Men of War: Assault Squad – Preview

War is hell. We all know that. Hollywood told us that years ago. Games however have taken the notion and decided that it applies to them in a somewhat different way, with hell being an endless stream of mediocre titles set during the Second World War, very few of which are actually worth playing. What gamer hasn’t come up against the Nazis at some point? Every genre has had many cracks at WWII, some more successfully than others. The WWII games that are actually worth playing, that come along and shake up the same tired old recreations of the same tired old battles (we all know that Omaha Beach is the new Hoth) by doing it in a new and exciting way are very few and far between, and something to look out for because they could easily get passed over amongst the deluge of recycled crap.

Ukrainian developer Best Way and co-developer Digitalmindsoft were responsible for one of these better WWII games, releasing Men of War in 2009 to a generally positive critical reception. A real-time strategy follow up to their previous game, Faces of War, they made Men of War stand out by taking the WWII setting and giving it a treatment normally reserved for games based on the Napoleonic and Medieval era wars, with an in-depth level of control that put the player in charge of all the minutiae. This was followed up with an expansion in 2010; Red Tide.

Now Digitalmindsoft are returning to Men of War with upcoming stand-alone expansion Men of War: Assault Squad. Curiously, rather than expanding the entire game to include new units and maps across the broad spectrum of armed forces types and technologies involved in modern warfare, Assault Squad is focused on infantry engagements, dramatically expanding the range of tactical options available to would-be platoon commanders whilst largely ignoring air and naval units and reducing the effectiveness of tanks and other armoured vehicles.

Assault Squad aims for authenticity rather than massive explosions; soldiers and vehicles take damage according to where on their body they get hit, with men losing larger amounts of their health bar for chest, back and head wounds, and vehicles not having an overall health bar at all in favour of each individual component such as the tracks and weapons turret being treated as separate systems. Blow a wheel or a track off a vehicle, and it’s disabled, but the gun can keep firing, and so on. Each vehicle also has a crew, in a fantastic little innovation, where the vehicle can be stopped by sniping the driver through their window, or if it’s your tank that gets wrecked and the crew survive you can get them to clamber out and leg it back to safety in order to try and repair another vehicle that you lost farther back into territory you captured earlier on. You can even press-gang them in a pinch as a very weak combat unit, as each man is armed with a service revolver or pistol. Another thing with vehicles is that they don’t just blow up and vanish when you destroy them; they stay on the field, which helps create a dynamic and shifting battlefield with constantly evolving conditions.

Terrain and how you approach each battlefield and adjust to the way it changes during the course of each engagement plays a big part in how well you do too, with every weapon except mortars and artillery having true line of sight, and infantry having individually adjustable stances (standing, crouching, and crawling) and the ability to enter cover behind practically any object on the map. Destroyed vehicles, buildings, walls, large rocks, and tall grass are just a few of the more obvious ways of helping your soldiers avoid taking enemy fire or being spotted until it’s too late. Occasionally it’s even a valid strategy to sacrifice one of the bigger tanks by sending it out right in the middle of a wide open space to get clobbered, so that your men can crawl up and fire from behind it, virtually immune to small arms fire. However, to balance this out, all cover is destructible in some way; in fact the simplest way to deal with a squad of basic infantry hiding behind a house or something is not to fire on them, but to simply order a tank to drive straight through the house and flatten anyone on the other side of it who gets in the way. But then the resulting rubble from the ruined building becomes cover too… no two games ever end with the battlefield looking the same, and the sheer options tactically are staggering.

There are three different ways to control the game shown in the two mission preview copy I’ve played. There are squad missions where you only get given a handful of men to accomplish objectives in a set order, and if you lose all of those men you’re basically buggered and fail the mission. Then there are larger non-linear skirmishes that require you to capture and hold numerous strategic points on the map to cut enemy supply lines and reinforcements, allowing you to mop up their remaining army with overwhelming force. Finally, and most unusually of all, you can select a single unit and choose to control them directly yourself, using the WASD keys for movement and the mouse to aim their weapon, turning the game into a primitive sort of third person action shooter.

