War Front: Turning Point

Review

posted 4/3/2007 by Randy Kalista
other articles by Randy Kalista
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As the well-worn playground of many a strategy game, World War II finally banks an unexpected turn in War Front: Turning PointWar Front takes a hobbyist historian's favorite pastime -- hashing "what if?" questions into alternate history scenarios -- and places it on the game board in a familiar real-time strategy framework. While countless game studios have Michael Bay'd and Jerry Bruckheimer'd their artistic license over every inch of the European, African, and Pacific theaters of WW2, few have taken the bold step that developer Digital Reality uses to kick in the door. 
 
Digital Reality engages in a sci-fi retelling of mid-20th century military history by exterminating the Nazi war machine early in the game (a hard-bitten fight, trust me) and intelligently teases out one of those alternate history timelines. War Front doesn't go so far as to allow you the ability to rewrite WW2. It simply guides you down two railways:  The Allied campaign and the Germanic campaign, each touching on common points during this newly-written chronology, but not hindering the linear narrative of either's progress.
 
After the Nazi Party is dissolved, the Rheinland marches inexorably on, while England and America witness a would-be ally filling the Bad Guy vacuum left in Hitler's wake. Here's a hint: The name of the new bad guy begins with an "R" and ends with "-ussia."  Essentially, the real world's Cold War goes hot in War Front's melodramatic retelling.
 
Expertly choreographed cut scenes splice missions together, the director's chair obviously helmed by a savant of film school techniques. The voice actors, however, never fully inhabit their roles or cull creative readings out of their scripts. Which is all well and good if War Front were pure spoof, but it takes itself just seriously enough that the unintentional yawns it delivers are louder than the huskier-than-thou voices.
 
The briefing screens are composed of fly-by cameras, 2-D maps, and animated dialogue between the protagonists. The now-customary Heroes string together the storylines between levels, bantering their stereotypes back and forth at each other. There's the square-jawed, stalwart German, Roland Hellmann, barking loyalty and forward-thrust nationalism. And then there's the square-jawed, stalwart American, John Lynch, bucking authority and Bond-ing with the women. Understandably, War Front isn't here to revolutionize the way we play RTS games (Company of Heroes), nor is it here to squeeze award-winning drama from its storyline (Brothers in Arms).  It's simply here to find fresh footing in a marketplace already shell-shocked with an overabundance Dubya Dubya Two material. 
 
So a "Bravo Zulu" is in order for Digital Reality in pressing forward with their concept. Further spicing up the overly-familiar WW2 battlefield is a handful of conceptual units that never actually saw the light of day. The Allies drop earthquake bombs and setup force shield generators. The Germans lift off with jetpack infantry and lay it down with robotic exoskeletons (and let's not forget to mention the giant, aluminum zeppelins). And the Russians -- whom you can only play in multiplayer skirmishes -- give enemies a serious case of freezer burn with "Ice Spitters," or heat things up with mobile turrets the length of railroad cars.
 
A standard assortment of tanks, troop transports, and artillery units keep the body of your force looking and behaving in a household fashion. Air superiority keeps your side of the conflict flying the friendly skies, but a strong ground presence is required to do any real surgical work. And with the relative weakness of War Front's units, your factories and barracks are well-served by the loop-production button; you're free to micromanage elsewhere as your war machine cranks out metric tons of cannon fodder for an often relentless enemy.
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