Duck and cover
Even though World War II took place 70 years ago, it’s hard for people not to romanticize the conflict. It had everything you need in a great story, right? The epic struggle of good versus evil, plentiful heroes and villains, and a conflict that spanned the globe with almost every exotic locale imaginable. It’s no wonder that, all these years later, we keep going back to that era in comics, movies, TV shows, and videogames.
With this in mind, you can probably understand why, when Enemy Front was first announced a couple of years ago, I wasn’t just intrigued but downright excited by the idea of a first-person shooter going back to the genre’s World War II roots. And considering that Black developer Stuart Black was on board as creative director, I figured that even if it was a story we’d heard before, the action would make up for it. But then Black left the project, it went dark, and many of us speculated that Enemy Front had slipped into gaming purgatory, never to see a store shelf.
Then, surprisingly, the game resurfaced a few months ago, and while it was still being developed by CI Games, Bandai Namco was now the publisher. The basic plot revolving around Robert Hawkins, an American journalist who gets swept up in the Resistance movement across Europe, remained, as did the idea of visiting France, Norway, Germany, and Poland over the course of his adventure. Now, with less than two months before its June 10release date, I finally got to go hands-on with a pair of levels to see if the game was worth saving in the first place.
The initial level (from a PC build) was a hydroelectric dam in Norway that Hawkins and a few other Resistance members had to infiltrate and shut down. It was typical first-person shooter fare. A half dozen or so Nazis occupied each area, and I could go in, guns blazing, or move through each area stealthily. Since the stealthy route would take a lot longer, and I didn’t have that kind of time, I went with an itchy trigger finger and shot everything in sight.
What was interesting about the encounters, however, was the interactivity with the surrounding area. Whether I was shooting out planks that supported cut lumber so that the wood would roll down a hill and crush some enemies or dropping a crate suspended by a crane onto some more soldiers on patrol, the world has a lot more going on than your typical red exploding barrels.
As I progressed, I came to realize that going in aggressively worked very well, which makes me wonder why Enemy Front even has a stealth option. Sure, I died once or twice as I learned the layout of the dam, which gave the game an unwelcome trial-and-error feel at times, but for the most part—especially when I acquired a sniper rifle—I was a one-man wrecking crew.
Speaking of sniper rifles, as you’d expect from the developers of Sniper: Ghost Warrior, the game begs you to take out enemies from afar, even in heavy firefights. You’ve got machine guns and pistols and everything else you’d expect in a WWII shooter, but enemies often position themselves far away from you, and the best way to play it safe is simply to find a perch and pick them off one by one. The game even features a slow-mo bullet cam for particularly gruesome headshots, another feature from the Ghost Warrior titles. You’d have to be stupid to use any other weapon if given a choice.
Unfortunately, I was a little disappointed at how unoriginal the game seemed to be, since it wasn’t nearly as deep in terms of objectives or openness as what we’d been promised. Still, it certainly held my attention, and I hoped that the story, when put into context, would be able to help the prop the levels up.
Then I got to play the Xbox 360 version and an early level in the French countryside. This is where things took a turn for the worse. First off, the game’s textures look horrendously dull and matted on the 360 build, even with the game powered by CryEngine 3. Furthermore, the level featured a ton of lag throughout. On top of this, running into a field, sniping some Nazis, and then rinsing and repeating for the remaining half hour in the level got tiresome fast. The only real differences between the dam level and the France level were the objectives and the weather. Otherwise, it was just running from building to building and clearing them out.
We also got to hear Hawkins talk a lot more during this level, and he came off like an ass—never mind that I’m still trying to figure out how he went from journalist to supersoldier so quickly. This leads me to believe that Hawkins is going to either be an ass the entire game or, considering this was much earlier in the narrative compared to the Norway level, he’ll be the stereotypical ass who has a change of heart and truly rallies around the cause. Either way, we’ve seen it before, and it’s as boring as shooting the same six or seven Nazis over and over again.
While I admit that the France level certainly soured the experience as a whole, I’m hoping that, when put into the context of the story, both levels will better lend themselves to the narrative. I’m also looking forward to seeing how the Warsaw Uprising is handled, a subject not really touched upon before in games—and an event that’ll serve as the backdrop for events later on in the plot. My excitement about Enemy Front has been severely dashed, however, by the two demos I saw.