Gameplay / Value
If you are not familiar with Best Way’s debut game you can read my review, and, since everything in it applies to Faces of War as well, I will only summarize what the sequel adds to the series. During the tutorial missions I thought the answer was “nothing,” and was just pleased to be playing the game once again, as there wasn’t and isn’t anything like it. However, various small changes then became apparent, such as a reworked heads-up display offering a bit more control over your units, visual indicators showing the positions your soldiers will take when you are using cover, larger inventory so you can carry more than weapons at a time, unlocked camera which lets you pan and zoom any way you please – all nice features but nothing critically needed. When the first mission began, however, I saw the biggest change and realized what I’d never really gotten to see before. In Soldiers, I typically undertook small-scale mission in some remote and quiet village or town, left with my squad and my own devices. That isn’t saying that there was no action, but the amount of enemy units wasn’t large and skirmishes were quick and brutal. Faces of War’s missions, on the other hand, feature large waves of attacking and defending soldiers duking it out along with you. More often than not, an assault force of allied NPCs begins the level with a frontal attack, leading you on but at the same time expecting you to push forward until you manage to permanently rid the area of enemy. During some of the fiercer levels, continuous reinforcements replenish the ranks on either side, and even though enemies retreat little by little, you still get a sense of an ongoing struggle without an end in sight. Not all levels are of such urgent atmosphere, however, and some resemble the quiet and quick proceedings from Soldiers, while others reverse conditions halfway through.
Enjoying as I was the slow pace in Soldiers, I never really wondered what would happen if the game mechanics were applied on a larger scale, but I’m really glad Best Way showed me. Each mission plays like Call of Duty’s most frantic scenes, only unscripted, open-ended, and with a much better view. The scope and intensity of the battles in fact comprise the biggest difference I found between Soldiers and its sequel, and with the help of the fantastic engine the results are always impressive. I am starting to think that Best Way thought they wasted the engine’s ability to showcase ferocious combat scenes in the original, and are thus making up for it this year. Faces of War has more action-oriented and fast-paced levels than before but with all the tactical flavor intact; the difference is that you’ll have to think faster because things are happening faster. With the help of the brilliant AI and physics interaction, the tactically realistic battles which happen in-game in Faces of War can only be found as cutscenes in other games. It is plain fun to watch them unfold, as soldiers take cover, run, shoot, die, and blow the surroundings apart. Such cases made me appreciate the quality of the game in a way I couldn’t with Soldiers.
"Each mission plays like Call of Duty’s most frantic scenes, only unscripted, open-ended, and with a much better view."
The choice of what to do and when to do it is still yours despite the rush you’re put in; you just have to get used to the environment deteriorating quickly during the course of a level. Adapting to unpredictable situations is the nature of the game anyway, and since each action has a little dose of uncertainty to it, you’ll just have to do your best to cope with the consequences. Some might complain about the abundance of scripted events during missions compared to Soldiers, but I believe they bring focus to your actions and make battles a bit more exciting and unpredictable. After all, situations can change rapidly on a battlefield, and since Faces of War tries to portray skirmishes on a larger scale, having static conditions would become monotonous and repetitive in the long run.
Difficulty, if you can imagine it, has been increased, and I do not recommend to anyone the Tactics mode. The only other option is Arcade, and what you end up with is either a decent challenge (the latter) or a near impossible challenge (the former). I am not sure why Best Way took the Medium difficulty away, but I would have preferred a middle ground. There is a lot more activity during the levels, and scripted events are more numerous so you don’t know when and where the next tank column will show up. Thankfully there are also a lot more structures, buildings, and objects, so you can find cover and safety easier (although nothing is safe from a high explosive round); nevertheless, reaching victory in these conditions on Tactics difficulty would be an achievement. I am not saying that I coast through the missions on Arcade mode (although the AI can take care of itself really well); it’s just that the contrast between it and Tactics is too great, and it seems like at least one more difficulty setting is missing.
