The Eastern Front, and particularly Operation Bagration – the Soviet advance into Germany – are a piece of history I’ll never know an awful lot about. Not because it’s not a fascinating story, as both the strategic and ‘human interest’ details are remarkable. But it’s all just so harrowing. It is a cautionary tale that even the ‘bad guys’ should deserve some modicum of mercy.
It seems like the Eastern Front is en vogue for WW2 gamers. Of course, we’re all looking forward to Company of Heroes 2. But Iron Front: Liberation 1944 has rather beaten them to it. Although it’s a radically different style of game.
But let’s hope that’s not the only difference. Straight off the bat, one of the first things that jumps out to a new player of Iron Front: Liberation 1944 is that it’s buggy. Yes, it really is one of the first things you’ll notice – almost before you even tumble to what style of game it is. In the single-player campaigns, the greatest foes you’ll face are the mission triggers, which rarely work as they’re supposed to. Sometimes you’ll just have to stand and wait as the action unfolds before you, but woe betide you if you lark around with any of the hardware, or play silly beggars in the Kubelwagons while you wait for it to be your turn. You’ll probably muck up a mission trigger miles later into the level.
So that’s a shame. A buggy single-player campaign. But let’s not let ourselves get bogged down talking about that. If you’re just looking for an ARMA 2-flavoured WW2 first-person campaign, this is probably not going to be the game you’re talking about in years to come. But there’s more to Iron Front than a SP campaign.
Just like ARMA 2, its spiritual predecessor, Iron Front is an ambitious project. There is a host of carefully researched weapons, equipment, and – most importantly – vehicles to use, from the aforementioned Kubelwagons (German staff cars that are a joy to rag randomly around war-torn battlefields) to the famous Soviet T-34 tanks, and plenty of planes and artillery pieces in between. There’s a robust editor that allows for the creation of some fun scenarios to explore in single play or with your chums in multiplay.
Well, seeing as I mentioned it, let’s talk about the multiplayer. Just like ARMA 2, the multiplay is the heart and soul of Iron Front. But also like ARMA 2, it’s not for the faint-hearted. This isn’t a game where you can just gallivant around the place, casually leaning on your trigger finger and occasionally typing ‘lol’. It’s a game of tactics and constant – and I mean constant – communication. A game where teammates coordinate with ruthless precision to outmaneuver and outflank the enemy. Finding a server where people play like idiots is pleasingly rare – too rare, in fact, if you happen to be one of the idiots in question. These are serious gamers, and if you’re not going to play as part of a team, the multiplay probably isn’t for you. MP maps range from small and bloody to wide open and tactical.
If you’re in this category, though, and you’re just looking for a fun World War 2 shooter, there’s still hope here. If you can look past the bugs and the occasionally garish graphical style, the editor is the way to go. You start with one of a handful of maps, and then it’s just like a massive game of toy soldiers. You could just create a huge circle of Russian tanks and put one German squaddie right in the middle of it, or carefully position each man, tank, car, truck, plane, halftrack, AT gun… well, you get the picture. Each soldier can be given a skill level and a role, so you may decide it would be fun to have a squad of talentless snipers over in the woods there, and then watch as an elite squad of riflemen tries to flush them out. It’s easy to forget that there’s an actual game at the end of the editor.
Sadly, that’s actually not such a bad thing. The single-player games you build yourself in the editor are miles better than the hideous bugfests in the campaign mode, but there are enough pathfinding snafus and – my personal favourite – completely inanimate enemies who just stand around gormlessly dreaming of the glory of their parentland of choice whilst the loader in your tank rams another HE round into the pipe.
Play it with your mates. Spend hours puffing on a pipe full of dark shag while you scrupulously recreate your favourite skirmish from the Bobruysk Offensive. Use it as a gateway to learn about a fascinating-if-scary time in the misery of human history. These are all outcomes that I’m certain the devs were aiming for. Just don’t expect great things from the single player campaign.