War Mongrels from Destructive Creations is an isometric real-time stealth tactics game set on the eastern front of World War II. Check our War Mongrels review!
For the longest time, I had been against stealth games. Unless it was a Metal Gear Solid game, I did not want to know about it. It was not until this year that I decided to jump into the Hitman series. One Platinum trophy later, I was hungry for more stealth. It was then I discovered that there is a sub-genre of my favorite genre of strategic RPGs dedicated to stealth. So instead of tactical RPGs being turn-based, these games tend to be in real-time and overwhelm you with enemies, and you can either choose to engage or sneak by them. The genre is so nich, but after playing Desperado III and Shadow Tactics, I think I now have a firm grasp on the genre, which is why I was all too eager to play War Mongrels from Destructive Creations.
War Mongrels is set during World War II. You play as Ewald and Manfred, two Nazi soldiers who decide to desert after losing their stomachs over the atrocities being committed by the Nazis. Whilst their whole plan was to run and never look back, they soon find themselves being roped into the side of the Resistance. The story has a lot of gravitas and reverence to it, and coming from a developer mostly known for making Hatred, the game is refreshing and somber at the best of times. I think what helps to make this game work is the voice acting. Whilst understandably, the two leads are not German, they do, however, give it their all, and the back and forth between the characters, and not just the leads, are exceptional. Another positive is the presentation: A lot of the cutscenes are presented in a not-quite-cartoony art style that stylizes the narrative, presents the character’s views on their surroundings, and gets into their psyche. Whilst not definitely for everyone, it’s nicely crafted and well presented.
Regardless of the presentation, the main draw of the game is the gameplay, and depending on how you like your games, this might be the main sticking point for you. Depending on the mission, you may find yourself controlling up to four different characters, each with their own abilities. For example, Ewald has a steady supply of moonshine that he can throw to draw guards away from their patrol areas. Isolate the guard, and you can neutralize them for an easy kill. Manfred, on the other hand, has the ability to drop his watch, which can attract an enemy over, and if it is possible, said enemy will then distract a fellow soldier by calling them over, potentially disrupting two enemy units and even line them up for a twin kill!
This all sounds good on paper, but this is where the game slightly stumbles. You can either choose to hold down the L1 button and use the right analog stick to cycle through your allies, or just tap the L1 button repeatedly before you get the right one, then hold the R1 button and use the right analog stick to choose an ability, before using L2 to select the ability before pressing the X button to execute it. All of that sounds maniacal and convoluted, especially when you consider that you sometimes have to do this for multiple characters during a very short window. Things can get messy pretty fast, especially when you note that characters are a little flimsy and can die at the drop of a hat.
This can leave you in a bit of a spin as you constantly find yourself restarting over and over again to eke out incremental progress. Newcomers to the genre will find this style of gameplay frustrating and unrewarding. At first glance, a lot of the game could just be brute forced by Ewald and his distraction ability to the point of it being laughably overpowered, thereby sucking the fun out of the experience. For some reason, only he has the ability to kill an enemy one-on-one, whilst others struggle unless it is done via stealth.
But those who are a little more settled within the genre will figure it out. Just like every good stealth game, it is best to see it as a puzzle game in disguise. Once you have that mindset intact and fully utilize the arsenal in your possession, the game can be full of surprises. Instead of trying to brute force a solution – not to say it is never a viable tactic – you can instead use tactical mode to line up abilities from multiple characters at once. If you are able to perfectly execute one of these, it is very rewarding and allows you to see the game for what it is truly capable of.
Whilst I love the general gameplay, one part I am less sure of is the combat mode mechanic the game has. At certain points or when stealth is now under force majeure, you can switch a character into combat mode. This is signified by their character portrait switch to a weird action gurn. Gameplay-wise, what this does is turn your otherwise quiet and jolly stealth game into clunky, poorly thought out, and implemented twin-stick shooter. This is more noticeable if you need to control multiple characters under this mode. Thankfully these interludes are few and far between and mostly optional.
With that said, once I began to truly understand the game, everything clicked for me and encouraged me to engage with the game a lot more than I would have liked to, especially during the early missions. For some weird reason, I ran into a bug where upon reloading a save, the game counted Manfred’s watch as present in his hand, but I was not allowed to use it. And for the rest of that mission, I was without the use of that valuable resource. It is an interesting idea to have your resource count travel with you from episode to episode. If you fail to pick up any ammo or finite resources in one location, especially where they are in abundance, you will feel the pinch in the next location, especially where they are finite, which was a problem I had with Lucas and Ewald as the game progressed.
The game has a full trophy list with a Platinum, but it’s not going to be an easy trophy run, nor a short one. There are 52 Bronze trophies, 6 Silver trophies, and one Gold trophy to make pop, with many objectives to take on. You’ll need to find all collectibles in all chapters, complete all challenges, defeat 10 soldiers at once with one grenade, complete a mission without using Ewald’s moonshine, defeat 20 soldiers with a sniper rifle, defeat 1944 soldiers, defeat 250 officers, defeat 50 soldiers with a throwing knife, complete each story chapter, and complete the game. There are also various miscellaneous objectives to complete that will keep you busy.
Try as the game did, albeit unintentionally to make me not like it, I actually grew to enjoy my time playing War Mongrels. The graphics are beautiful, from the artistic renderings between each level to the beautiful art style during the gameplay. The levels are nicely designed with collectibles scattered throughout that give contextual flavoring to bring more life to the world. This game is certainly not for everyone and does not do well to ingratiate itself with newcomers. Whilst I enjoyed the game, I think newcomers to the genre might struggle to get the hang of things. But when you do finally understand the game, it will be worth your time. War Mongrels is out on PlayStation 5 with a $39.99 price tag. There’s also a PlayStation 4 version available for $34.99.
This War Mongrels review is based on a PlayStation 5 copy provided by Destructive Creations.