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Developer: Digital Reality
ESRB: Teen [Violence]
War Front: Turning Point is a bizarre sort of real time strategy game. Taken as the sum of its parts, War Front is actually pretty bad. Cringe worthy cinematics, characters more archetypical than a beer commercial, a clunky interface, and artificial intelligence that is spotty at best, are all combined to form a game that somehow manages to be relatively fun, sometimes.
War Front Turning Point takes place in an alternate reality, imagining that Hitler was assassinated in the early days of the war. This allows the designers to take a few liberties with the construction of the game and also with the unit types offered. It’s also where War Front takes its first turn south. Maybe I’m just a history noob, but I’m not exactly clear on why Hitler’s death would pave the way for the development of ice slinging tanks, mechs, sonic tanks, and the premature development of the atomic bomb.
All right though, I’ll play along. After all, this is a videogame and if we can’t have a little imagination here then where can we? Another problem comes up though, when the fiction and imagination for this war are so liberal and yet so limited when it comes to new unit types for each faction (Germany, America/Britain, and Russia.) It would have been nice to see some ingenuity in all the unit types rather than just a handful. When you see this type of misstep it almost seems like they ran out of ideas and so decided to fill the gaps with traditional unit types and weaponry.
The story that carries the player through this setting is no less disappointing. Rather than just sticking to the industry standard storyline for WWII Real Time Strategy games and giving us the simple story of a group of soldiers who go above and beyond the call of duty for their country, War Front attempts a narrative. This attempt fails. The script would make a high school play director vomit. The cut scenes are decently directed, and the graphics are serviceable, but the performances and writing drag it down. Seriously, why does the cliché British commander continue to insult the man who has come with reinforcements to help save his country? I’ll tell you why: they couldn’t figure out another reason for him to say “yank.” That said, I almost feel dirty when I defend the game's main protagonist. Colonel John Lynch is a total man’s man. Guns, killin’, chicks, and illin’ are his only worries. He’s the kind of guy who wants nothing more than a sixer of beer and the latest Playboy...oh and heap of dead Nazi’s next to him. If you’re thinking that all this sounds cool in a Die Hard sort of way, I promise you this: you have the wrong freaking impression. The performances carrying out these characters are no more entertaining the pitiful script they had to read from. While it can be said with relative certainty that the actors were instructed to get all C-movie with the acting, it still doesn’t excuse the fact that it’s a chore to watch.
Fortunately, the gameplay is a big step up from the other areas. Despite not being triple-A quality, the gameplay is solid and offers some intriguing elements. For one, the way resources are gathered and units are made is simple and works well with the interface. I even found myself impressed by the interface’s ability to allow you to run things at the base, while keeping your focus on the battle. Two nice touches make this possible. The player can set unit manufacturing buildings on auto build and they will continue to crank out a set of units until you hit your army cap and resume when space is available. The other is a button on the HUD that automatically begins the repair of all your buildings. If you see that your defenses have repelled an assault the player can press this button and rather than having to personally supervise their repair, you can do your thing elsewhere on the battlefield. Also, the game world cycles through day and night in real time, so you can actually wait until nightfall to launch your attack (not that it would make any difference, but if you’re cool like me, you like to pretend its imperative to get the drop on the enemy.)
Other than a decent graphics engine and some impressive scenery, that’s pretty much where the positives end. From there it’s a story of questionable polish, or lack there of. Some decent touches like the inclusion of civilians in urban areas become wasted when the people simply wander slowly about without a care in the world, looking disturbingly like zombies. Sometimes they’ll even wander right through a battle or into the path of an oncoming tank. Another example of a lack of polish is bad path finding ability in the vehicles. They do fine, until an urban area comes up and they take the shortest distance to every destination. Even if that means plowing through a dozen trees, a few fences, a class of school children, and the Pope. It doesn’t affect gameplay in any way, but it’s almost comedic and it does a lot to take you out of the moment.
The worst sin that War Front commits is in the artificial intelligence department. This is by far the most frustrating part of the game and it manages to sap a lot of the fun from the proceedings. For starters, your units are positively useless without your direction. At times, I would see that my base was under attack, but would ignore it due to the small size of the aggressors. I assumed my giant squadron of tanks could hold their own against the small troop. But then much to my dismay, I would return from battle to find that the tanks never returned fire. They just sat there and let themselves get blown to pieces. The AI problems didn’t stop there though; when your tanks due deign it appropriate to return fire, they end up blowing up your own men more often than I was comfortable with.
Multiplayer is the only category of the game that I can say is genuinely good. Every option available in the single player is there, including one game mode which is a very cool new idea. The mode is called Secret Orders. At the beginning of each match players are given a goal to achieve which is known only to them. Until the middle of the game that is, then all hell breaks loose as your enemies become aware of what it is you’re up to.
By now you’re probably wondering what the heck I was talking about when I told you this game was fun. Understandably, it’s a little perplexing to me as well. It has mostly to do with the fact that the core elements that the game is built around are rock solid and follows in the foot steps of the genre’s great forefathers. If you are looking to get into the real time strategy genre and don’t know where to start, War Front is almost a decent enough starting point. If you’re a seasoned veteran and you cut your teeth Zerg rushing in Brood War, you’re likely to find War Front is lacking, bare-bones, messy and simplistic. What it boils down to, is that War Front isn’t grade-A dirge, but it’s hard to recommend when it’s set next to Supreme Commander and Company of Heroes on the store shelf.