World War II is well-trodden territory in videogames, which are plentifully pockmarked with Panzer tracks, mortar craters, and the bootprints of thousands of soldiers. But such was the scale and breadth of the war that there’s always a powerful and original story to be found within it - a new perspective yet to be represented. Real-time tactics game War Mongrels seeks to offer such a perspective.
In War Mongrels, you take charge of two German Wehrmacht soldiers who, having eventually refused to partake in war atrocities committed by the German army during its retreat from the eastern front, are sent to a penal combat unit. These units, comprised of war prisoners, criminals and other ‘expendables’, were usually sent on suicide missions with minimal odds of survival. The two soldiers escape the unit and become deserters, embarking on a whole other kind of suicide mission as they attempt to survive in the ruinous lands between the Russian and German forces.
Their struggle to survive in the historically faithful hellscape of the eastern front manifests as a stealth-heavy tactics game, played from an isometric perspective. If that description gives you fond flashbacks to genre classics like Commandos or Desperados, then you’re on the right track.
But War Mongrels brings a lot of its own ideas to the classic formula. Developer Destructive Creations cut its tactical teeth with squad-based medieval RTS Ancestors Legacy back in 2018, and while that game focused on larger-scale skirmishes, it had hints of the stealth and depth you can expect here.
One of the key systems in War Mongrels is the tactical planning mode, where you can line up several simultaneous actions with your band of brutes. For instance, you can knock a crumbling segment of wall off a 2nd floor building onto a couple of guards, then when a third guard goes to check out the commotion, your second character sneaks up behind him and cuts his throat.
You’ll need to use the environment, smart planning and a colourful, rugged roster of unique characters in each mission. Throughout the game, a total of seven ‘mongrels’ will join your pack, with up to four per mission. Each comes to the conflict from a unique background and nationality, bringing their own stories and skills to the table.
But the devil makes work for idle plans, and should some part of your scheme unravel and you get caught - what then?
This is where War Mongrels sticks out from its spiritual predecessors. In tactics games of yore, getting caught was usually followed by a bloody end and swift quick-load.
But should you get spotted here, you can seamlessly switch into a dynamic action mode, letting you shoot your way out of a situation all guns-a-blazing, ducking for cover, and playing it almost like a modern-day Cannon Fodder.
Between the stealth-focused planning and all-out action modes, War Mongrels deftly switches up the pace, offering a freedom of approach that adapts to your style of play.
Another welcome addition is the co-op mode, which lets you team up with a friend online to play through the entire main campaign.
All this stuff is set against a well-researched historical backdrop that shines a light on the horrors of the eastern front. War Mongrels sensitively integrates less known real-life events into the story, such as the Ponary Massacre and grim reality of the Kulmhof concentration camp. Each mission will also be speckled with historical documents and other lore that will shine a light on this dark time.
War Mongrels paints an honestly bleak and uncompromising picture of the dying days of the eastern front campaign. To make it through this tough tale of survival, you’ll need to think tactically and creatively, harnessing the smart systems and diverse tools at the disposal of your pack of daring dogs.