Faces of War Review
|Genre:||Real Time Strategy|
|Release Date:||September 15th, 2006 (UK)|
|Reviewer:||James Barlow (Malis)|
Faces of War is a curious game. Although essentially an RTS, the game plays much closer to Commandos in style, with close unit management of just three-four soldiers a common element in many maps. It's all standard military fare - click here, do that, bomb the Nazi ammunition depot - spread across three campaigns (Allies, Germans and Russians). Yet the heavy emphasis on individual control certainly makes the gameplay feel much more tense and involving than standard RTS games. Indeed, this is not a game where you can sit back and watch. No - this is war, up close and personal, and if your men are going to survive they'll need a lot of looking after - and someone to restock their ammo as they mow down hundreds of Nazis.
For all the grim seriousness of the subject matter in Faces of War, it still presents itself in gloriously comic book fashion. There's no grainy washed-out filters here, no sterile blue-grey sheen to the action. Instead we have a vibrant palette of colour which revels in detailing every inch of the game's packed maps, bringing every explosion to life in a gloriously over-the-top style. Almost everything in the game can be blown apart, set on fire, or driven through with a tank. Grenades blow craters in the ground (which you can use as cover of course) and holes in the side of houses. Fences crumble under heavy fire. Fires from the aftermath of your devastation will ignite a building forcing out its occupants. Troops collapse in a bloody mess after being riddled with machine-gun fire. Truly, the opportunity for destruction in Faces of War is epic. There's simply nothing as thrilling as taking part in a 10 minute city fire-fight and surveying the utter carnage at the end of it. Credit must be given to the engine which handles all this pretty well, all the while pumping out gorgeous visuals that are more than enough for this sort of game.
As well as being loaded with detail, maps in Faces of War are teeming with hundreds enemy troops. Missions may have a flimsy premise of blowing up an enemy bridge, or providing a distraction for commandos, but any objectives go out the window a few minutes into the game when it becomes clear what the general tone of the game is - kill, blow stuff up, kill and kill. Your troops are godlike in their ability to withstand fire, whether it's from a German trooper or a tank, and they sure know how to fight. Don't be surprised to fight off the entire Third Reich with 6 men and watch one of your soldiers, who you were so sure had died in a tank attack, stand up and dust himself off. Their resistance to bullets is somewhat aided by the nifty cover system the game employs. Just about everything in the game can be used as cover, and using it is as simple as selecting your squad and hovering over potential spot. A ghost image of your squad will appear in the covered position - if you like the look of it, simply click and your men will make their way over. It's well thought out and moving from cover to cover becomes familiar very quickly.
As I mentioned earlier, Faces of War relies heavily on close management of individual soldiers. It's rare that you'll have more than 12 to control at a time, and as such this has allowed the developers to really focus on producing a comprehensive set of abilities for your men. So comprehensive in fact, that it requires four tabs of icon commands in the UI. Whether it's planting dynamite or scavenging resources off dead foes, if you can think it, you can probably do it. Sadly not all the commands are ever visible at one time, and with more choice inevitably comes more confusion. It took me a good few hours to fully grasp how to most effectively control my men. Stick with it and you're rewarded with pretty close control over them, but it's certainly not easy first time around.
Once you've mastered the controls, and got into the swing of things, it really becomes quite enjoyable. Sure, it's not really realistic, but sending a crack team of men against overwhelming odds is a sadistic yet thoroughly enjoyable perk of being a WW2 commander it seems. Your unit is invariably part of a grander scheme, and the majority of missions see you on huge maps, fighting and following the main computer controlled army. The general will bark out orders on the fly and it's up to your squad to fulfil them and aid the battle in any way possible. For the most part, it works, and on some maps things get truly epic with gunfire all around, explosions shaking the earth and planes soaring overhead. Suddenly holding the entrance of a village feels insignificant yet vitally important at the same time. Things start to fall apart though when you're snapped out of boyish recreations of A Bridge Too Far and fall victim to some tedious level design.
Let me give you an example from an actual mission. It's night time. My squad consists of 3 men, hand-picked veterans. We arrive at the south shore by boat with four or five other units and the Lieutenant quickly explains our mission. Our commandos are approaching a bridge controlled by the Allies and intend to blow it...but they need us to distract the guards. Fine. We creep through the woods to the bridge. There's guards all right, about thirty, deeply entrenched in ruins and houses either side of the road to the bridge. My squad takes the closest side. Combat begins: it's bloody and fierce. If anything wasn't a ruin before, it sure as hell is now. After 20 minutes or so of fighting we push onto the bridge and clear it. The smoke clears - success! All in all it was a good battle, time to kick back and...oh wait patrol boats coming, take them out before they spot our commandos. Done. Wait, what? Allied reinforcements with tanks? Quick, back over the bridge lads and hold them off until the fuses are set! Too many...most men dead...can't hold...fuses set, back over the bridge again and let the Tommys onto it before we blow it! Finally, it's done, bridge destroyed and we can escape by boat. Oh no, a combat barge is blocking the river! We need to find some kit to destroy it. Quickly, through this enemy infested maze to the machine compound. Disused tank! Damn, needs repairs.. hold off the Allies while we fix it up please. Sure, fine. Done? Now drive it over to the river bank and destroy the barge. Right. Now you can leave in the boat. No, seriously, you can go now. All in a night's work?
Linear design is all well and good, but backtracking 'objectives' and appearing 'reinforcements' quickly become tiresome and frustrating. It would be more satisfying if your achievements were met with an end of mission screen, but all too often trouble pops up and suddenly victory turns into a trek across the map again. It's lazy design and one that simply doesn't need to be in this game. It's actually possible to complete most missions with one soldier as well, as the game lets you take direct control over your soldiers when you want it, with the game becoming a sort of WW2 Diablo. While I appreciate the over-the-top styling of the game, taking one man through some of the missions does feel slightly ridiculous - especially since troops can heal themselves to full health using bandages. Some at times suspect AI (stop walking into gunfire and wasting grenades please), and American accents for all three factions round out the game's chief annoyances.
Multi-player is thankfully not another flaw to add to the mix, as Faces of War offers a robust and solid online theatre for you to enjoy, with both competitive and cooperative games to be found. Everything from capture the flag and deathmatch, to special co-op missions are on offer, and combat is pleasingly quick and fun. Most maps get bloody pretty quickly, so if you've finished the relatively short single-player game you'll get your money's worth here.
What Faces of War does right, it does very well. It's fantastic at creating epic, overwhelming action-packed battles that keep you on your toes. This is a game that wants you to storm in and get stuck into an engrossing and entertaining boy's own adventure. And, to its credit, it almost pulls it off. Sadly, a series of frustrating design elements prevent the game from ever fully getting off the beach.
- Exhilarating action-packed combat
- Superb destructible environments
- Nice level of unit control
- Decent multi-player
Not so good stuff
- Repetitive and cheap mission structures
- AI can infuriate at times
- No variation in voice-acting
- Too easy