Thursday, 06 December 2007 22:30

War Front: Turning Point (PC, 2007)

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Overview

Ok, what's the last time you played a new, good, solid Real Time Strategy game - let me guess, the first name that popped into mind was Command & Conquer 3, right? Yes, the C&C series is still pretty much the best series in the RTS genre, right along side Warcraft if you like that much micro-management of your resources. When C&C3 came out earlier this year, though, there was another RTS that it completely eclipsed. Now, to be fair, the creators of the game just did not have much in the way of brains, putting it head to head against C&C3, so it's no big surprise if you've never heard of this one. War Front: Turning Point is an RTS that plays a lot like Red Alert 2, with a storyline unusual enough in the RTS world to be called great.

Review

War Front takes place in an alternate World War II time line in which Hitler is assassinated very early by a much more vicious and cunning man that comes to be known only as the Chancellor. Because of this, the war goes on considerably longer. Great Britain is held by Nazi Germany for three years before the Americans get into the war - as far as I can tell, Japan never jumped in, and in turn pushed the US in. There are two sides to play in the main campaign, America and Germany, but if you think you know where this is going, you're wrong. With the war stretching on so much longer, a great deal of experimental technology that never had the chance to be used in combat in the real world actually made it to the battle field, such as jet propulsion, flying wing aircraft, jet packs for troopers, and other, considerably more advanced tech.

Each side has three 'hero' units, one major and two supporting, that the storyline follows. America's are John Lynch, Anna Herzog, and Vincent Sagnier. John is a genius mechanic and engineer that carries around a grenade launcher and has the ability to improve the strength of vehicles near him. Anna is covert operative capable of generating funds and improving sight range. Vincent's purview is explosives, and is able to destroy any building at considerable range, as well as improve the explosive capabilities of those around him. Germany is represented by Roland Hellman, Dietrich Preiss and Elsa Adler. Rolland carries a tri-barreled panzerfaust (bazooka), and can increase the fire range of his comrades. Dietrich's abilities include summoning reinforcements on the spot and sabotaging enemy armor. Elsa's skills help heal wounds and increase rate of fire. The third side in the conflict, Russia, also has three hero units, in the form of Aleksei Mikhalkov, Nadia Amanova, and General Nazarov, however, Russia doesn't have a campaign mode so you only play them in Skirmish mode. The relationships between these characters play out in between level cinematic sequences and in the pre-level briefings, similar to other RTS games, but the storylines also continue in game as well, as objectives and little events play out.

Now, normally I wouldn't take so much time detailing hero units because they're almost invariably infantry, and infantry usually just don't last long. However, War Front allows your hero units to board your armor, and still allows them to gain experience and have their passive skills effect those around them. This actually allows for remarkably flexible play, especially combined with the 'core army' concept, which allows you to designate certain units to carry over to the next mission. Other RTS games have tried this before, but it usually doesn't work out as well as it did here.

Another unusual ability in War Front is the chance to take direct control of your defensive structures with a first person shooting mode. Now, this could have been a great addition to the game. Not only does the turret you're controlling get considerably smarter about what it shoots at, but it also gets a considerable increase in firepower and slight increase in range. However, in FPS mode, even with the graphical settings low, there is a severe drop in frames per second. The mode isn't unusable, but for the most part it's easier to just construct reinforcing defensive structures, maybe back them up with a little artillery for the DAMNED annoying rocket trucks that like to pound on you from outside of defensive range.

Overall the unit balance in War Front is ok, though it could have been much better. Each side is particularly good at one specific type of unit. The American's air power is obscenely more powerful, and you get a few researched abilities that make the disparity even greater. Germany has its tanks, and their flame thrower units seemed to be a little too powerful to me as well, tearing through armor far too fast. Russia's strength is infantry - and even I'm not quick to dismiss that strength, because Russia has the ability to make their infantry invulnerable, with a little courage in a bottle.

This having been said, I'm rather disappointed in the damage balancing. As I mentioned above, Germany's flame thrower units seem unusually powerful, and that's because the units under fire from them just piss away their health points - and that includes ultra-heavy armored units like the Maus tank. On the same line, they REALLY needed to tone down the fire power in anti-infantry defensive structures. If not for the short range, I would have used them over anti-tank defenses because the machine guns just chew everything up, and much faster than the AT guns. This is par for the course, really - for the most part armor felt very weak compared to machine guns, with small groups of infantry easily able to defend against multiple tanks if they were spread out enough to not get clobbered in groups by the explosive shells of the tanks. By the way - is there any particular reason that I couldn't just RUN OVER enemy infantry in my way?

The nice thing is that a lot of these units are real units that actually saw combat in World War II. Some of the experimental units are real as well, but either never actually made it to the battle field, or else are more modern, like the XB-35 Northrop bomber, a flying wing type jet. Then there are the truly experimental units, such as the Russian Ice Spitter tank, which uses an ultra-cold chemical to freeze units and buildings on contact. They can't actually kill anything - but one infantryman's bullet will shatter anything that's frozen. Still, they add a nice, even believable flair to the game.

Graphically, War Front looks a little dated, looking better than Red Alert 2, but not as good as modern clients. I will say that the explosions look damn nice though, and with settings appropriate to your system the game play is nice and smooth - and fast, actually, because units cost less and die faster than in other RTS games. The standard range of visual options apply. The movies are pretty good, though again they're nothing special compared to other modern CGI. By the way, was I the only one that thought John Lynch looks suspiciously like Arnold? Especially with his grenade launcher? Ah, right, moving along...

The soundtrack in Turning Point is one of the higher points, with period styled themes and dynamically changing music that picks up when you're engaged in combat. It's a fun little score, really. The voice acting could have been better. Honestly, it sounded a lot like 80's anime - not... horrible, but there was definitely that cheesy, not quite serious thing going on for some of the VA's. The German accents were pretty bad, too. Anna's VA was one of the better, and General Wells. I have no idea what General Hardt's VA was smoking, because he sounded more like a Norwegian than a German.

Overall

War Front is solid, but I have to be honest folks... it's also pretty basic on its face. The campaigns fit right in there with any other RTS game - there's just nothing new to this material. Where War Front shines is in its alternate history and surprisingly believable technological developments to support that timeline. The storyline is simple stuff, but I actually thought that that suited the time period presented as well - it's strictly basics here, folks, a good lookin babe to protect and a great evil to fight against. Some of Lynch's running commentary is hilarious, and Hellman spouts a few lines that cracked a smirk out of me too. The developers were kind enough to include a 'pause' capability activated with the 'pause/break' key on your keyboard, in which you can still queue up orders and buildings with the action on hold - use it, because trust me, the situation on the battle field when bullets start flying can change too fast if you don't. All around not a bad game; if you love World War II I'd call it a great buy. Same applies if you just plain like RTS games. You might want to avoid it if you're looking for something other than standard play, though, or anything particularly deep.

Additional Info

  • Title: War Front: Turning Poing
  • Genre: Real Time Strategy, World War II, Alternate Universe
  • Platform: Windows
  • Developer: Digital Reality, 10T Studios
  • Publisher: CDV, Atari
  • Writing: TOASTY! (+4)
  • Pacing: Very Good (+3)
  • Graphics: Good (+2)
  • Controls: Average (0)
  • Voice Acting: Above Average (+1)
  • Soundtrack: Average (0)
  • Replay Value: Good (+2)

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