Thursday, October 6, 2011

-REVIEW: Men of War: Assault Squad-
third time’s a charm

Men of War: Assault Squad
Developer: Digitalmindsoft
Price: $34.99

War! Guns! Vehicles! Direct Control! Tedium! Excitement! Sequels! Cyclical nature of life!

Realism. At this point in our experience as gamers, this word has come to mean more than just graphical fidelity, force feedback, emotional attachment, or believability. It’s come to represent the fine line between good and great, worth playing and worth paying. So many games attempt to poise themselves on this fine line, trying to use its culturo-literal significance as a feature point on the back of a thin cardboard insert. What one often finds is no less than an even thinner product alongside it.

Well, what does it mean then when I say that Men of War: Assault Squad is a fine piece of realism?
In all fairness, evaluating this game as though it appeared out of thin air smacks disingenuous so, for the sake of my integrity, I’ll list its underwhelming predecessors: Soldiers: Heroes of World War II, Faces ofWar, Men of War, and Men of War: Red Tide (oddly enough, the relative underwhelminess of each title decreases with time.) The point here is that Digitalmindsoft has had many more chances than the average developer to wring and refine this particular idea out over the course of many successes, failures, and flukes. And for once, for once, these mishaps and mayhaps have come to some serious fruition of fun.
The fun is found both at large and in part due to the fact that Digitalmindsoft's pet product has always been the idea of incorporating the idea of direct control into an RTS setting. It’s not a new idea (well, perhaps it was when they first began the series), but it is one that has proven difficult to implement satisfactorily, both in their own series and in the industry at large. But it’s a mechanic that they have mastered since Men of War, and as a result is a refined and intuitive part of Assault Squad. And yet this is but a small part of the fun to be found in this most current iteration. Assault Squad goes further than both of its predecessors to address its most pressing complaint: difficulty.
Storytime: A farmer had three daughters. The first one was smart. Oh golly, so smart. She was as quick as a whip, sharp as a knife, an acute triangle, and every other metaphor for smartness and what have you. But she had no patience. She had no patience for the thoughtful, chivalrous suitors who may have chased her, and her cold, unloving stares caused even the hardiest of men to question their resolve. But a few braved the cold winds of her bosom, and had their rewards in kind. But long did she stay a virgin.
The second one was just as smart as the first, but she had much better teeth. It was clear that she was a bit more appealing to most, but she still wasn’t sure what to do with these fabulous teeth. Bare them as a dog does when confronted with a meal? Slathering, slavering, ambiguously shining her whites at comers on, sadly unaware of its exuberant ambivalence? She may as well have had an enormous growth on her otherwise lovely countenance, so jarring was that grin. And yet straight and compelling as well, somewhat irresistible, almost. And so she was yet able to garner some attention, and many more men were yet able to enjoy her company, with mouthguards, of course.
And then there was the third. The third was a vision. God, was she beautiful. Beautiful as the gods themselves. No gender could make it less so. And what else, she yet retained the wisdom, wit, and depth of her elder siblings. But this one, she knew what she was. Her identity, so solid, so foundational, so fundamental was it that despite her complexity and her depth and her beauty, she was…accessible. Men saw what they wanted to see and yet still came to see more after realizing what she was. Among her sisters, she was the one most able, most capable, of reaching out to them rather than waiting amidst the thorns of ambiguity or adversity for those who were bold enough. And yet…no one seemed to pay much attention.
Here’s the moral of the story: Men of War: Assault Squad is just another Men of War game. But what you don’t know, what no one seems to know, is that Men of War is a fantastic game. It is deep, it is difficult, it is rewarding, it is thoughtful, it is satisfying, it is tortuous, and it is playable. But unlike the girls in our story, it is still virginal. It is still virginal because yes, the first one wasn’t pretty at all. The voice acting was atrocious and the story suffered for it. The animations and sounds were samey and bland and the weapons felt underpowered. The second one still suffered from low production values and horrific voice acting, but its elements were refined and its campaign was more interesting. And yet still it was virginal. But here, with Assault Squad, Men of War has blossomed into an undeniable, unignorable flower of a bloom of a blossom that spawns iridescence itself, while still maintaining its difficulty, depth, and twisted complexity.

And yes, it is still as virginal and as pure as the last two. But trust me, it won’t stay that way for long once you get your hands on it, you dog.

You dog.