World War II is pretty well-trodden ground when it comes to pop culture. For the longest time, movies, TV, and video games were basically obsessed with the era, seemingly more so than any other period in human history. During the mid-2000s, hearing that a game was set in World War II would elicit groans from a lot of players. Luckily for War Mongrels, the new game from Hatred devs Destructive Creations, that period is pretty much over, and once again, it's safe to think about setting your game in the second world war once again.
In fairness to War Mongrels, the story is actually a perspective that I'm not sure we've ever actually seen before. You control two Wehrmacht soldiers who are moved into a penal combat unit for refusing to take part in war atrocities during Germany's retreat from the eastern front. If you're not aware, these penal combat units were used by the German army to go on near-suicide missions because they were considered extendible. Obviously, the two heroes aren't really up for that, and after their transport is attacked, they escape and become deserters trying to survive both Russian and German soldiers.
Before I go any further, a quick warning is probably in order. Although War Mongrels is slated for release at some point this year, it's still very early on, according to the build number. Apparently, we're still in pre-alpha territory, and it's important that you understand that, or the rest of this preview probably won't make any sense. So far, the only bits of the game that are 'stage ready' are the opening tutorial level and the second level, so there's not too much to go on.
War Mongrels is an isometric, real-time action game with a fair focus on stealth, which makes sense since you're two normal guys trying to face two full-sized armies. You control your two main characters by selecting them and giving orders in an RTS style, pointing and clicking to send your soldiers around the field, distracting and murdering enemy soldiers. Both of your characters have unique abilities, and there's almost a The Lost Vikings element to figuring out which one is best suited to solving any given situation.
The entire first level of the game is spent learning how to control the characters and how you can use various elements to distract guards and take them out without being noticed. I found this a bit weird, really, since nowhere in the writeup on Steam does it actually say the word stealth, and yet not stealthing doesn't seem to be an option so far. I did try to "go nuclear" as it were in a later moment and found myself filled with more holes than swiss cheese at a cheese buggery convention. Regardless, the tutorial does a handy job of teaching you about throwing things to distract guards then breaking their necks while no one is watching.
Although the game is mostly real-time, there is a more relaxed element to it, thanks to the "plan" mode. If you hit TAB, you enter a special mode that lets you pick what you want each character to do. So if you've got 2 characters to take out and they need to die at the same time, you can tell each character to handle one each and then hit go and watch them follow your instructions to the letter. It's a bit like one of those little programmable robots that you get to mess around with at school, but with more soldier murdering.
Controlling the characters is simple enough, and War Mongrels gives you various incredibly useful HUD elements. Whenever you pull a move, it shows you beforehand where the sound will carry too. There are also visual cones that demonstrate when you're going to be seen no matter what or when you'll be able to get away with crawling on your stomach. While the visual elements can help you quite a bit, they don't quite account for the occasional glitch the makes the enemies spin on their heel for seemingly no reason when they've clearly been established as non-moving.
That's the reason I bought up War Mongrels' incredibly early state. It's got a really compelling story brewing in the opening scene, and there's something inherently sympathetic about characters who do the incredibly difficult thing of going against their entire country when they think something is wrong. The issue is that right now it needs a lot of work to become playable. Not only are there several bugs that make playing through certain moments frustrating, but beyond level 1, there's also not much guidance on what you're supposed to do.
Sometimes when I restarted a mission after dying, the enemy soldiers would still be aggroed and would just immediately mow me down again, or I'd have half my health mysteriously vanish. It's also true that from the second level, it feels like some more light tutorials are just missing. You're dumped in the middle of an open field with very little cover, and since you've only been given tutorials for relatively built-up areas so far, I struggled to figure out how I was really expected to approach the situation.
On that note, it would be nice to be able to manually save the game. With this puzzle-like approach to levels, being able to manually save would give the player more room to experiment without fear of replaying too much of the same level again. As it currently stands, when one of the soldiers in the tutorial unexpectedly turned around during a fixed-camera moment, I ended up having to do the entire tutorial over again because the game forgot to autosave.
All of the moanings aside, I still have a lot of high hopes for War Mongrels. The setup for a truly great story is already here, and the gameplay has a solid groundwork for improving upon as well. The style of cutscenes and the nervous banter between the two deserters just makes me want to play the game, even if the lack of guidance and bugs ended up making me stop. Without a doubt, there's not been a World War II project this interesting since The Devil Next Door, and I think this might be the first game that lets you play as a German army deserter.
While there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical of War Mongrels, I, for one, cannot wait to see where Destructive Creations take it next. According to the devs themselves, they're actually working with a historian too, so it's nice to know that there's at least some historical truth and accuracy to the whole affair.
TechRaptor previewed War Mongrels on PC via Steam with a code provided by the developer. The game is set to release later this year.