Set during World War II, Faces of War is a real-time tactics game in which players command a squad of skilled operatives in a series of dangerous missions. Players battle through the beaches at Normady, unforgiving winter countryside, and Berlin itself, as they make their way through the single-player campaign. Although similar in setting and spirit to Edios' popular Commandos series of the late 1990s, Faces of War features 3D graphics and sophisticated artificial intelligence designed to cause each soldier to make decisions individually, in consideration of his best interests -- even when they may conflict with a direct order. Developer Best Way was also responsible for the well-received small-squad warfare of Codemaster's Soldiers: Heroes of World War II (2004). Faces of War supports online multiplayer skirmishes for as many as 16 players.
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 spiraling 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 '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.
The one real criticism I have with the gameplay in Faces of War is the AI; to explain why, I would like to describe my first hand account of the loss of my beloved squadron. I'll set the scene. A Sherman tank near a gun emplacement with some troops wandering around is in the distance. My squad, the hard-nuts they are, are fully equipped with the variety of guns and grenades needed to dispose of this hazard.
OK, so I'm navigating my way through the abundance of debris that is lying around on the floor. Oh god, I've been spotted. I'm clicking to run my troops to cover whilst they get pulverized by shells and gun fire. Oh dear, nope, they've for some reason unbeknown to me, decided to drop to floor and crawl to cover and one of my units has just stopped entirely as it can't find a route through the rubble to safety.
I give up and begin to tell them to attack in a vain attempt to rescue the situation. Oh what's this? My sniper has moved out of cover to attack at close range for that extra accuracy and my bazooka man, for some reason, thinks it's wise to attack the infantry rather than the Sherman tank. Excellent. Now, what's this? Oh that's right, my units have decided to stop firing and run right up next to the enemy for a bit of hand to hand combat - with grenades...
Although a slight exaggeration, the variety of problems addressed did occur quite regularly throughout the campaign but, in fairness, to counterbalance the rather reckless nature of the AI "direct control" can be used. This feature was used in the previous game and worked a treat, providing a new innovative playing style. Unfortunately, it does not work as well with Faces of War and although enjoyable, you lose the ability to jump obstacles and loot bodies which is essential to succeed in the game.
Thankfully, at least some of these issues have been addressed in the 1.0.4 patch, which has rather better AI!
In addition, you lack squad control commands when in direct control and therefore you have to either keep holding down the Ctrl key or repeatedly bash the end key to switch in and out of direct control as you maneuver your squad. This I found complicated matters too much and essentially, rendering the direct control pretty useless.
Faces of War is aesthetically pleasing, a big step up from its predecessor, Soldiers. The cityscapes that you fight in are rich in detail; streets are littered with rubble, bits of furniture and civilian cars. The vehicles and units are well designed with smooth, accurate textures and realistic equipment. The animation is also faultless and works well when units enter vehicles and gun emplacements. All these elements combined really brings the battlefield to life and at points, even with the slightly reckless decisions my units seemed to make, I found myself totally absorbed. It's no Company of Heroes, but it's not a world away.
Another impressive factor of the game is the physics engine. I reveled in the fact that I could watch mortar shells deliver a deadly blow to my squad and witness units go flying through the air with helmets and rifles cart-wheeling off into the distance. Demolishing buildings with rockets and tanks was a thrilling experience and gave the same great sense of realism.
Every person that helped with the sound should be lined up and shot, preferably by one of my dodgy soldiers who'd probably fluff it up and put a bullet in their nether regions leaving them writhing in agony. The voice work is just horrible because of inconsistent accents and units from Russia, Germany and Britain all sounding shadily similar. There are frequent and blatant mistakes in the text and dialogue. The only upside is that some sound effects can add to the action and allow a player to truly immerse themselves in the given scenario. However, this will probably happen very infrequently. Although being a criticism, I found it more amusing than irritating and you will have a good chuckle to yourself at all the mission briefings.
I didn't venture too deeply into the multiplayer but I did find my small experience relatively satisfying. The co-operative play is by far the best part, whereby you can play through whole missions together completing tasks. Additionally, your usual stack of traditional multiplayer modes are available including deathmatch and king of the hill and the most novel, Chicken Run, where you compete to collect the most chickens. Er, what?
I have almost avoided mentioning the rather supendous Company of Heroes throughout this review as I didn't particularly want to compare it against Faces of War, since I believe the games are quite different. I am well aware that Company of Heroes is remarkable and should be the rule by now. However, I think that Faces of War suffers severely from being in Company of Heroes' shadow and shouldn't as they are very different games.
In saying that, though, there are plenty of criticisms about Faces of War, such as aggravating AI. However, on the whole, it can be rather enjoyable when things are going your way. It is quite unique in terms of playing style and does differ from your old-school classic WW2 RTS.
People who downloaded Faces of War have also downloaded:
Empires: Dawn of the Modern World, Great Battles of WWII: Stalingrad, No Surrender: Battle of the Bulge, Europa Universalis: Crown of the North, Empire Earth II, Desert Rats vs. Afrika Korps, Company of Heroes, Codename: Panzers - Phase Two
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