Four soldiers, fresh out of training, step out onto an open field in Northern France. The air is still, but a low rumble runs beneath their feet. They dig in. They wait. They fix their positions. The assault begins.
To begin with, infantrymen – almost identical to the soldiers, if not for the colours of their uniforms – storm the field. They are cut down. Then come more hardened troops, trucks and armoured cars. As the soldiers call in more reinforcements, the artillery and air strikes start to rain down, turning the idylllic French countryside into a mire of steel, lead and blood. Welcome to Mud and Blood 2.
Those not familiar with the Mud and Blood series may not be aware of its reputation, but it is a series as unforgiving as it is addictive. The appeal comes not through victory – which is impossible – but through the slow burn of repeated failures making incremental progress more and more possible as the game rolls on.
The player essentially takes a back seat for most of the game. Direct movement orders can be issued, but unless an officer is deployed to the field, firing orders are off the table. This makes for a roll of the dice and an intake of breath every time a big, day-ruining armoured vehicle rolls onto the field. Will your tank and soldiers focus all they have on saving their skin, or waste time and effort pinning down a single infantryman? Knowing this game’s attitude towards its players, it’s probably the latter.
A vein of dark humour runs through the trenches of Mud and Blood. “If you’ve seen Saving Private Ryan, you’ll know what it does” is a deliciously mocking description for an enemy unit, and there is cruelty in sending a soldier out under fire to retrieve a supply crate, only for it to contain nothing but socks.
Once the game gets bored of toying with the player, it tends to drop an “unfair event” on them. This can take many forms – a wave of nothing but tanks, an artillery barrage which tears through your lines like a hot bayonet through butter, a bombing raid with V1 rockets – but all are pretty much guaranteed to ruin the attempt.
It is a flaw of Mud and Blood 2 that such events are generally impossible to recover from. Defensive strategies often hinge on one or two key units, and while some protection can be built, the sandbags and bunkers are generally incapable of withstanding much more than a hand grenade. It’s part of the charm, and the snatching of defeat from the jaws of victory makes a good run of over a hundred waves all the more satisfying when it does occur. But it does seem as though some kind of easy mode might have been appropriate, to allow the player to explore potential tactics if nothing else.
Extra longetivity is provided by the ribbons on offer. These are all difficult to obtain, and provide a small (often unfairly small, as is this game’s theme) boost to a certain area of defence. A good example of this is the anti-aircraft ribbon, awarded for shooting down 100 planes. Planes can only be hit by the anti-aircraft gun, one of the game’s two most expensive units, and will only generally come along once or twice per game. Achieving this ribbon not only locks the player into using a static defensive unit which is hard to protect on the ground, it also requires a time commitment of tens of hours.
There must be people in this world who have unlocked every ribbon and game mode in Mud and Blood 2, but who these people are remains a deep mystery to the rest of the planet. This is understandable, since they must never have set foot outside. Still, for all the cruelty and slog, Mud and Blood 2 is a fun game, in the same way Warhammer is fun – after hours of painstaking work.
You can play Mud and Blood 2 here.