Get into trouble with the law in 21st century Britain and you could find yourself clearing bramble-tangled cemeteries with a billhook. Make the same mistake in 1942 USSR and you ran the risk of clearing wire-tangled minefields with your feet.
Stalin's idea of community service was almost as brutal as his notion of civil service reform, as you'll discover if you volunteer for this penal battalion-based strategy sequel.
Every one of Condemned Heroes' 15 chapters is a desperate fight against a better-equipped, and more numerous enemy. The trouble is, that's kind of what we've come to expect from the tactically sumptuous yet hard-as-nails Men of War series. Because 1C have added bugger-all in terms of new theatres, campaign mechanisms and weaponry, this offering feels more like an ammo delivery than a new posting.
Most of the time you're not even aware you're leading a band of tattooed reprobates. I was hoping for ruthless commissars, shedloads of swearing, and maybe even the chance to win pardons for persistent offenders/characters. In fact what we get is just the usual string of 'Attack that trenchline', 'Hold out for X minutes', and 'Silence those AA guns' outings. The promising theme is micturated up the wall.
Men of War busy being Men of War is still good company, of course. I may have purloined entire villages of angry houses in my time, but I still get a buzz out of ghosting through enemy lines, grenading a knot of gossiping guards, then driving off with a growly Tiger tank. I still get excited when I click on a corpse and find an exotic firearm or hat. Borrowing a tripod MG42, then using it direct fire-fashion to scythedown dozens of alerted stormtruppen, remains one of the most jowl-shakingly physical things you can do in an RTS.
And there aren't many games where losing 90% of your force in the first couple of minutes of a scrap doesn't prompt an immediate restart. Here, the knowledge that one man can sneak, steal, and storm his way past a hundred, means the Butterfly of Hope is seldom crushed under the Caterpillar Tracks of Defeatism.
Three years on (eight if you count Soldiers: Heroes of WWII and Faces of War) the MoW engine with its covercraving combatants, individual inventories, and awesome destructible scenery, is still a thing of savage beauty. What's tragic is that 1C and Best Way haven't done more with it. Apart from a trip to Vietnam, it's been WWII all the way. For this final(?) appearance the devs really should have broken away from Panzers and plumbline-straight mission sequences.
WWI trench raiding, Rogue Trooper-tinged sci-fi, the Old West, post-apocalyptic gang warfare... almost anything would have been more interesting than yet more East Front hostilities. It's been a blast, but it's time MoW moved on.
The MoW formula still satisfies, but familiar units and a stale setting leave this swansong feeling superfluous.