Flawed Genius: Blowing up your Faces of War


Good ideas come and go. This never has that been truer for video games.

Sometimes, game developers have brilliant concepts and ideas that never seem to come out in the final product. Some of them have some questionable coding, bad artificial intelligence or game (and sometimes hard drive-destroying) bugs. Maybe they have hilariously bad dialogue or look just plain ugly. Or maybe the dev’s ambitions reach just a little longer than their technical talent allows them to.

But some games recover after those rough starts. Maybe those flaws were patched over, improved and modified out. Maybe the game ran poorly on the computers of its time, but runs smoother than butter on today’s hardware. Or maybe — just maybe — those flaws could be forgiven because the game does bring something to the table…

It’s those games I’m hunting down, the ones with new and unique ideas that few people bought because of minor flaws or may just be forgivable given how brilliant those new ideas were…or how cheap the games are now.

Anyway, on to the first one: the Ukrainian-developed World War II strategy game Faces of War.

If mass destruction is your cup of tea, then Faces of War is a boiling pot of World War II action.

Best Way’s Faces of War was released in the wrong place at the wrong time. The company found its game hitting stores at the same time as Company of Heroes, another World War II strategy game made by well-regarded American developer Relic. Company of Heroes became one of the best reviewed PC games of all time, while Faces endured slightly more mediocre reviews than its predecessor, Soldiers: Heroes of World War II. Sure, it sold well enough to convince Best Way to make a sequel — Men of War, which hits stores in November — but it hardly enjoyed the success that Relic did.

And it wasn’t fair, not just because Relic’s funding and staff dwarfed the small Ukrainian developer’s resources. It’s because Faces isn’t similar to Company at all. Players create small armies in the latter, but only handle a small squad in the former. In Company, players juggle the usual tasks of real-time strategy games like collecting resources, and producing more troops and vehicles. However, in Faces, players direct the handful of soldiers to capture enemy vehicles, sabotage bridges and lay traps. Faces isn’t about managing action so much as being directly in the thick of it.

What that means is gameplay is surprisingly up close and personal. Fire fights are fast paced enough that the players’ handful of troops may get overwhelmed at any moment. The game gives the player a little breathing room by including a slow-motion mode; however, even at a fraction of the speed, the game piles on action movie levels of craziness. The game’s roughly 30 missions are split amongst Russian, Axis and British/American campaigns. Aside from a few training tutorials, the game provides ample opportunities and scenarios for the player to revel in mass destruction.

Covered in bodies and flame

Players can inflict an enormous amount of destruction this side of a third-person action game like Mercenaries or Grand Theft Auto. That’s because there’s practically no limit not only on the amount of destruction players can cause, but also the methods they can cause it. Soldiers are capable of handling any gun, throwing any bomb and commandeering any vehicle in the game. Players can enjoy lighting up the landscape with flamethrowers, tanks and artillery.

Faces supports these options by giving the player a wide variety of missions. Some of these fall into World War II clichés such as stealing secret documents and blowing up bridges. However, players can look forward to some creative, if somewhat linear, action set pieces. One memorable mission has the player repel several waves of armor attacks while controlling a single soldier.

Unfortunately, this sometimes works a little TOO well, as letting the computer control the soldiers typically results in them throwing the kitchen sink at bad guys, tossing multiple grenades at a single trooper or blast apart potentially steal-able tanks and gun emplacements.

This brings us to the main flaw of the game: needless micromanagement.

Too much is more than enough

Several poor interface choices make Faces more complex than it should be. Running through eight different soldiers’ inventory screens is way too finicky for such a fast paced game, especially if half those soldiers will probably die over the course of the mission. Unfortunately, it’s a necessary evil; players might find themselves running out of ammunition mid-mission.

Another problem is that the game gives you a mind-boggling number of buttons and commands to juggle. Some commands could have been consolidated, while others are just head-scratchingly useless. Why would the player need a “plant shrubbery” button in an action game, anyway?

The aforementioned AI deficiencies also force the player to take direct control of the soldiers. The computer’s often poor pathfinding results in soldiers and tanks can get stuck in compromising positions. Sure, players can take direct total control of a unit, but that lessens the thrill of letting the soldiers laying waste to a number of targets at once.

Flawed? Genius?

With Men of War hitting stores in less than a month, there may seem to be no reason to pick up Faces of War. However, give that some online retailers selling the game for around US$3-$5, Faces might be the perfect primer to its upcoming sequel. Why not delve into some variety while the prices are low?