Even before Men of War (which was actually a rename from its original Russian and European version), developers Best Way and Digitalmindsoft had already designed many games before it. Therefore, it should not be a surprise that the developers had made Red Tide, the next entry in the series that started with its spiritual forebearer Soldiers: Heroes of World War II.
However, as would be clear from playing the game, Red Tide is almost a direct copy of its predecessor in terms of gameplay designs. These gameplay designs are not hopelessly broken and are still entertaining in their own way, but their near-wholesale transfers give the impression that Red Tide had been overpriced and actually has no more value than an expansion pack.
Some consolation may come in the form of much better writing in Red Tide than in the original Men of War, courtesy of a returning writer. On the other hand, the game may well be seen as trumpeting the gains of certain Soviet infantry divisions in World War II.
RETAINED GAMEPLAY DESIGNS:
If the player has played Men of War, he/she would not see much of anything new in Red Tide in terms of gameplay elements. Speaking of gameplay elements, they have been copied over, warts and all, with the only significant changes being merely cosmetic.
Units still have grid-based inventory systems with their difficult-to-use auto-arranging tool. Units still have to worry about ammunition, and in the case of vehicles, fuel as well. Refuelling is still a pain to perform.
Micromanagement is still the order of the day, perhaps even more so in Red Tide as the game is purely single-player.
There are more examples that can be cited, but for the sake of brevity in this review, the many nuances and issues in the gameplay of Men of War had been retained.
There are a handful of minor differences in the gameplay designs, but not all of them are for the better.
MINOR CHANGES & FEATURED CONTENT:
Red Tide may not be functionally different from its predecessor, but that is not saying that Red Tide lacks differences in content since the original Men of War. It also has some minor changes in the balancing of some weapons (which are perhaps not well documented).
One example of the minor balance changes is that the flamethrower no longer has a range of over fifteen in-game meters. Instead, it is now just slightly over eight. This makes the flamethrower even more difficult to appreciate than it was in Men of War, when it was a highly situational weapon (albeit a weapon that was very effective in performing its specialty).
In fact, it is probably more useful as a vehicle refuelling tool in Red Tide, albeit one that is larger than the far more convenient gas can.
Similarly, the incendiary grenade, or the Molotov cocktail, has been nerfed. In Red Tide, it has a range of somewhere in between that for frag grenades and that for anti-tank ones.
The chief element of the different content in Red Tide is the Romanian faction. It had been in Men of War as a content update to its multiplayer mode, but it is featured as one of the antagonists in Red Tide's campaign.
The Romanians appear to use some German hardware, though whether this is just a placeholder design or the implementation of actual historical research is not entirely clear. For example, they have the M25 anti-tank and M24 frag grenades.
However, their other gear is more unique, albeit quite outdated when compared to German-engineered hardware. This inferiority can be seen in their lack of range and protection for their operators. For example, their long-barrelled 75-mm AA gun emplacement has no armor plating to protect their operators from small-arms fire.
On the other hand, they appear to be a lot simpler to operate. This can be seen in surprisingly faster reload and aiming times for Romanian hardware than their counterparts. Returning to the example of the 75-mm AA gun, the gun reloads faster than the AA cannon emplacements of other nations.
Another example is their Orita submachinegun, which reloads a lot faster than their in-game Soviet counterpart, the PPSh. This difference is perhaps believable, as the former uses a simple straight magazine instead of the latter's drum magazine.
This ease-of-use of Romanian hardware makes them more efficient at fighting lightly-equipped enemies, namely Soviet infantry. Of course, the tables can be turned on them instead if the player manages to steal their hardware.
The Soviets and Germans would appear to be sporting hardware that had not been seen in the campaign mode of the original Men of War. However, most of these had been seen in the multiplayer mode of the earlier game. To describe them briefly, they are comparatively lighter and more primitive than the equipment that are seen in the latter days of World War II. They may not seem as exciting, but they are quite easy to bring to bear on the enemy.
In the latter parts of the campaign, as the timeline progresses to the last year of World War II, their equipment changes to that which are more familiar to veterans of the original Men of War.
There are changes that can be difficult to notice. One of these is that infantry can now crawl under fences that are made of horizontal planks, which was not doable in the original. However, infantry will only do this after adopting the prone position; they will still attempt to move around the fence if they are in other positions.
Although Red Tide's systems of gameplay are not much different from those of Men of War, its campaign has a different focus than those in the original game.
As the campaign concerns operations on the lesser-contested segments of the Eastern European front of World War II, there were not as many heavy war machines as those on the far more violently fought-over ones. Consequently, Red Tide is a lot more focused on infantry battles than its predecessor. If there is any metal to be seen, it belongs to infantry-operated weapons and lightly armored fighting vehicles for most of the campaign.
If there is any heavy gear such as battle tanks and massive portable guns like the Germans' 88's, they only appear much later in the game, and even so in smaller numbers than those seen in the original Men of War. On the other hand, this is perhaps to be expected, as the game follows the exploits of the Black Sea fleet from 1939 to 1945.
On the other hand, players that are greatly amused by having plucky squads systematically remove entrenched enemies or luring whole swathes of them into ambushes where their numerical advantage means little would be very pleased. Indeed, most of the missions in Red Tide are best tackled using a small, easily concealed and obscured squad – even when the game gives the player a large number of units to work with.
Most importantly, Red Tide does a better job of making the player utilize the micromanagement elements of Men of War than Men of War itself. Chief of these is the inventory system, which the player will be using a lot to kit out his/her otherwise poorly equipped Soviet soldiers with.
