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Faces of War

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Strategy
Publisher: 1C Company
Developer: Best Way

About Mark Buckingham

Mark Buckingham is many things: freelance writer and editor, gamer, tech-head, reader, significant other, movie watcher, pianist, and hockey player.


PC Review - 'Faces of War'

by Mark Buckingham on Nov. 23, 2006 @ 1:54 a.m. PST

Outfront II (working title) is a sequel to the award wining title from last year. Outfront II combines real-time strategy with advanced tactics and the ability to control a single unit in battle. This game is being developed by the same team that created the original title, Soldiers: Heroes of World War II.

Genre: RTS
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Best Way
Release Date: September 12, 2006

Mom always told me, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." You want my thoughts on Faces of War? Well if I stick to what mom said, this is gonna be a pretty short review, but at least I can start with something positive about the game: It's kind of pretty to look at when the framerate isn't bogging down.

Since this whole WWII genre just won't seem to go away, and even though the WWII RTS has been done before (and much better), it seems Best Way dedicated itself to creating a forgettable entry in the genre that's perhaps already been all that it can be. Don't be fooled by those pretty screenshots and promises of engaging gameplay. The RTS side of this amounts to little more than leading a group of roughnecks around on a leash, and the direct control system plays worse than Army Men.

Consider something ... I ran this game on a Geforce 7900GT, which has had no trouble churning out 60fps from everything I've thrown at it so far. With this in mind, someone please explain to me why FoW chugs so badly when it has so little input to worry about, and so little happening on the screen. The maps are small, the vehicles are slow, and the troops are tiny. What's the problem?

Sure, buildings break apart nicely and sandbags go flying as grenades rip through the scenery, but I'm not about to confuse what I'm seeing here with real life. Another developer aspires to create visuals so compelling that they actually get in the way of gameplay.

The audio department doesn't stand out in any particular way. The rifle, mortar, explosion, and vehicle sounds all fit and roar through your speakers the way they should, but it doesn't rile me up or make me want to duck for cover. It's just there, like filler. In the heat of battle, everything sort of blends together, creating an effect similar to a lullabye. Music is a looping fanfare and more of an afterthought really, not piping up or changing according to what's going on in the game in any way. They did just enough, the bare minimum; there certainly aren't "37 pieces of flair" here.

The playability of Faces of War would have benefited greatly from deciding if it was a real RTS or something more akin to Cannon Fodder or Ghost Recon. It doesn't just fail to capture the facets of either style of play; it actually strips out the what makes them each fun and pares down what's left until it's not entertaining to look at or play.

First, let's look at the RTS side. There's nothing for real RTS players to do here. You can't build anything or decide the size of your army, and there are no resources to manage or supply lines to maintain. They give you X number of troops and/or vehicles to use at the beginning of each level, and then march you through from beginning to end, confounding you with vague objectives and shoddy AI as you go.

Okay, so I'm supposed to protect some engineer guy. Which one is he? There are about 35 troops running around in the woods, and I can't even tell friend from foe, aside from what the cursor looks like when I mouse over them, let alone which of my allies is the guy we're supposed to cover. It doesn't help that he clearly has his own agenda, wandering off from the group to do whatever he likes, taking round after round when he should be huddled between two G.I. Joes. Way to ruin your game immediately with the dreaded escort mission.

The AI doesn't make things any better, often resulting in your troops standing up or running out from behind cover to take a shot at someone or something, and exposing themselves to enemy fire. I tried to fire a rocket at a tank from behind cover, but instead of doing that, my soldier decided to show me how spectacular his path-finding skills were, navigating a whole complex set of building ruins to run right up to the tank and fire the rocket point-blank. Brilliant.

When AI fails, that's where the direct control system is supposed to swoop in and save the day. Toggling this basically gives you an up-close view of some terrible controls applied to a half-baked idea. You still aren't directly controlling your character in the sense that you feel you've become the character; you just push and pull him around the battlefield with different keys rather than mouse clicks. The precision aiming and such would be better used in a title where you actually needed them, but in FoW, all you really have to do is click "Fire At Will" and do nothing. The game plays itself at that point.

