Iron Front: Liberation 1944 places you in the middle of the intense fighting on the Eastern Front in 1944, as either a Soviet soldier of a member of the Nazi warmachine. Iron Front is by no means your average brain dead run and gun shooter, it is an in depth military simulation featuring infantry combat, tank rushes and even dogfights. The game has been developed by the relatively unknown German company by the name of “X1 Software”, and published by Deep Silver. Is the experience worth the cost of admission?
Iron Front: Liberation 1944 is built upon Bohemia Interactive’s Arma 2. Due to this it feels extremely similar, by both inheriting many of the things that made Arma 2 great, but also many of it’s flaws. In many ways Iron Front: liberation 1944 can be looked at as a World War 2 conversion for Arma 2. The game contains two campaigns, one as the Germans and one where you play as the Soviets. Each one of these two campaigns can be played in both English or their original language, German and Russian respectively. This is a nice touch which can gave the player an added bit of immersion if needed. It may be worth it for non-German/Russian players to take this option as well, as it stops you from having to listen to the at times absurd dialog. Each one of the two campaigns throws you into a training mission, which shows you the ropes of the basic infantry gameplay, by forcing you to listen to strangely robotic voice of your superior officer while he shows you how to shoot in an authentic World War 2 setting. From here each campaign moves on to real missions in a variety of locations on one of the games 4 maps. These range in size from several hundred meters across to a whopping 256 square kilometers. All the missions are interesting as they challenge you to take on a vast amount of different objectives, from defending a location from swarms of enemy soldiers and tanks, to being trapped behind enemy lines and having to fight or sneak your way back to the front. This, combined with the freedom that you are given on how you decide to complete the objectives ensures that a mission is never played the same way twice. This is a good thing seeing as how you will probably be forced to, due to the campaign’s heavy reliance on scripted events, which have never been one Real Virtuality Engine’s strengths. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of decent scripting in this game, sadly it just requires one victory condition to be bugged to force you to retread hours of gameplay. Hopefully we will see this fixed in a future patch.
Another major problem in the campaign that takes away from the fun that can very well be had is at times borderline retarded AI. This leads to some bizarre situations at times, because on top of the AI’s Forrest Gump like intelligence (minus the charm), they also have the concentration of an ADHD chipmunk on speed. If you then add the final ingredient into this strange cocktail, their almost Terminator like ability to see and shot you with a pistol at range where the Coriolis effect should play a major part, you get this strange weariness every time you engage in a firefight. This is because you never really know which one if these three attributes is shining through at any time, so it is just the luck of the draw as to which experience will be had. You may run right up to an enemy and shoot an entire platoon before they understand what is going on, or you may be shot before you even see an enemy.
Where this game really succeeds is surprisingly in the vehicle combat. Both the tank warfare and the aerial dogfights have gotten major overhauls, which really add to the experience. Sadly these are never really too much attention in the campaigns. The tank combat has been completely redeveloped, with a brand new more advanced and complex damage engine. Due to this, every time you get in a fight with a tank it is a different experience. It is no longer just keep shooting rockets at it and its health bar will deplete until it is dead. No, now they have added realistic modules and weapon’s penetration to the rounds. The game now has a slight “World of Tanks” vibe to it as shells have to impact certain parts of that tanks to do damage. A shell through the a corner will do nothing, but a shell going through the crew compartment has a chance of killing crew members and even hitting the ammunition stores, which leads to a surprisingly large amount of bang for your buck. Adding to this the improved ability to detrack tanks, with either shells, rockets or mines and it really adds an extra layer of strategy to anti-tank warfare. Another thing that spices up vehicle combat is the addition of tow-able weapons, such as Pak 38 howitzer guns. This allows you to set up the perfect ambush, before simply hooking it up to the back of a truck and rapidly relocating. The main problem with this is the quality of the animation when a gun is being towed. Not only is it not connected correctly, but it stays a few meters behind the vehicle and moves in a severely weird manner. Almost as if it is teleporting to catch up to the vehicle once a second. This gives this otherwise great feature the look of a quick mod, which is disappointing. Moving on to the aerial combat, I think the controls and overall feel of aerial combat has seriously benefited from not only the decreased speed, but also the low tech weapons systems. These things added together lead to fun dogfights, it also came as a surprise that the AI are actually very competent pilots, which makes it a joys to just load up a mission with some planes and then fly around for a while shooting down planes and performing bombing runs on unsuspecting tanks.
