Publisher: Cinemaware Marquee
Developer: Monte Cristo
Release Date: June 28, 2006
In modern gaming, there are few truly acceptable enemy archetypes. Aliens? Yes, those are okay to murder. Zombies? Absolutely, (re)kill those things for sure. Prostitutes? Well, only if you're a Rockstar game. How about Nazis? Oh man, you'd better believe it's okay to kill those guys. Can't get enough digital retribution on the most notorious regime in history! At this point, it almost seems like developers are merely lazy and falling back on killing the SS because they just don't want to think up a new antagonist. No one ever seems to get tired of beating their chest about how "We all showed them Germans, yessir." Well, let me loudly proclaim right now that I'm quite tired of this (Company of Heroes notwithstanding)!! Today, I get to review yet another entry into the absurdly oversaturated World War II genre, a game called Moscow to Berlin: Red Siege. Its most shining claim? It has next to nothing to do with the 101st Airborne. This time, it's all about Operation: Barbarossa and the ultimate proof that no, Hitler indeed did not play Risk as a kid. (Thank you, Eddie Izzard, for that line.)
Now, you may notice that I've already brought up Company of Heroes. The reason is simple: It's a WW2 real-time strategy game, and so is Moscow to Berlin. That is where the similarities end, however, as the former is superb and the latter is painfully unexciting. Confusingly, there is little technically wrong with Moscow to Berlin, just in the same way a can of No-Name Cola is technically an acceptable fizzy drink. However, upon ingesting that No-Name liquid, we can all sense the lack of overall quality. So it is with this game. It just seems to fall flat, and it starts doing it from the tutorial onwards.
Moscow to Berlin essentially covers the events surrounding Hitler's disastrous decision to open an Eastern Front. From the first days of the Wehrmacht Blitzkrieg, through the punishment of Soviet winter, and thence on to the payback inflicted on the Fatherland by the, err, Motherland. So far so good, and I certainly appreciate the spin on the war. I have long maintained that what this genre needs isn't so much innovation as perspective. There were, after all, more participants in the conflict than just the USA and Germany. Sadly, the promise offered by the setting isn't carried through, beginning with the tutorial.
The supposed instructional level just doesn't make any sense. I was thoroughly confused about three minutes in because the voice-over didn't match the subtitles, wasn't providing any time at all to absorb what was being said, and didn't synch up with any hands-on action. Essentially, it was a woman explaining (I think) what you could do, but not how to do it. It's worth mentioning that Moscow to Berlin is actually the fourth title in a series, and I can't help but think that perhaps the developers just didn't think it was necessary to tailor the learning curve to franchise newcomers. I suppose it's a fairly safe bet that most of the people buying this product will already be fans and know the mechanics of play from previous experience. That's cold comfort for me, as I storm the battlefields with absolutely zero clue what to do.
Okay, so what choice do I have but to dive in? The manual doesn't really explain much more than the tutorial did. First impressions? The graphics are serviceable but dated, the interface isn't the most intuitive I've ever seen, the pace of the action is slower than molasses in winter, and there is absolutely no effort made on behalf of the developers to make unit management a reasonably painless experience. Nothing the game did beyond this really changed my mind about these initial thoughts, so you can guess how enthused I've been about playing more.
There is multiplayer support, but its implementation is terrible. You can connect via direct IP, so that's good, but if you want to search for an online match via the skin-and-bones GameSpy browser included, you're out of luck. Not only does it not seem to auto-refresh on its own, but it also doesn't include a button for you to manually refresh the list. Nor does it include such basics as how to sort the matches it (theoretically) provides. Long story short, I never managed to even see an empty server, much less a populated one to which I might have connected. Better luck next time, Monte Cristo.
So was there anything about Moscow to Berlin I did like? Well, in the interest of being fair, I will say that I quite like the encyclopaedia function. In the main menu, you can look through the history of each unit in the game. Kudos to Monte Cristo for recognizing that the core audience for this franchise are history buffs who are interested in more than just the action. Also, the sounds effects are very well done, not counting the voice acting. Once again, the developers have decided to include English voiceovers for the mission briefings, at least. Strangely, there is only one actor who does all of the overviews, regardless of which side you're playing. I don't like watching dubbed foreign films, I don't like fake German or Russian accents, and just once, I'd like to hear the languages native to the country speaking. (I can read, so subtitles don't frighten me.) At least the units speak in their native tongues, so we're about halfway there.
When all is said and done, I just can't bring myself to recommend Moscow to Berlin. It's such a gnarled mass of poor pacing, non-intuitive interface hassles, and second-rate graphics that it really has no hope of being anything more than a bargain-bin purchase. Of course, if you're already a fan of this franchise, then by all means – this is more of what you love. If you're just looking to dabble in strategic gaming in a World War II setting, save your money for Company of Heroes instead.