My hopes for this direct control feature were that you could start from a far-removed, chess-playing perspective with control over the entire army, then jump into the head of an individual soldier and really get into the thick of it, perhaps even from a first-person perspective. Nope. Not even close. The "god" view where you wrangle your "army" is about 30 feet above the ground and not terribly flexible. The camera gets caught on and blocked by everything in sight, and then changing to the one-man setup requires you to move your hand to another spot on the keyboard, instead of the game intuitively remapping existing functions for you. Hope you brought two brains to remember all of that on the fly.

Perhaps most appalling was how needlessly tedious some simple things were made. For example, to refuel a tank, you have to:

  1. Get out of the tank
  2. Walk over to a barrel
  3. Pick up the barrel
  4. Take the barrel to the fuel truck
  5. Fill the barrel with fuel
  6. Slowly lug the barrel back to the tank
  7. Empty the fuel barrel into the tank
  8. Choose from the menu to "drop" the barrel
  9. Select a location to place the barrel
  10. Actually drop the barrel
  11. Get back in the tank

Eleven discrete steps and even more clicking to do something that should have required one command from the player, and don't get me started on actually rearming the tank. Who has time for this? I just wanted to kill bad guys.

One last note on the camera ... either put it on the mouse or the numpad, but not both. This game would have benefited greatly from using a camera like the one in World of Warcraft, only not fixed to a single character. One that can be freely pivoted, zoomed, and positioned all from a two-button wheel mouse would have been a huge help.

Before the tutorial for FoW was even over, I didn't want to play it anymore. Large blocks of exposition pre-empt every phase of your training and force you to stop playing, and cinemas are everywhere. It's not a game; it's a low-budget movie. Next time, leave the interactivity in place the entire time and have smaller training steps list as they become relevant. Moreover, make sure your tutorial doesn't have crash bugs in it.

Aggravating linearity permeates the game as well, making you move from one specific point to another with no freedom to improvise or outwit the enemy. The tide of battle depends more on the AI than your own intelligence, and we already saw how weak that is. Just follow your orders, soldier.

Sometimes even that won't save you, though. Some objectives are vague to the point that you just wait and try to hold the line against an endless flood of Nazis, hoping the mission will somehow end. Often it will, but not because of anything you did. Glorious maneuvers ensue that are entirely cinematic and don't involve the player at all, like the cavalry rushing in at the last minute to save the day.

The scripting gets so insane that at one point, I was asked to get onto a motorbike and ride somewhere (it didn't say where) so I got on, but I wanted to get off the bike for a moment to examine something. Once I got off, I couldn't control my troops anymore, or even select them. I could just click on a bike that had no rider, but I could not make the troops get back on it. The mission could not be completed because the game is more or less broken, or rather so linear in its design that coloring outside the lines is a punishable offense.

There are some multiplayer modes to add a bit of longevity to FoW, but with so little going for it already, cramped maps, and constant firefights with so little depth behind the gameplay, what's the point? Apparently some people are trying to make the most of their $40, as it's usually pretty easy to find people online with whom to play.

While the single-player campaign offers three different factions to play the game from, if you're not playing a campaign, there's nothing else to do. There's no skirmish or free-for-all mode where you can just zone out in a randomly generated map. Once you finish the campaign, if you don't fancy playing online, that's it.

There's a patch in the works to potentially fix some of the bugs in the game, but it's still in beta. Go ahead, be one of the brave souls who sees if they've fixed more things than they've broken, or vice versa.

I really wanted to like Faces of War. I thought the ideas and potential were great, but the execution was severely lacking. FoW will lure unsuspecting buyers with its attractive appearance, but it has little else to offer.

Score: 5.0/10

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