The World War II RTS scene has become increasingly saturated over the last few years with each developer trying to find newer and more innovative ways to escape the deathly grasp of failure. This raises the unavoidable question: why do developers not learn from their mistakes? They have heaps of games passing by them, so sifting the entertaining from the tedious should be an easy affair. Surely?
Unfortunately, Faces of War doesn’t quite cut the mustard. Although being the sequel to the rather notorious Soldiers: Heroes of WWII
, an underground hit with the hardcore RTSer, famous for its cinematic and tactical edge that the genre sorely needed, it suffers from many of the same faults in the track that has sent so many games spiralling to failure.
The campaign is nothing that you haven’t seen before in terms of World War II RTS so I won’t bore you with detailing every mission and battle.
There are three bog standard campaigns; you get the choice to lead the Soviets, Germans or Western allies to victory as you tear across Europe. The classic bag load of clichéd battles are mixed in, such as D-Day (represented in a bonus mission outside the formal campaign) and Bastogne. Yet, despite this, other battles such as Stalingrad are bizarrely absent, something I found particularly surprising as it's considered one of the bloodiest battles ever fought. However, I believe it is safe to say that many of you will have torn that infamous city down to rubble a fair few times already in other games.
Additionally, the mission objectives are pretty much your classic mundane and monotonous tasks like detonating bridges, blowing up radio-stations and satellite points and clearing out pit-holes of the enemy. There is an abundance of vehicles, debris and buildings to climb in, gain cover and set up shooting positions. This may be enjoyable but is hardly revolutionary.
As an alternative to difficulty settings there are two modes: tactics or arcade. Arcade is your standard difficulty setting that isn’t too challenging once you have got to grip with the slightly awkward controls. Moving on, the hard-arse ‘tactical’ mode is supposed to provide you with smarter and tougher enemies. Unfortunately, I found that the enemies weren’t that much more intelligent, merely that there were more of them.
One thing I did find tricky at times is that you need to do everything very meticulously in order to activate a trigger within the game that will allow you to continue with the next step of the mission. I found that a few times I would manage to complete something in the wrong order and it wouldn’t let me finish the mission or move on to a subsequent step, resulting in me having to re-load a point and retry. Bugs in the game or deliberate design? Either way it feels sloppy.
Finally, the tutorial is as lengthy as it is unhelpful. It gives a decent enough introduction to the basic concepts of the game but there are plenty of important ideas that aren't highlighted. It’s probably a good idea to give the manual a quick leaf-over after playing through the tutorial, as it will help in understanding the principles better.
The gameplay is where Faces of War does begin to shine out as something different from the rest of the pack. As I'm hungry and still thinking about Christmas, imagine the analogy of Faces Of War as a mince pie where the mince is Commandos, the pastry is Blitzkrieg and the dusting of sugar is Sudden Strike. This combination of tasty goodness is, in essence, the gameplay of Faces of War.
Festive pastry delights aside, Faces Of War lets you control a squad of units that you co-ordinate around the map. Management tasks such as resource gathering and calling reinforcements aren’t included and so to compensate, an abundance of enemies is installed and quite sophisticated management of the taskbar is required. This focuses the game more on action, and can be quite enjoyable at times.
As I have just said, the taskbar can be quite unmanageable at first and does seem overly complicated. However, this is all part of the learning curve, and once grasped, the game begins to become a lot more engrossing as you can play around with how to achieve your objective.
Faces of War differs from Soldiers in gameplay because of its emphasis on immense battles. Soldiers used more of a Commando-esque technique whereby there was no larger picture; it felt as if you were alone winning the war. In contrast, Faces of War feels as if your squad is only one tiny cog in a much larger machine, but a cog that is for the most part, an essential one. This feeling of importance is sometimes undermined when your ass gets bailed out by a massive allied army at the end of the game when you have just struggled through an onslaught of enemy units to try and achieve victory.