Developed by Destructive Creations, the studio behind games like Hatred and Ancestors Legacy, War Mongrels is an isometric real-time tactics game that offers a rather unique perspective on World War II. It’s out now on Steam – here’s what we thought.
For how beloved real-time tactics games like Commandos, Desperados and Shadow Tactics are, it’s not a genre where we see a ton of games getting released outside of the indie scene. War Mongrels looked like it would appeal to fans of Mimimi’s recent games, so we were eagerly anticipating its release – partly because we had already seen the technical prowess of the development team behind it, which was also responsible for Daymare 1998.
War Mongrels features an interesting narrative setup that involves two former Nazi soldiers who align with the Polish forces and start fighting back against the Germans. While the personal story of Manfred and Ewald is most likely fictional, it’s set against a backdrop of real life events on the Eastern front that many aren’t acutely aware of, so for that reason alone it’s an interesting campaign to play through.
We can’t vouch for how accurate the depictions in the game are, but we can comment on the delivery of the story. When you consider that they hired high profile talent like Doug Cockle (of The Witcher 3 fame) for one of the lead characters, it’s slightly disappointing that the quality of the writing can be less than stellar at times – and it doesn’t help that conversations are all over the place when it comes to (the lack of) certain accents or a mismatch between the tone of the writing and how it’s being said.
The gameplay itself isn’t without flaws either, but fares much better. It uses familiar mechanics like line of sight and stealth, with two levels of sight for your enemies – one where they’ll always see you, and the outer part of their vision cone that signifies what they’ll miss as long as you stay low. This applies to you as well as the bodies you leave behind, and there are plenty of chances to stash the latter. You can enter houses, sewers and vehicles, so there are quite a few ways to avoid detection.
What you can also do is employ a tool that, when placed, lets you scan a spot on the map to see if and when an enemy looks at it. This is great for planning purposes, although a lot of scenarios are set up for that familiar “I’m going to distract this dude, then kill him and/or his friend” mechanic. Officers are trickier to fool, but isolate them and they too become easy prey.
Sound also plays a large role in your mission, as enemies aren’t just alerted to what they can see but also what they hear, and your guns or the sound of enemies falling down aren’t exactly silent. Neither are some of the environmental kills you can perform by the way, but it’s a lot of fun to drop a truck or crate on top of an unsuspecting soldier.
What’s different about the controls is that you can directly control your characters rather than using a “click to move” system, although aiming and shooting is still done on command rather than through direct control. It’s an attempt to make for a faster-flowing experience, but there are drawbacks to it as well. With less time to think, shortcomings in the AI become more obvious, and this applies to CPU-controlled characters in particular when there is a lot of moving and pathfinding going on. Where War Mongrels works best is when it’s methodical, like the old Commandos games, and falters a bit when the action speeds up.
This is only partly by design, as many issues can be attributed to bugs – some of which have already been addressed in post-release patches. It’s a shame that the game didn’t launch just a few weeks later though, because it would have certainly made for a much better first impression on the gameplay front – rather than appearing like a diamond in the rough.
Where the does game shine is through its visuals, with possible some of the best graphics in the genre. There’s an impeccable amount of detail visible at any given time, the lighting is gorgeous and you’ll notice plenty of diversity as you traverse places and seasons throughout your adventure. The game has some issues at launch, but if the visual polish gets applied to the rest of the game in the coming weeks you can add a few decimal points to the score below.