To be honest, I don't think there are any. In most cases, the war in video games is nothing but a big advertisement for the U.S. Army, where the player plays "the good guys" and kills "the bad guys". Sometimes he accomplishes his duties with compromises, doing reprehensible things. But, still, it's always a fight between good and evil.
One thing that you can't see, though, is war conducted by real people. And, if we're talking about soldiers, there aren't good and bad guys but only winners and losers. Iron Front - Liberation 1944 puts me in the guise of a German soldier during World War II, reversing the usual perspective. Suddenly, I realize that I'm not one of the bad guys: I'm just a soldier. A soldier who follows orders.
I must say I was incredibly surprised by this game. This is what we might call a tactical FPS, but with a strong simulative component. You may die with a single shot, your ammunitions are low, guns have recoil, it's not easy to identify the enemy and it is even harder to hit them.
And yet, we can exploit the resources of the battlefield: we drive, use heavy artillery, anti-aircraft cannons, tanks. Fill the role of driver, passenger, gunner. Receive orders from superiors and give orders to subordinates. In a word: war.
The campaign follows the story of a German soldier named Neumann on the Eastern front. The enemy is attacking, and the Germans are gradually retreating. Unfortunately, our superior is a bastard field marshal, willing to unnecessarily sacrifice dozens of people. This is not a particularly original story, but enough to entertain us.
Then, there's a Russian campaign, that puts us in the shoes of an army that is winning a war. This is a nice reversal of perspective, which enables us to try some of the most enjoyable weapons in the game: tanks.
As mentioned, however, the war is not easy. We don't fight face to face with the enemy, as in the usual first person shooters. The enemy is often far away, hidden, and we find ourselves stuck in the same position for several minutes, waiting for the enemy to withdraw or die.
In these moments you realize how interesting the tactical aspect of this game is, which should not be confused with an action title: every movement, every shot must be carefully evaluated. Consider, for example, that it is possible to adjust the sights on our own rifle, according to the distance of the enemy. We must therefore consider many aspects before we pull the trigger, and if you are injured it becomes almost impossible to aim, because our hands are trembling.
The developers have done an excellent job in trying to recreate weapons, vehicles and uniforms of the armies at war. Each weapon is faithfully reproduced, and its physical characteristics (size, charge time, accuracy) are designed to perfection. The same can be said of vehicles, especially tanks. The driving model is certainly not that of a racing game, but it does its duty.
The game, however, is not perfect. First, there's some problems with artificial intelligence. It's very nice to see an enemy down on the ground when a bullet whistles past his ears, but it's much less pleasant to see him standing in the street, waiting to be hit with all the stiffness of a shooting gallery duck. Our companions, when not following our orders, tend to stand still in the same position and/or to expose themselves to danger for no apparent reason. Overall, the AI doesn't totally ruin the experience, but in a so-precise simulative environment, we'd have expected something better.
Some problems, in addition, are found with the user interface. Giving orders to our teammates is very complex. In some cases, telling a comrade "walk from here to there" makes you press a sequence of four buttons, following complex menus.
The real problem with Iron Front - Liberation 1944, however, is merely technical. We have to admit that this game was virtually unplayable until the release of the first patch, which was certainly not miraculous in terms of stability improvements. In Windows 7 64-bit the title crashes every 5 minutes, a problem that we solved by turning on the infamous Windows XP compatibility mode.
Also, although it uses Arma II's engine, the game suffers from huge gaps in terms of visuals. Certainly, from a game like this we didn't expect the graphics of Call of Duty, but at least we would like not to see the head of our character sinking into a wall, or watching some textures appearing and disappearing after a few seconds. Not to mention the frame drops we experienced all the time.
From the soundtrack point of view, the music acts only in some crucial moments, and it's quite pleasant. The dialogs (you can choose to play with the English voices, but also with the original languages of the soldiers: German or Russian) doesn't represent a masterpiece of acting, and the entries are not synchronized with the lips of the characters.
I'm torn. In some ways, Iron Front - Liberation 1944 is a masterpiece. I don't think I've ever seen a game able to put World War II on stage in a so realistic way. It manages to capture certain emotions that I didn't see since Saving Private Ryan. But, in this case, the film appears to have been directed by Uwe Boll and realized with a low budget. That is: if Iron Front had a higher budget, it would've been a giant. A true heavyweight. Unfortunately for us, it's just a beautiful game gone wrong.
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