If Assault Squad was an MG 42 it would need a barrel change about every three minutes. ‘Ferocious’ doesn’t begin to describe the bloody bullet ballets served-up by this semimarvellous semi-sequel.
Instead of sending our favourite WWII tactics title in years back to the front with a conventional campaign in its kit bag, Digitalmindsoft have equipped it with something called ‘Skirmish’. There’s still a heap of singleplayer missions (16), but now all scenarios rely on the same push-push-PUSH! play mechanism.
You start at one end of a long battlefield with a knot of infantry under your wing. By pushing forward and seizing the control flags that dot the terrain, reinforcement points are earned, and new force types unlocked. A gain might release a new armoured car or infantry flavour. It may also trigger a brutal counter-attack. These retaliatory thrusts, combined with the fact the AI is usually dug-in deeper than an agoraphobic tin miner, mean victories sometimes take hours to secure. Even on ‘easy’ you’ll need stamina and skill to prevail.
What lovely war
Though the enemy never stops trying to regain lost
flags, there are usually sufficient lulls in the lead storm to enjoy MoW’s trademark intricacy. A click here sends a sergeant scampering across a lane to pick up an abandoned anti-tank rifle. A click there sends a sniper slithering surreptitiously down the flank. Behind the church, two unhorsed tankers jog forward to begin repairs on a knocked out StuG. By the bridge, engineers start stringing barbed wire and laying mines, and grenadiers clamber back into a halftrack in readiness for the next nerve-shredding, pulse-propelling phase of the assault.
Whether it’s Normandy or North Africa, Singapore or Smolensk, battlefields don’t have to be conquered alone. You can share the burden of command with up to seven friends or strangers. More COs means more chance to focus on single units or particular area of the fronts. It means the smirks generated by the overblown physics and eyebrow-singeing pyrotechnics are mutual smirks. Thanks to the clever ‘reinforcements go to the most under-strength player’ rule, nobody gets excluded from the action for long. Inexperienced? Worry not. As long as you keep your men behind walls and hedges, and don’t get too cocky with armour, you’ll make a valuable contribution.
In a genre where communal play is often technical and cut-throat, Assault Squad stands out like a skylined Sherman. Though the three competitive MP modes are played by some wily veterans, defeats are almost always flecked with fun, and opponents and team-mates rarely triumph-at-all-costs tosspots. Whether you’re battling for control of flags (Assault Zones), taking turns attacking and defending (Frontlines) or just out to grab as many scalps as possible (Combat) laughs and largesse are seldom far away.
I can only think of three decent reasons not to buy Assault Squad. (1) You fancy a break from the series. (2) You are a sucker for a story. Even with five factions, superbly wrought maps, and an absurd range of units, the Skirmish missions can feel a tad monotone: it might be worth hanging on for Men of War: Vietnam previewed here. (3) Between you and your local games shop is an emplaced MG 42, two PaK 40s, and a dug-in Tiger tank.
The old soldier shows his gregarious side. This is gruelling but great WWII action, spanning every theatre.