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Since the first was released in 2009, the series has Men of War installment become a favorite of World War II fiends in search of exceptionally challenging strategy games. Returning fans will be pleased that the latest chapter, Condemned Heroes, takes the difficult scenarios and intelligent enemies to brutal new heights. Newcomers, however, will probably give up after the first mission.

This is due in part to the game’s setting. Players command Soviet penal battalions formed under Stalin’s 1942 “Not one step back!” order, which sentenced soldiers to some of the most grueling suicidal frontline missions the Great Patriotic War had to offer. Because the game’s missions are based entirely on the battalions’ combat records (nicely explained by included material), the player must achieve arduous objectives with a vastly outnumbered and underequipped force. The sense of despair engendered by these thorny scenarios can become all too real for the player during the struggle to complete even the most straightforward mission.

For those unfamiliar with Men of War, gameplay retains a sense of overall command, but requires giving precise tactical orders on a far more immediate scale than most strategy games. Specifically, players must direct individual units to maximize their ability against the enemy’s overwhelming superiority. Unfortunately, the sheer difficulty of Condemned Heroes prompts constant unit control in order to at least win by attrition. Units that are left to follow orders are inevitably blown away like so many dead leaves—along with the player’s clever strategy.

Implementing strategy is made no easier by the game’s complicated interface. And, in a design choice that guarantees to alienate newcomers, the game is totally bereft of any instructions on how to play.

If you have played Men of War and want more of what its previous titles offered— and a big step up in difficulty—then this game is for you. If you’re new to the series, don’t buy this game yet. Start at the beginning with Men of War and Men of War: Assault Squad before you even think about attempting the hardcore mess that is Condemned Heroes.


Originally published in the December 2012 issue of World War II. To subscribe, click here.