Yes, this is another World War II RTS game. Faces of War is showing its face in a very crowded room and it needs to be something special to rise above the rest. The game certainly has the pedigree; it has been put together by the same folks who created Soldier: Heroes of World War 2. This previous title was very much in the mode of a puzzle game that challenged you to take a small unit and complete a bunch of ever increasingly complex missions. The combination of some great looking graphics, lots of minute detail and challenging game play struck a real chord with a lot of gamers.
This time around the game developers have taken this existing formula and decided to go a slightly different route. Take the concept of small unit tactical battles, and add to the mix large numbers of units and vehicles in the style of large RTS games. It’s your small unit against the rest world. What was supposed to be a happy union has however turned into a chaotic game that at times leaves you the feeling of being a spectator rather than a player.
The campaign game allows you to play the Allies, Axis or the Russians. Each has its own series of missions that are roughly based on historic scenarios. There's a good set of training missions in the Axis Campaign to allow you to get your feet wet prior to undertaking the campaign proper. What immediately strikes you about these early missions is the similarity of the control systems to those in Soldier: Heroes of World War 2. The only big departure is a direct control method where you can take direct control of a unit and conduct the movement and firing in detail. Rather than adding to the game this has just further confuse an already muddled control setup. The layout consists of tabbed menus on one side, icons across the middle unit screen and direct control and inventory buttons attached to the mini map. It takes a while to get the hang of it all and frankly it never feels intuitive.
The design of the game is such is that you can pick up and use just about anything in the game. Given the limitations of your pack it's easy to run out of grenades and ammunition, so you will often find your self looting bodies, supply crates and vehicles. There is a hot button you can use to identify items of use on the ground and this you will find essential when trying to find weapons in the long grass and wood terrain.
The game engine sports a system where the individuals display a modicum of intelligence when not under direct control. The take cover when fired on and crawl while under fire in the open etc. The problem is that this can be brilliant in places but at other times it can be downright suicidal. Case in point: when targeting a vehicle with an anti-tank grenade. Instead of showing you that the vehicle may be out of range, it very helpfully decides to make one of your units break cover and sprint into the hail of gunfire, crouch, prepare the grenade, stand up and then throw. You are very lucky if your man survives to the throwing stage.
One advantage of this system, though, is that you can group your units and propose a destination point. The AI will show you in a ghost image how each unit will position itself.
The battles are best described as being epic chaos. With lots of units running about and the action coming thick and fast, it is almost impossible to determine friend from foe. The colours and uniforms can be very similar at times (particularly when in winter kit), so that your only recourse is to refer to your mini map. If you don’t keep a close eye out the man next to your tank could well be one of the enemy. There is no chance to rest up and plan your next move; no sooner has one objective been achieved than you are being assaulted by another wave of attackers. Its very easy to lose track of your units and despite your best intentions they can die very quickly without your knowing it. Smaller more tactical battles would have been better and more fun to play, although we must admit that losing all our men bar one five minutes into a mission and still being able to complete it gave us a sense of satisfaction.
The graphics for the game are top notch, with a lot of work and dedication being placed on the little details. The majority of the missions are in built-up areas, and the cityscapes you fight in are rich with lots of little details. Lamp posts, hedges, boxes, craters, bits of furniture, civilian vehicles are all delivered in a way that makes the battlefield come alive. Unfortunately, though, this just adds to the clutter. It's almost a case here of less would have been more.
The standout in the graphics is the way you can destroy your environment. We revelled in the fact that, if we were being fired on by a mortar from behind a house we could happily drive our tank through the building. It collapsed and crumbled in a very realistic fashion. The explosions are equally polished, with the some larger ones being some of the best we have seen. Top marks for the graphics team involved in this game.
The audio team on the other hand need to be taken out and shot. Yes, some of the explosions are well done and the weapon effects are not bad, but the voice is nothing but a comedy show. Most of the other problems within the game could have been largely outshone by the marvellous graphics; however the voiceover just kills it. The Germans speak with an English accent; as if this were not bad enough the expressions they use are very English, too.
Unfortunately they are mostly bad attempts at English expression, with some funny moments of Eastern Euro-English rearing its head. Adding insult to injury is the fact that, at times the voiceovers get out of sequence with the on screen action. For instance, if you are too slow completing portions of the tutorial, you will find the narrator is about two or three actions are ahead of you. The ability to use a pulldown menu of previous orders and statements is, we found, not a feature but rather a necessity.
One saving grace in all of this is the multiplayer game. During our play testing there were a quite a few opponents playing online, with some interesting game styles on display. The most novel would be the chicken run, where you compete to collect the most chickens.
Overall, we really wanted to like this game. Its great looking graphics and attention to detail were something we believed would make it a good gaming experience, however these are let down by the muddled gameplay and poor audio. This really prevents Faces of War from being anything above average, and we lament the fact that it could have been so much more.