When I was a youngster – many moons ago – one series always captivated me whenever I saw it being played or in magazines. Commandos by Pyro Studios which was a stealth-oriented real-time tactics game, that let you rage riot on the Nazis during WW2 as a group of highly trained specialists. Its brand of Nazi bashing has well… faded with time. It was a series for the thinking trooper, where you had to plan your move, observe your surroundings and time your strikes. Due to its isometric view, there was an almost board game vibe to the whole thing as well. So my heart jumped for joy when I saw War Mongrels at last year’s EGX, as it looked and felt like it had captured everything that made the Commandos series great, but also put an interesting spin on it all. Developed by Polish studio Destructive Creations this isometric real-time tactics game has finally launched and delivers a challenging as well as hard hitting title for a number of reasons.
Mostly set during the eastern front stage of World War II, which is a part of the war that has not really been touched by gaming as much as other areas during the conflict it’s fair to say. War Mongrels features 12 chapters; each focusing on the tales of the rag tag band of fighters that are waging guerrilla warfare against the occupying Nazi forces. The core tale is heavily inspired by historical events, as it tracks the journey of two Wehrmacht soldiers as they go from deserters to deadly guerrilla fighters. As you play, your team will expand as you meet new characters driven by one desire to defeat the Nazis at all costs. Each member brings their own tale as well as their own set of skills and abilities. Overall the tale it tells is strong and it’s not afraid to bring up some of the darker themes of war: from mass murder to PTSD – this is far from a light hearted affair at times, but it’s handled well and the impact of the events and actions stays with your unit as they really develop from them.
Gameplay is all about sneaking, distraction, silent kills, and using the environment to get the job done. Each mission assigns you a set group of fighters to wage war with, but as they are so strongly linked to the tale, you can’t customise your strike force. It also means you have everything you need to get the mission done right off the bat… you just have to work out how to best use them. Skills you get to use are mostly your standard fair if you have played anything like this before, so expect a melee brawler, sniper, explosives specialist and a flirty female to distract the enemies. Though your skill may be a bit by the numbers, the levels themselves are epic with a number of ways and options for you to use and find. Here’s where War Mongrels really shines, as there is a real open ended vibe to how you go about completing each mission. There is also a tactical pause for those looking to really plan out every attack and sync up operators where times slows and you can set more complex orders. This is the best way to execute simultaneous attack orders to be fair.
Although this is mainly a stealth focused title, you can and will often have to go loud – which brings in a few new challenges. Firearms are loud, which will set enemies searching, but there are plenty of spots to hide out in till things cool down. Also there are some ways to cheat things, as you’ll spot some enemies can’t climb or enter some areas (do with this info what you will). You can also team up with a buddy to fight the force of evil online, which really adds a few new layers to things with its drop-in drop-out option. As you both control anyone in the team you want and can do what you like, so you can split up and go to work on different mission objectives at the same time. If there are any issues with the game, some of the controls are a bit clunky and it does take a bit of time to work things out and there are a few little technical issues that pop up from time to time as well.
Visually the game is highly detailed with each mission grim and horrifying in equal measures as you fight from cities, to farmland and military facilities. Between each mission you get a very cool animated cut scene that feels fitting for the time period with a real propaganda vibe to it. Sound-wise with writing as sharp as a razor, it’s delivered by an outstanding cast featuring Doug Cockle and Grahame Fox, to name a few, and the soundtrack is an orchestral fuelled bombastic affair that hits hard. War Mongrels is a modern spin on a genre almost forgotten to time. It is brutal, challenging and thought provoking, all while being equally emotionally draining with its daring tale. If you’re looking for a WW2 epic with a bit more grey matter combat and a hard hitting tale, it’s well worth grabbing.
An Xbox review copy of War Mongrels was provided by Destructive Creations’ PR team, and is available now on PC, PlayStation and Xbox for around £35 depending on platform.