Even though vehicle combat is in the game, you will still be spending most of your time with your boots in the dirt as a regular grunt. While infantry combat contains lots of variety, with many different weapons and ways to play, it has some major issues. While the developers have tried to make close quarters combat play a somewhat large role in the game by making sure that almost all of the buildings in the area of operations are enter-able. Unfortunately, forcing more close range fighting does not help this game in any way, due to the control scheme. Iron Front has a, to put it lightly, complicated control scheme. This is due to the shear amount of things you can do in the game, therefore it is needed and works well most of the time. The one place where it does not is when the enemies are close. The controls become too complex and you need to press too many different buttons to access the thing you need to get the job done. This creates an immersion breaking and at times frustrating experience, as you are struggling to change to your secondary weapon before the enemy dispatches you. Another one of the issues with the infantry combat is that you get to pay more attention to the sometimes less than stellar animations. I have lost count of the amount of times that I have seen models clip through walls, or even prone enemies get killed and then stand up before falling down to die. The greatest was still the truck full of dead enemies that continued to move.
The real fun of Iron Front: Liberation 1944 comes from the two other gamemodes that it has to offer. Namely it’s multiplayer, with modes for up to 120 players, and the mission editor. The mission editor is almost completely identical to the one found in Arma 2, only with the new units replacing Arma 2′s units. This editor allows you to create anything from a simple skirmish to a full scale battle. The only problem that I really have with the editor is the lack of a tutorial, as it can come off as overwhelming. Thankfully there is no shortage of Arma 2 editor tutorials on the internet, these should be able to help people with the Iron Front editor too. Another great thing about the editor is that even the most simple skirmishes never play out the same way twice, unless you heavily script them, due to the games AI. The multiplayer is where you can really let loose and start to actually do things exactly how you want to, due to the ability to not have to have any reliance on the AI. While playing through the campaign, you will no doubt have had times where you thought “Damn, I wish I could do that”, well in multiplayer you can. The game is at it’s least frustrating and most entertaining when played with a few good friends, while you either mess around or attempt to battle the victory conditions. The multiplayer is split into several different modes, including Co-op missions and the new Blitzkrieg mode, which takes a more casual Battlefield approach, by splitting players into attackers and defenders as they vie for control of different zones on the map. Blitzkrieg and Co-op can also be played using the AI to fill out the player slots if you just want to play with a few close friends, or can’t find enough human players.
The place where the game falls well short of the mark is in the developer’s attention to quality control. There are many times where the things being said by characters in the game do not correspond to the subtitles. This is worst in the Soviet campaign where you will be surprised if you find at least one subtitle that matches a line of dialogue. This problem is further compounded by the apparent lack of any sort of spell check available to the developers. Spelling mistakes are abundant, which really brings this game down from professionally made World War Two simulator to a really detailed conversion mod. The worst mistake I found while playing was this sentence, “Your have succesfully holded before reinforcements arrival.”. Sure, I understand that the developers are not necessarily native English speakers, but would it have been that hard to just get one person to read through all the text before it was given the green light?
All in all, when the game functions as it should, it is a tool with which you can have fun in a variety of ways. The problem is that most of the time it simply does not work. Hopefully many of these flaws will be ironed out with patches later on down the line, but the long story short, the game doesn’t feel like it is fully out of the beta yet, and certainly not ready for release. Also, with the current price tag of €29.99 it sadly does not live up to the expectations. I have to wonder how much of the price tag is going to pay for the engine, so that you don’t need Arma 2 to run it. If you have Arma 2 and need something to cover the gap until Arma 3, and want a change of scenery than sure, pick it up. Although if you are new to the genre, i suggest you either wait till it is properly patched or pick up Arma 2 instead, as it offers a more polished experience.