War Mongrels Review – Deeply unpolished, but still entertaining

Gare – Tuesday, November 2, 2021 8:26 PM
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If there’s one thing I’ve learned from playing War Mongrels, it’s that appearances can be deceiving. Actually, there’s two things I’ve learned from playing War Mongrels: that appearances can be deceiving, and that even the most hopelessly disastrous situation can be turned around. Not just in war, but in video game development as well. Because you see, this is a game that nearly made me pop an artery on several occasions (it did genuinely force me to take headache medicine a couple of times), and I was more than ready to write it off as yet another messy project characterized by unfulfilled potential. But then I kept on playing it and playing it and playing it… and discovered something truly magical under a heap of infuriating bugs and technical issues. A decent game.

Behind enemy lines

For those who grew up with games like Desperados or the Commandos franchise, War Mongrels requires no introduction. At its core, it’s essentially a stealth game with splashes of action here and there; you control a small team of freedom fighters from a top-down perspective, and use their unique abilities to strike back against the Nazi regime. One character will be able to throw items to distract enemy soldiers, another can disguise himself as an SS officer to seamlessly blend in, and yet another can wield a deadly sniper rifle to tactically pick off baddies from a safe distance. The list could go on, but needless to say, your vast repertoire of skills, combined with the fact that most missions give you a different combination of heroes to control, make every new chapter uniquely challenging in its own way. And that’s not even mentioning the various obstacles the Nazis will hurl at you: from electric fences to trained dogs and high-ranking officers capable of seeing through even the most convincing disguise, there’s always at least one or two factors present on each level that throw a wrench in your plans and require a bit of thinking outside the box.

What makes the above even more exciting is the ability to enter a so-calling “Planning Mode”, which freezes time and allows you to dole out commands to your characters in advance – you then hit Enter, and everyone carries out their respective tasks at the same time. Want one character to distract a soldier by throwing a rock while your other character slips by unnoticed? How about taking down two, even three enemies at the same time with perfect timing? Planning Mode makes it possible, and when everything works as intended, it’s like being in control of a well-oiled machine.

Bug hunt

No doubt everything I’ve said so far will make you think that I’ve had an absolute blast with War Mongrels. Well… yes and no. When the game actually functions as it should, it’s great. But here’s the thing: it only works roughly 50% of the time. By this, I mean that the game is in absolute technical nightmare, and I don’t think I’ve played a buggier, messier release in recent memory, aside from maybe The Waylanders. I’ll just say it: War Mongrels is disastrously replete with bugs; some are game-breaking, others are merely chuckle-inducing, but they’re all decidedly unpleasant. They also created a massive roadblock to my overall enjoyment of the game, because I literally couldn’t go five minutes without something breaking down out of the blue, and I soon found myself fighting the bugs as much as I was fighting the Nazis. This resulted in a constant feeling of unpredictability; I could never know for sure if a certain strategy would work, or if it would make something go completely haywire. I realize wanting to build tension in your stealth game, but this isn’t the way to do it. Characters getting stuck, abilities not working as intended, mission objectives not activating… I could go on, and I haven’t even mentioned the oftentimes comical AI, which produces unintentionally hilarious behavior on par with some of the most broken Skyrim NPCs. Oh, and there’s also the fact that the game’s save system can bug out as well, resulting in the player not being able to save. Yup, you heard me right. I’ve lost count of how many times I had to re-do certain stealth segments because the game simply refused to save my progress, even as I was hammering away at the quicksave button. And if you somehow manage to encounter as few bugs as possible, you still have the extremely clunky control scheme to contend with, which is a boss fight in its own right, especially when you try to pull off more complex maneuvers. A major offender is the game’s combat mode, which lets you switch to a traditional shoot’em-up control scheme with WASD movement, but the way it’s implemented is messy, to say the least, with the camera often refusing to properly follow the characters.

Once upon a time in WW2

Narratively, the game doesn’t offer much. The storyline and character interactions serve more as filler than anything, and while the protagonists themselves are distinct enough where I actually managed to remember their names and motivations, their spoken dialogue was less impressive. The voice acting is deeply hit and miss, and the writing itself fails to be engaging or even thought-provoking; instead of offering a sobering look at the horrors of World War II and the cruelty of Hitler’s regime, it regurgitates tired, clichéd lines about the Germans being monsters while the heroes bicker amongst each other. Personally, I would’ve preferred a darker, more mature approach instead of cutscenes that represent Nazi officers as cartoon wolves.

Closing words

War Mongrels is possibly one of the most difficult games for me to rate, because for every genuinely entertaining moment I had with it, there were just as many bits that made me want to tear my hair out. It’s clear as day how much effort went into creating a worthwhile stealth experience, and it does occasionally work – with a heavy emphasis on ‘occasionally’. I love the visual aesthetic, the attention to detail, the various abilities and traits each character has, as well as the strategic opportunities they provide. Going into Planning Mode, issuing individual commands and successfully executing a strategy is satisfying enough. But, and this is going to be the biggest but in the history of buts: the game is buggy. Hopelessly, disastrously, mind-numbingly buggy. This game will make you swear like a sailor, but if you can look past the fact that its myriad technical issues constantly try their very best to hinder your enjoyment, you’ll probably have fun with War Mongrels. Sometimes. When it graciously allows you to.

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