Men of War: Condemned Heroes Hands On
Publisher: 1C / Platform: PC / Release Date: Q2 2012
NOT ONE STEP BACK
As an able-bodied adult male between about 1939 and 1945, a lot of extra-special potential unpleasantness could suddenly befall you if you lived, oh, anywhere on Earth…but especially if you found yourself in proximity to the meat-grinder Eastern Front between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. For starters, you could very probably see front-line military duty anywhere at all, which would be bad enough; if you were particularly unlucky, you could even find yourself facing the threat of death from your own comrades in the Soviet military—all for the perfectly reasonable reaction (aka crime) of retreating when faced with unwinnable tactical situations, which were a kopek-a-dozen back then. If the Fates really felt like taking a dump on you that week, you could wind up serving in one of the shtrafbats, the ‘penal battalions’ devised by Joseph Stalin for disgraced officers—the only-very-slightly-better-than-nothing alternative to court-martial execution for cowardice—wherein the risk level for pretty much every mission ranged somewhere between ‘yeah, good luck with that’ to ‘do svidaniya, asshole’.
Men of War: Condemned Heroes is (Russian) publisher 1C’s newest installment in the Men of War series of tactical military sims, and focuses exclusively on the unenviable, real-world missions assigned to the luckless shtrafniki (in theory, if you survived enough said missions, your rank could be reinstated as if the initial court-martial offense had never taken place; of course, in theory, Communism works). 1C’s gaming division worked with military consultants on never-before-seen Russian government information finally declassified long after World War II, and all the missions in Condemned Heroes are based on their real-world findings. The level of accuracy that drills down through the game is so meticulous that it applies to the distinct styles of uniform worn by the soldiers, their concomitant ranks/insignia/camouflage patterns, and the effects of fighting in (or simply being dressed for) summer or winter, as well as to details like the fact that—even in situations with scores of combatants on screen—no two character models or faces are clones of another.
Mechanically, it’s a click-and-command real-time tactics game. However, Condemned Heroes has at least one tactical touch that is still missing from far too many real-time games today: Namely, the ability to issue routes and orders to a mass of troops while simultaneously executing direct control over a single officer via the AWSD keys—it’s an obvious yet indispensable tool useful for executing precise pathing control as well as for devising flanking ops, diversions, and other battlefield procedures.
In mechanics as well as appearance, that single-minded devotion to Accuracy comes through at every level. Every individual soldier’s rifle and sidearm has its own ammo count; different types of explosives and grenades have unique, accurate effects; weapons, supplies, even helmets can be removed from dead enemies or fallen comrades (remember that bit from Enemy At the Gates, about picking up the rifle, once the guy carrying it in front of you inevitably ‘catches one’ and dies? Yeah, that. Also, in just a one-hour demo, I more than once witnessed a suddenly ownerless helmet tumbling away from the spot where a soldier or whole pack of soldiers had just been turned into red chunks and mist).
When you’re manning a tank, it’s possible for the tank to have just its treads destroyed, thereby obliging you to grab the top-side machinegun and continue on with it—albeit slowly and awkwardly!—on foot. During such a slow, encumbered slog, you must still stop to attempt to use it—you’re not Rambo, here—and if you have another squad-member help you feed the ammo-belt, you’ll have all the more success. That kind of detail.
In the same vein, the physics are touted as “One hundred percent accurate,” according to the developers. This means that if the caliber of your weapon would, in real life, penetrate the wall or building the enemy is cowering behind, you can go ahead and shoot them right through said obstruction. Likewise, the weapon ranges, grenade effects and blast radii, and so forth are also reliably, accurately taken into account. The missions, already basically suicidal by nature, can get very complex: In one, you’ll need to attack a German expeditionary force directly, kill them off without critically damaging their heavy emplaced weapons, and then commandeer those weapons to ambush and wipe out the even larger main force approaching in their wake.
Men of War: Condemned Heroes depicts clashes from Volyn in the Ukraine to Operation Bagration in Brest to Warsaw, Poland to the Magnush bridgehead, and culminates with the assaults on Altdam and Stettin as the Soviets mounted their merciless counterattack. The single-player game features four campaigns with 15 missions spanning the years 1942-45. Condemned Heroes is meant to be brutally difficult—just the way that many European and Russian gamers like their games to be; for the perhaps more fainthearted Western gamer, 1C has (grudgingly) included an easier mode….but for the authentic experience, just leave the difficulty where the designers intended it to be (what was referred to during the demonstration as ‘Russian Suicide Mode’); the game is slated to ship in Q2 2012—and just to reiterate, retreat is not an option.