Also new in this mode is Direct Fire, which makes things even more arcadey by giving you active control over the weaponry of tanks and infantry. Appearing in the special skills icon box, once selected you no longer direct the movement of the unit but target with the mouse and click to fire. It's a curious addition, neither cerebral enough for strategy nor fast enough for action, and it doesn't really make much difference to play. Since you'd be finding and clicking on your targets anyway it feels like change for change's sake, and the AI is generally so good that there's rarely any tangible advantage to pulling the trigger yourself. In fact, it sometimes seems that taking manual control leads to more trouble than its worth.
More likely to appeal are the three new multiplayer modes, available under Operations on the menu, offering both competitive and co-operative amusements. Panzerkrieg looks set to be the most popular, offering as it does an RTS-flavoured take on the classic Tanks concept. Quite simply, each player has a tank, and the aim is to find and kill everyone else. That in itself is an appealing prospect, but the range of tanks and armoured vehicles on offer, as well as customised special abilities, makes it even more fun.
Stonewall is the one for co-operative players, setting you the task of holding back an invading force from swamping a captured town. You actually get to play with the resource management options in this mode, although the regular waves of increasingly tough attacks do lend it a weird shoot-em-up vibe. Since the enemy comes from all sides, and throws everything but the kitchen sink at you, there's plenty of room to develop effective co-op strategies through specialisation.
Finally there's Assault, a self-explanatory clash between two deeply entrenched forces. It's basically turtling, with all the stockpiling and defence-building already done for you. It's up to you to turn your position of relative dug-in safety into a successful push through the enemy frontline.
And that's your lot. Three miniature single player stories, three new multiplayer modes and the option to point-and-shoot with your mouse. The core game is as beefy as ever, the shift away from micro-management thankfully doesn't feel like it's pandering to the cheap seats, and were these little treats available as a cheap and cheerful serving of DLC it would be a lot easier to savour as an enjoyable spin-off distraction.
But Tales of Valor is a full-price standalone release, which brings us back to the expansion/sequel quandary. Is this aimed at new players who were daunted by the full game? Or is it the start of a new direction for the series? A one-off experiment? I don't know and the game itself doesn't offer any clues. It just doesn't hang together as a coherent package in its own right, and while the gameplay certainly doesn't sully the memory of the original, the thin spread of content is cause for concern.
7 / 10