Apart from the raised tempo and the various additions relating to it, expect the same open-ended freedom seen in Soldiers. You have your tanks, jeeps, snipers, and riflemen; you have a large map littered with destructible objects all powered by a physics engine; you have the competent AI assuring that battles are fun and varied; and, of course, you are always on a mission to kill and survive. Despite that you are given clear objectives, the non-linearity of the game guarantees numerous ways of reaching them – and the challenge to find the best way to get it done is where the game shines.
Multiplayer was fantastic in Soldiers, and I’m pleased that it hasn’t changed much in this successor, at least as far as setup goes. Some modes have been scrapped and some added (thankfully co-op remains untouched), and there is a nice mix of team and free-for-all scenarios. A new addition, which I found bizarre but really fun, is Chicken Hunt, where the objective is to try to steal livestock from a farmhouse and bring it back to a designated area for points. Not only do you have to fight between each other for the chicken, but you also have to watch out for the none-too-pleased farmers who are trying their best to repel the intruders. Game mechanics such as physics and cover make the multiplayer matches very addicting, and, if you have someone to play with, you can just skip the single player portion completely and busy yourself with co-op and the rest of the modes. The resource system has been upgraded, and now besides money you can also use time as a way of recruiting units. I am not sure which works better, as I had no complaints before, but now you have the choice to try different tactics.
"Game mechanics such as physics and cover make the multiplayer matches very addicting..."
Even if you finished the campaign successfully, you’ll find that you are not properly prepared for multiplayer skirmishes. There is a fog of war online so you’ll have to get used to conjuring up tactics on the fly, rather than surveying the enemy and organizing an elaborate attack. You can also control a lot more units at a time, so you won’t be using too much direct control; otherwise, you won’t have time to properly manage all of your squads. This way, the game feels more like a real strategy game rather than the action shooter from the single player campaign. The dozen or so maps feel somehow smaller than before; I guess it’s the clutter all over them or the fog of war. At any rate, the fights break out soon after loading, especially with more people playing. I thought the maps were not as well made as those in Soldiers, but overall you have a great variety of game styles and maps, and there is always the editor which lets you build anything you wish.
Graphics / Sound
This is pretty much Soldiers with added pixel shaders and numerous little effects to go along with them. It doesn’t really try to distance itself from the cartoony look of the original, but with the added shine it lies somewhere between gritty and bright. Sometimes, at a certain angle it might look realistic, then at another it’s back to pleasant and cute, but since I am no fan of depressing-looking games, I had no qualms with the game’s portrayal of the war. However, you can still feel the severity of the battles in part thanks to the plethora of visual effects, and in part thanks to the sound. I found the sound effects absolutely convincing and of high quality, and along with the graphics they create an overwhelming display of mayhem and destruction. Unfortunately, the price to pay for it is certainly more than what my three year old computer is worth. I had some difficulties even with Soldiers where physics were involved, but now I have to cope with that plus a fair amount of little soldiers thinking of interesting ways to slaughter each other, and when they try really hard it is at no more than twenty frames per second, usually less. Make sure you get the recently released hotfix, which took care of a serious problem that brought the game to a crawl each time a building collapsed or a tank was blown up; decreasing view distance also helped a lot, and during the welcomed periods of smooth performance the game felt and looked incredibly dramatic.
Basically, it all comes down to choice, and the more you’re given, the further the game goes from being a task to complete and closer to being a toy to play with. Having more ways to manipulate the game gives you a much greater feeling of control, and as far as real time strategy games are concerned I don’t think I’ve ever owned a better toy than Faces of War. It has recreated close combat World War II warfare in great detail and within a dynamic environment, where each object has an active role in gameplay. It may not be historically accurate, but the realism stems from the authenticity of situations that develop as well as the full interaction between units, and the overall effect is one of natural flow where everything seems real and believable. I really don’t know if I’m unjustly glorifying the game, but the fact is I enjoyed it immensely and I’m ready for #3.
Video - Unsuccessful sniping attempt: