guns can be incredibly handy, especially when you realise you can effectively shoot the weapons beyond their intended ranges. Tank sniping with direct control proves invaluable at times.

Of course, the majority of your unit control relies on the usual point and click affair associated with RTS games. Condemned Heroes can be really hit and miss with its unit path finding. There were too many occasions when infantry took the route past the German guns to get into cover when it was clearly a bad idea. It also gets frustrating when you order infantry to cover and they stand just outside of it, or form up on the wrong side. Ordering units to throw grenades can also go a bit haywire when they decide they want to be a bit closer and charge down the guns. The AI is definitely a few straws short of a handful of straws.

Sneaking past trenches is easier at night, but still carries lead-based risks.

In a very pleasant surprise, the difficulty has been toned down from Men of War: Vietnam. You’re no longer dropped in the deep end wrapped in battleship chains. Now you’re laid down in the shallow end, just enough to be fully submerged, before 1C-Softclub place an immovable rock on your chest. Toned down doesn’t mean easy, and this game is still maddeningly difficult. It’s just slightly more possible now. The tutorial mission does a nice job of slowly immersing you in the game before suddenly pulling the blood spattered battle rags from underneath you, brutally reminding you it is a Men of War title. Even on easy setting, this will test your RTS muscles and have you reloading previous saves constantly until you get it right. But with a lot of persistence, it is slightly more possible than previous games in the series.

If pixels on a screen could wear the same way keyboard characters do, then the “Save” and “Load” options on the game menu would be faded and illegible by the time you finish the first campaign. It is wise to save often, just before each push to ensure you lose the fewest – or indeed any – units. Each death has unknown consequences for later in the mission as it is never clear what the game will throw at you. You usually have the general mission objective outlined, but you will still be caught out by the odd ‘repel German armour’ prompts that can pop up from time to time. If the game gives you anti-armour capabilities, you best be sure to keep them around. It’s also a good idea to keep your numbers healthy for taking heavily armed trenches, an objective the game throws your way so often, it’s like a creepy fetish.

Big guns can be turned against enemies, but you have to ask really nicely or shoot first.

Multiplayer comes in the form of competitive capture the flag based modes, so you can drop any hopes of making the campaign easier with human allies (unless you’re willing to look into the modding scene). There isn’t much of an online presence at the moment either, so the best way to guarantee some games is to hook up with friends who also have copies.

Men of War: Condemned Heroes flirts with our largest complaint from last year’s entry in the series and has scaled the difficulty back. This being said, it is still probably the hardest game we’ve played this year. This should keep long time Men of War fans happy, and be slightly more merciful on those new to the series. However, approach this wrong and it will shoot you in the back without blinking. This is a game that requires immense micromanagement skills and the patience of an especially patient saint. You will fail lots, sometimes due to your own error, other times due to shonky AI. Stick with it and Condemned Heroes will last you a long time, but only due to missions artificially lengthened by an iron fist difficulty that would even make Deep Blue pack-in and reformat itself.

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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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