Iron Front – Liberation 1944 review
Tutorials are quite important. In Total War they teach you the basics of resources, troop movement and tactics, and in FIFA you need to know which button makes you shoot and which button gets you sent off for kicking the opposition in the shins. The very best tutorials meld seamlessly with the game itself, as in Portal; a 2-hour long tutorial with an extra half hour of play stuck to the end.
What the tutorial of Iron Front – Liberation 1944 did was convince me that I didn’t want to play a single minute longer than I’d have to. Given the game’s focus on realistic simulation (almost every button on the keyboard does something) it desperately needed a good introduction, but the tutorials for the German and Russian single-player campaigns are genuinely awful.
First off for the Russians, a three-minute unskippable cutscene that masquerades as a level with a ‘mission complete’ summary at the end. Then the game proper begins, with plenty of texture pop-in and frame rate stutters: the ARMA2 engine is famed for many things, but stability is not one of them. Next attach a heavy gun to a truck by reversing up to it, but here’s the catch: you can’t look backwards. The game tells you later that there’s a free look button, but not when you actually need it. Oh, the steering wheel’s made of jelly too.
After playing with the gun it’s time to drive to a village to fight some Germans. Just don’t drive across the firing range by accident or you get a five second warning before failing the mission. Make sure you’ve picked up some ammo too, because the tutorial is intent on chucking you into battle without any if you haven’t glanced at the HUD in the top corner.
The German campaign starts with another boring speech, then a run to somewhere else which triggers another cutscene, but only when standing in precisely the right place. Then it’s off to the firing range, where a bug locks your aim onto the vertical axis.
I know they said the Eastern Front was hell, but this is ridiculous.
The Second World Bore
There will of course be many who breeze through these tutorials and as such must view me as a blithering idiot, but the game’s main problem isn’t that it’s obtuse and buggy. Many such games earn tremendous followings despite their dense menus, clippy engines and baffling Engrish localisation, but Iron Front’s main problem is that it doesn’t really serve a purpose.
Much like ARMA2, the single player game is more of a prelude to the madness available in editing, multiplayer and the modding scene. Missions are uninspiring and slow, damaged by awkward triggers and unclear instructions. Despite the enormous maps and vast array of units available, combat always feels small, more like a skirmish than a proper engagement of World War II, even when tanks and aircraft are involved. I wasn’t demanding an overblown explosion-fest in the vein of today’s most popular FPSs, but I had hoped for a little more panache, something to show off the strengths and adaptability of the engine.
Playing solo then is entirely irrelevant, and turning to the wider community for enjoyment is a must. There is potential here, given the array of resources the game presents, for true open warfare in the style that ARMA2 is so celebrated for. The slabs of city and countryside presented are perfect for fighting over and there is no shortage of different firearms, ordnance, tanks and aircraft for enterprising players to duke it out with.
Mod of War
Even granted all this though, I struggle to see what Iron Front brings to the table. Almost everything it offers is already available through mods for ARMA2. It feels more like a mod itself than it does a genuine retail release, making even a £20 price tag tremendously steep.
Moreover, it feels tremendously dated thanks to the shonky engine that requires a Titanic PC to run half-decently and an interface unchanged since Bohemia, masterminds behind the ARMA series, launched Operation Flashpoint over a decade ago.
All of this adds up to create a game whose enjoyments are reserved exclusively for people who know exactly what they’re buying, who know that single player in the ARMA engine is poor, who are used to the technical problems and who have already got a good grasp of the mechanics. These players will create their own amusements in the multiplayer and the editing suite and have no need of a review to tell them so. If however you’re even slightly unsure, Iron Front is not the game for you.