Undoubtedly, games that depict the escalating geopolitical tensions of the Cold War have the potential for distinction. 1985’s Balance of Power, released when the Western Bloc and the Soviet Union were on the brink of nuclear destruction, is one of earliest examples. The title tasked players with assuming the role of leader for either faction. Once your allegiance was confirmed, you’d face a succession of incidents, with decisions habitually ratcheting up the level of disagreement with your rival.
While Balance of Power didn’t flaunt fancy visuals or even attempt to depict proxy wars, it did reveal the futility of trying to simultaneously outshine your rival while maintaining prestige. It might not have been much to look at, but it certainly stimulated contemplation.
Released thirty-five years after Chris Crawford’s title, Men of War: Assault Squad 2 – Cold War seems poised to explore a similarly thorny context, albeit with three-dimensional visuals replacing the text-based delivery of Balance of Power. Miserably, it disappoints in almost every possible way, providing little insight into the complexities of a rivalry that that pushed the planet toward nuclear catastrophe.
Those hoping for a campaign that images a ‘what-if’ take on say, the failed Bay of Pigs offensive, will be disappointed. Largely, Assault Squad 2 – Cold War doesn’t offer any kind of narrative support for its events. Instead, it offers a dynamic campaign spread across a sequence of days. There’s some tangential resources allotment to signal progression but there’s no sense of anything like momentum, morale. What’s more, we don’t even know the impetus for why the cold war has suddenly heated up, invoking the response of a wave of troops. Likewise, there’s little worry that a single botched battle could spiral into an event that could jeopardize millions of lives.
Not any kind of political stance isn’t the only mission fundamental missing from Assault Squad 2 – Cold War. There’s also an astonishing lack of any kind of tutorial. So, you’ll have to make your way through the game’s military building screen and onto the battlefield without any assistance. Fortunately, set-up is simple, with a makeshift interface allowing you to pour resources into purchase troops and assigning them to a reinforcement wave.
Then, on one of the five diminutive maps that Cold War provides you’ll battle for control of checkpoints or attempt to annihilate the enemy. Eschewing any kind of cohesive campaign, you’ll fight through a succession of bland skirmishes. Win, and your only reward is continuing on indefinitely, which is as close as the game gets to commenting on the senselessness of armed conflict.
Especially this conflict. It’s a war where opponents strike with the technical expertise of Revolutionary War-era troops. Sure, there numbers are larger (depending on difficulty level) and your rival consistently is able to afford units like battalions of infantry-trouncing tanks. But the AI habitually positions their entire armies in tidy lines, removing most of the volatility from conflict. This remains true for the franchise’s Direct Control, where you can direct a single soldier to lob grenades and foes too prideful to retreat. In fact, Assault Squad 2 – Cold War’s only joys come from textbook military plays, whether it’s directing a sniper to an overwatch position or clearing trenches with flamethrower-carrying units.
But before you know it, you’ve seen everything Cold War has to offer. Sure, loadouts switch up, which is just barely enough to justify the ‘dynamic map’ descriptor. But the game’s assets, culled from a rather ambiguous lump of history employ far too many recycled assets to justify the game’s twenty-five dollar price. While the game touts a new x64 engine that purports to improve performance, the frequency of game crashes is inexcusably for any kind of retail product.
Men of War: Assault Squad 2 – Cold War was played on PC
with review code provided by the publisher