It’s not often that a strategy game successfully manages to break free of the genre conventions. Historically, attempts to introduce action-shooter elements into strategy titles, or vice versa, have resulted in games that are either half-baked on both fronts or are so complicated and inconsistent that they are virtually impossible to play. In Men of War: Assault Squad, however, players will be pleased to find a game that combines the frantic, multifaceted coordination of tactical strategy with the satisfaction of stepping right into the blow-by-blow action.
Assault Squad, a stand-alone expansion pack for the Men of War series, does not have any narrative story to speak of, and instead takes players through a historical overview of each country’s major engagements before and during the war. The game defines its scale by placing the player at the rank of major (or its German, Russian, or Japanese equivalent), limiting the scope to the responsibilities of the rank. Assault Squad eschews the usual strategy game emphasis on construction and production in favor of a simpler system of requisitioning units from the rear to press forward on a volatile front line defined chiefly by the possession of control points.
Holding a defensible line of these control points is, however, a complicated proposition, with a refreshingly aggressive and clever enemy that will never sit and wait for you to attack. In order to keep pace with an opponent capable of commanding all of its units simultaneously in attack and defense, the player must frequently switch to controlling units as you would in an action game, dramatically increasing their effectiveness and giving the game a touch of the visceral excitement that so many strategy titles lack.
Men of War is a very challenging game with a somewhat complicated interface. The developers have apparently assumed that the bulk of players are familiar with the Men of War series, because there is virtually nothing by way of introductory or tutorial missions. However, once players conquer this moderate learning curve, they will discover that Men of War: Assault Squad is a well-made strategy title with unconventional mechanics that provide a genuine and engrossing challenge.