The set-unit squad objectives are reminiscent of the old Commandos series, with each man having a little portrait and a name and rank of their own, and you can tell each one individually of the overall squad to use certain weapons and techniques, working apart or as a team to get the job done. Each man has his own limited inventory too, which includes everything from his weapons and his helmet to his ammunition reserves and medic kits and other equipment. How good they are at using each weapon, or whether they can use it at all, is dictated by their training, with a large variety of soldier classes such as sniper, medic, rifleman and so on. Each squad has a squad leader, which you can designate as you choose, responsible for leading them into battle, but you have the option of deploying each member of the platoon as you see fit manually; for example having your riflemen and heavy weapons lay down a hail of covering fire to keep enemy soldiers trapped behind cover whilst your sniper crawls around and flanks them, and your medic hangs back in relative safety ready to rush forward and treat anyone who gets hit. This versatility and ability to micro manage teams of men working together is really unique compared to pretty much any other RTS series currently around. The attention to detail too is amazing. Games like Command & Conquer would have you believe that all soldiers have unlimited ammo that lasts as long as they stay alive. In Assault Squad, a prolonged firefight throws up attrition issues as your men start to run out of rounds. And if a man gets knocked down by an explosion and survives, he may get up again but he’s going to be vulnerable still for a vital few seconds running around like a headless chicken trying to pick up his gun and helmet that he dropped when he was sent flying.

The larger skirmish battles still allow you the same level of control over your squad tactics, but the option to call up reinforcements, including limited armoured vehicle support, coupled with the massive scale of the expanded combat area and multiple simultaneous objectives makes it frankly impractical. In these battles you’ll be selecting men en masse and hurling them around as several unconnected fights break out forcing you to attack and defend at the same time. With battles being won by breaking enemy lines of supply and reinforcement by capturing and controlling strategic positions on the map highlighted with a flag pole flying the banner of whichever army currently holds it, the best comparisons elsewhere in the genre would be games such as Company of Heroes and Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War.

In terms of strategy and tactics, the direct control action mode is completely impractical no matter how you slice it, and you’ll never win a battle using this alone. But it is very handy in small doses for tricky manoeuvres that you simply can’t trust the game AI to handle and pull off, and it has a side effect of being awesome to watch; in extreme zoom the models and textures and animations in the game are nearly as good as any basic FPS game, which is something of a marvel for a strategy title, and there is a very Saving Private Ryan cinematic vibe to seeing your guy get his helmet shot off by a sniper, shake his head in shocked disbelief, before returning fire… only for a downed fighter plane that’s had its wing shot off to crash into the building next to him, sending him sprawling face down in the path of an oncoming enemy tank.

Visually, Assault Squad is gorgeous to look at, with the custom built game engine somehow managing to get top performance even on averagely specced computers, and somehow looking more detailed and more animated than other strategy titles that eat up four times as many system resources whilst only managing to muster up blocky units and extremely zoomed out views. Each army involved (and the range here too is better than usual with British, American, Russian, German, Japanese, Romanian, Italian, and French resistance armies all available) has authentically modelled and textured units, making it obvious at a glance whether a soldier or a tank is American or German or Japanese as well as what kind it is to anyone familiar with the military forces of the era.

The sheer depth of gameplay seen so far, the incredible level of detail and general polish for a budget-priced PC strategy title, as well as online multiplayer game modes and the promise of at least 15 single player story missions in the finished game all make Assault Squad a very promising upcoming title for strategy enthusiasts sick of the kind of dumbing down the genre has suffered from of late, or for any gamer who wants more from their WWII games.

Look for Assault Squad in shops soon, published by 1C Company and available on Steam, and also my full review of the final product here on GamingLives in the weeks to come. Based on what I’ve been shown so far, I can’t wait for more.

Last five articles by Samuel



  1. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    When I first saw this previewed a few weeks ago, I was pretty blown away by it. I do admit that I made the assumption that, with it being a smaller developer, it would likely end up being pretty ropey but when it kicked in I was shocked at how awesome it looked. I even said to the PR rep (who I won’t name in case he’s shy!!) that I’d pretty much been put off the RTS combat genre by the last few Command & Conquer outings by EA and he nodded in agreement saying that he loved the C&C franchise but understood what I meant. That’s for another time though… but yeah, when I saw it I was already sold. I haven’t played Commandos MYSELF but have watched it being played and can definitely see the similarities… but for me it was a glance back at the original Westwood Studios C&C series… when it was all about the gritty realism of war rather than Evil Rulers and futuristic weaponry.

    I have the preview… it’s on my laptop ready to be played… I just haven’t had the chance to sit down with it and let loose. Maybe this weekend, but probably not… as usual. Really glad you enjoyed it though; I thought you would! Now I just need to clear my workload and sit down with it myself. Let’s just hope they don’t ruin the next one with tacky colours and Jenny McCarthy!

  2. Stu Stu says:

    This one slipped me by, but my eyes have been off the RTS world for quite some time. I really like the take on the different damage amounts by body parts & the flexibility it seems to offer regarding the vehicle teams.

    Would be nice to get the RTS bug again, not really enjoyed many since Warcraft 3!

  3. Lorna Lorna says:

    Impressive and detailed preview and it makes me want to try the game even more now. While I have never been a hardcore RTS or FPS fan, I was obsessed with Commandos years ago and absolutely adored the gameplay mechanics, graphics, and squad/individual based missions. This seems very similar while also giving off a tiny Cannon Fodder vibe perhaps, blended with C&C. Very appealing and since they plan to follow it up with Men of War: Vietnam later in the year, I’ll be grabbing this one as soon as it comes out.

  4. Ben Ben says:

    I love RTS games but haven’t spent nearly as much time playing them as I would have liked. I use to enjoy playing Sudden Strike back ‘in the day’ and this reminds me of that, which is a good thing. Dawn of War satisfied my needs somewhat (Chaos Rising was fantastic) but that series is more RPG these days, I’m left with a gap to fill.

    Is strange, I really like WWII RTS games but in any other genre WWII is just old for me now. Quite interested in this, especially as it’ll be a Steam release too.

  5. Edward Edward says:

    I haven’t played any RTS games in ages, but if I had a better laptop that could handle it, this’d be the thing that got me interested in the genre again. Like Richie has said before; when it comes to reviews (and in this case previews) you have a magnificent way with words, and this is no different. Fantastic job, and I can’t wait to see the full review soon :D

  6. Samuel Samuel says:

    Thanks for the kind words everyone. It’s possibly the most exciting RTS game I’ve played in a while. A very long while. If any game should tempt someone to come back to strategy gaming, this is the one to do it.

    @Ed – Unless your laptop is steam powered, you should take a look at the minimum specs, because Men of War is surprisingly easy going on hardware demands, despite looking as fantastic as it does.

  7. Edward Edward says:

    You’d be surprised. It can run a fair few games, but overheats way too quickly for some.
    It overheats playing Super Meat Boy, ferchrissake.

    However, I will totally look into it :D

  8. MrCuddleswick says:

    Sounds pretty damn good.

    How does it compare to COH I wonder?

    Of course, my PC hasn’t a hope of running either, but still,I really wish it did.

  9. Lee says:

    This game sounds cool, it’s nice to know that it has those little touches some RTS games say they’ll offer but rarely do. Look forward to seeing the finished game.

  10. [...] sees the demo finally released of the sexy looking RTS shooter, Men of War: Assualt Squad.  Samuel previewed the game recently, here at GLHQ, and couldn’t speak more highly of it and, after reading it and [...]

  11. [...] of nations across a number of different historical settings and backgrounds – for more info, take a look at our preview.  The Men of War: Assault Squad Special Edition will be available from all major retailers from [...]

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