From the Jaws of Defeat?
World War II’s Eastern Front isn’t one that gets a lot of play in the West, unless it’s a token Stalingrad level. X1 software’s attempt to bring this theater of war into the world of tactical simulations is met with a mix of triumph and tragedy, which unfortunately weighs more on the side of tragedy.
Iron Front: Liberation 1944 is a tactical first-person shooter/simulation built on the ARMA 2 engine. While it definitely lends itself to large-scale conflict and realistic action, it also has the problem of being a very buggy and unstable engine, which was a problem through the entire review process. Unrecoverable freezes tended to end play sessions early – when the first patch came out (conveniently incompatible with my previous save games), the game crashed before reaching the end of the first cutscene. This would have been less of a problem if the cutscenes were skippable, but you have to sit through them.
Once you get to the gameplay itself, it’s initially not too bad. Your first mission on either the Russian or German side teaches you all the basics of combat – shooting various infantry arms, chucking grenades, and operating artillery pieces. It’s also (probably realistically) clunky – the first Russian mission gives you the task of hitching a howitzer to the back of a truck, and since the truck lacks a rearview mirror or any way to look behind (even third-person viewpoint doesn’t help), this simple task took me about ten minutes real time. There were some similar problems with a later mission, which put you in control of a tank – in the commander’s chair, you cannot directly fire, only give the order. When I did this, the tank’s turret began rotating…never stopping to fire, simply going around and around. I suppose I’ll be cutting my gunner’s vodka ration after that. These guys can hold their breath longer than Guybrush Threepwood.
The missions all seem to showcase one particular aspect of the game: the first teaches the basics, the second puts you in a vehicle or teaches you how to command, etc. While the missions are rather long and the maps large, there aren’t that many of them, so the game comes up rather short. It would seem that the game might be tailored toward multiplayer warfare, but the community is unfortunately very small and dominated by clans on private servers. It seems to me that you’re expected to use mods, or mod the game yourself to get the most out of Iron Front.
The game is definitely ambitious, and the attention to detail and realism is admirable. The vehicles, weapons and uniforms are well-detailed and do a good job of matching up with their real-world counterparts. You won’t find any Call of Duty-styled, overpowered superguns here; most missions find you carrying one weapon at a time, usually a bolt-action rifle like the K98 or the Mosin-Nagant, or lugging a light machine gun around and finding a good place to set it up. While the English language and voice-overs sound pretty amateurish, the actual German and Russian tracks don’t sound bad (although I only speak German non-natively and don’t speak Russian at all – your mileage may vary). The actual cutscenes where these are spoken, however, are quite dull and uninteresting, perhaps in part due to the fact that the engine isn’t really suited to cinematic storytelling. I suppose it does add to the “hurry up and wait” quality I hear so much about from military personnel.
The Final Verdict
Unfortunately, this doesn’t fix its considerable game-breaking bugs and lack of polish. I think that X1, with some improvements, could have a winner on their hands. But as it stands, the $30 price tag is a little too expensive for what it offers. I have to recommend sticking to Red Orchestra II if you want to play a tactical shooter set in World War II. I think X1 might be a studio to watch in the future, though, so don’t count them out due to a rather underwhelming debut.