Not many games satisfy your desire for wanton destruction quite like Men of War. In fact, as you reflect on just how fulfilling you’ve found it systematically reducing some idyllic, beautifully crafted town into a heap of smouldering rubble, you actually feel slightly ashamed. Lost in a frenzy of virtual destruction, the hours seem to just fly by as you indulge in all manner of merciless carnage - ordering your men to commander Howitzers, mortars, bazookas, flamethrowers, set cottages ablaze, tear apartment blocks in two, and massacre hordes of fleeing fascists. Meanwhile, the expression of grim satisfaction plastered across your face is similar to that of a hateful child attacking ants with a hammer. Awful, base, primordial fun which… I know, I know…does sound great doesn’t it?
So the good news regarding Men of War: Red Tide is that things have not changed. There’s still plenty more paradise villages to chew up with stolen artillery, and plenty more fascists to burn, shoot, or explode into a cloud of red mist with everything from anti-personnel mines to anti-tank grenades. However this is also the problem with this expandalone/sequel. It doesn’t provide anything particularly groundbreaking or innovative. The graphics engine and gameplay are no different to Men of War which means that, yes; Red Tide inherits all the strengths of its predecessor, but it also has all of the same glitches and faults.
That is not to say there are no new additions. Red Tide has a horde of new weapons and vehicles to get your hands on. Some of the most obvious include many more flamethrower units – which even though they were present in the previous edition were rare – and lots more weird and wonderful armoured vehicles and light tanks. The setting and story are also fairly original for yet another WWII game. Even though there are something absurd like 184 titles already on market - based on what is by far everyone’s favourite conflict of all time - Red Tide actually offers up a perspective which feels fresh (this in itself is no mean feat).
The new theatre of war centres upon the black coated marines of the Red Army’s Baltic fleet. Specialists when it came to amphibious assaults, the black coats were renowned for their ability to storm heavily defended coastal positions and apparently struck fear into the heart of the Germans and their Romanian allies who were struggling to establish positions across the Black Sea coast. So, regarding many of the early missions, the player is tasked with storming coastal defences, forming bridgeheads and striking inland to recapture towns. However all this emphasis upon amphibious assaults, small boats and navel bombardments, immediately brings to bare a few problems which, even though they were present in Men of War, were so well obscured you almost didn’t notice.
To be specific, this refers to the small boats and landing craft which, despite the fact they don’t look quite right as they skim across the water, are a nightmare to use when trying to deploy your men – if you have to do it manually that is. For example, if you have a small team of commanders approaching the shoreline under cover of darkness in a single engine dingy, trying to get them out of the boat just becomes farcical. Half the time they just thrash about in the water like a panicking six year old who’s accidently fallen in the deep end which does a lot to undermine the game’s atmosphere and sense of realism. All this talk about the black coats being ‘specialists of amphibious assault’ who ‘struck terror into their German foes’ suddenly feels a bit hollow.
This is a bit of a harsh criticism however, and makes little impact on the overall gameplay. More worryingly is the game’s tendency to lag and the occasional glitch. Sometimes dead soldiers will stand up, enemies will become momentarily invincible, and occasionally when you begin a mission your men have no ammunition (or perhaps this is just for the sake of realism as the Red Army were occasionally ordered into battle with no guns and had to make do with things like spades). The path finding problems from Men of War are also still present, with men often getting stuck on scenery when wheeling cannons and sometimes walking backwards when ordered to a destination.
These problems are again, fairly minor, and more of a hangover from the previous Men of War format which, unfortunately, Red Tide fails to alter in any fundamental way. Despite the fact they still linger, these issues are forgivable given that Red Tide provides Men of War enthusiasts with some 23 superb extra levels and a tons more beautifully crafted scenery to obliterate (the designers' landscape gardening skills are still top notch). Like Men of War, the difficulty is high and micromanagement infuriating. The strategic possibilities which the game opens up are endless but always limited by the fact it’s just impossible to be everywhere at once. Red Tide does attempt to streamline the game somewhat by cutting down the unit size and incorporating more AI controlled allies, but the temptation to pause and quick save every few seconds is still ever present.
Overall Red Tide, like Men of War, is a strategy game which will only appeal to gamers who are up for a real challenge. It seems unfair that the game isn’t more mainstream given its meticulously detailed, fully destructible environments, its attention to historical realism, and the sheer scope for innovative strategies. However challenging; successfully pulling off a mission against completely insane odds gives you a buzz which few strategy games could match. Men of War enthusiasts shouldn’t hesitate to pick up a copy of Red Tide, but many gamers will find the sheer difficulty absolutely maddening. If that’s the case, you should just stick to Modern Warfare 2 and continue sadistically mowing down hordes of unarmed civilians (although, I do have to admit it, ‘No Russian’ does look kind of fun…).