Being about the travails of the Black Sea Fleet, Red Tide features a lot of sea-to-land combat. Unfortunately, as exciting as this sounds, it suffers from poor pathfinding scripts for naval units, as will be described later.
Men of War did not have very good quality control for some of its technical designs. Unfortunately, Red Tide would not be any better.
In one of the missions of the Odessa operation, mines that have been laid are removed after reloading a game-save, which can be infuriating. Curiously, this bug is not replicable in other missions, thus suggesting uneven quality control.
Sometimes, after having cleared an infantry-operated heavy weapon of its former operators, the player cannot assign more than one of his/her own soldiers to operate it. This can only be solved by exiting to the main menu and reloading the game.
Barbed wire does not appear to stop infantry at all, who can move past the supposedly dangerous fencing without any trouble.
The B1 heavy tanks that the Germans have historically captured from the French and converted for their use are in this game. Unfortunately, they may not seem authentic, due to mistakes in their design. For one, their machineguns have unbelievable rates of fire. The developers have also mixed up their pairs of cannons; the hull-mounted ones are supposed to be the higher-calibre ones, but these ended up in the cannons of their turrets instead.
There are missions that complete prematurely before the player has even completed the necessary objectives to do so. For example, there is one mission where the player must have a paratrooper squad escape via a road that they need to reach, yet do not have to because the game triggers the victory event shortly after showing that objective.
The issue of anti-tank grenades sometimes not registering hits when they touch vehicles in Direct Control mode still has not been fixed since Men of War.
The pathfinding of many units is still a problem, perhaps more so in Red Tide because there are many more nooks and crannies to be seen in the maps.
The worst pathfinding scripts are those for naval units, which can seem surprising considering that they are supposed to be able to move more freely than land units because they are at sea. However, the scripts do not consider their ponderous momentum and size, so the player will be seeing ships getting caught in the shallows or even each other. To solve this, the player will have to spread them out, which can be very bothersome hand-holding.
Difficulty settings are set at "Easy" by default instead of "Normal". Hopefully, this is an overlooked bug, because if it is not and it is actually deliberate, it can be seen as belittling players.
There are more bugs that are not cited here. Although most of the bugs in the game are not too grave enough to be game-breaking, they are certainly annoying and give a bad impression of the developers' calibre.
WRITING & PRESENTATION:
The game is focused on the exploits of the Soviet Naval infantry of the Black Sea Fleet during World War II. However, this focus does not make a first impression that everyone would appreciate. The game's intro movie is one long set of real-life reel footages of the protagonists that are accompanied by inspirational music of that era.
This can come off as a glorification of old-fashioned propaganda and more importantly, gives mixed impressions of the developers' motivations. The in-game encyclopedia that details the history and travails of the Soviet Naval Infantry would not help to allay these suspicions either, despite the writer's claims of representing the protagonists without propaganda and clichés.
Speaking of the writer, Alexander Xorich returns to the franchise as the writer and historical researher for this entry. This is perhaps for the better, considering how embarrassingly poor the writing of Men of War was.
However, although Xorich provided much of the research and perhaps even the translations, the quality control of the presentation of his work is done by somebody else, who happens to be lackadaisical about the vision for the game.
As an example of this perceived lack of empathy for said vision, the encyclopedia is a formatting mess, which makes Xorich's work inconvenient to read and appreciate. There is also a lack of proofreading for the English translations.
The same engine build that powered the original Men of War is used to power Red Tide as well, so there is not much of any improvement in the technical aspect of the graphics since the original game.
However, there have been attempts to improve the cosmetic appeal of the user interface. The backdrop of the user interface has been changed to soiled, gritty beige. Selecting a footsoldier places a randomly chosen portrait of a Black Sea Soviet Marine from the game's library of portraits. There are other cosmetic changes, but like the ones mentioned, they have little practical benefit.
If there is anything excitingly new to be seen in Red Tide, they are the models for the ships of the Black Sea Fleet. As to be expected of vessels of Soviet-make in the 1930s and 1940s, they are crudely built but highly practical. They partake in many missions too, which means that the player will see a lot of bombardment from them and glorious explosions, assuming that the player can get them in place with their lousy pathfinding.
Of course, there are the models of units for the Romanian, Soviet and German factions, but they have already been seen in updates for the multiplayer mode of Men of War.
If there is any beneficial improvement on the technical side of the graphics, it is that small loose items on the ground are now highlighted even at maximum camera zoom. This was not the case in the original Men of War. Yet, the player still has to have soldiers manually pick up each item, and likely will have to use closer camera zooms anyway.
Red Tide has no soundtracks for its menus, which is perhaps a wise decision as any music would have been distracting if the player is trying to read the articles in the in-game encyclopaedia.
Loading screens also have no music, which may please some of the people that have played the original Men of War and found the loading screen music in that game to be annoying.
Other than these, Red Tide's music is recycled over from those of the original Men of War. For example, the soundtracks that are used for battles in Red Tide are the same as those used in Men of War. Most of the explosions and gunfire in the game would also sound familiar to people that have played the original.
The voice-overs for the Romanians and Germans appear to have been copied over from the original Men of War, so they still sound as lackadaisical.
The Soviets, however, have benefited from a few more voice actors, which make them sound different than they were in the previous game.
Red Tide could have been the next entry in its franchise that ironed out the many kinks in Men of War's otherwise splendidly sophisticated gameplay. Instead, it decided to change its focus over to historical events to honour certain Soviet heroes of World War II.
Of course, this is not deplorable, but the homage could have been so much better if it had done both. Moreover, not only did it not do this, Red Tide also has a lot of bugs. This makes very difficult to recommend to anyone else other than fans who could not have enough of Men of War.