by James Hart

There’s no shortage of real-time strategy (RTS) games using World War II as their backdrop, and Digitalmindsoft’s Men of War: Assault Squad 2 is everything you’d expect: skirmish-oriented combat that offers a satisfying multiplayer experience.

However, given the lack of major innovations compared to the original, it’s easy to see why players have been underwhelmed with the release.

As with the first Men of War, the gameplay focuses exclusively on skirmishes, allowing players to control military units ranging from sniper teams to armored vehicles. What makes Men of War stand out, however, is in how the game weights the various squads. Instead of an arms race for better equipment, the gameplay favors infantry fighting and tactics. Sure, the vehicles are fun to control, but one well-placed tank grenade can be enough to take them out, and obvious line-of-sight limitations keep larger units from becoming over-powered. Instead, tanks and armored vehicles act more as support for your infantry, instead of the other way around.

Attack & Defense As You’ve Come to Expect

In terms of gameplay, players control squads through a series of commands, but the AI is fairly sophisticated; you don’t have to constantly check in on each unit to make sure everyone’s pulling their weight. A nice feature is the ability to mouse over different map locations before deploying reinforcements to get a glimpse of how it might change the battle landscape.

Like the gameplay, the mission design in Assault Squad 2 is more or less what you’d expect from the first Men of War—each scenario is broken up by periods of attack and defense. Usually, you’re thrown some kind of curveball in the final moments of each skirmish, but if you take out the enemy vehicles as quickly as possible, you can usually make it through.

Interestingly enough, it’s the enemy AI, not the player’s, that seems to lack any real sophistication. Enemy infantry will always dig in behind the map’s most strategic locations and go after the nearest target; there’s not much in the way of coordinated counteroffensives. When the enemy’s on the attack, it’s usually in the form of an all-out bum rush toward your closest units.

That’s not to say the campaign scenarios are easy, however. You’re always grossly outnumbered by the enemy, and poor assault decisions early on can hinder you for the rest of the round, so be prepared to play the campaign stages over a few times before you get everything right.

After awhile, players are likely to find the single player missions repetitive and frustrating. Fortunately, Assault Squad 2′s multiplayer hasn’t lost any of the franchise’s original luster. Online play is still satisfying, and the maps allow for one-on-one matches all the way up to eight-by-eight. And they’re pretty detailed; players can interact with (i.e., blow up) just about everything on the screen.

As a nice departure from common RTS multiplayer scenarios, there’s also no constant fight for resources; instead, you earn points based on your team’s captures as the match progresses.

Though there are some marked improvements in Men At War: Assault Squad 2, it's easy to see why fans of the original may be a little disappointed.

A True Sequel?

There are some substantial improvements in this iteration of Men at War, but it’s easy to see why some players feel short-changed. Player units still have their own inventory, but thankfully swapping out ammo is now squad-based instead of through each individual unit. There have been some tweaks in the sound design—although the voice acting is still pretty stilted—and there’s clearly been a boost in environmental detail. Perhaps the biggest change is the addition of multiprocessor support, but players have been calling for this for so long, it’s hardly a cutting-edge innovation.

Other than that, the game is as you would expect from the original. Assault Squad 2 has certainly held true to the mainstays of the franchise, but perhaps a bit too much. Fans of the original may be a little disappointed in the sequel, but if you’re a newcomer to the series, you might as well go with the new-and-improved edition and leave the original behind.