War is being fought on digital battlefields all over the world. Whether it is modern, futuristic, or historical, it is seemingly tailor-made for video games as a format. It provides simple ‘Me vs. You’ combat scenarios and is versatile enough to be functional in many different genres such as RTS (Company of Heroes), FPS (Call of Duty/Battlefield), and Simulation (ArmA II). Iron Front: Liberation 1944 is a game modeled after the latter of those styles, even using its engine. Military simulation games are a small, but passionate group of gamers who are very particular about the nuances of accuracy and realism. I’ll be honest; I’m not a big fan of the genre but I have a great deal of appreciation for the amazing emergent stories that come from it.
Iron Front: Liberation 1944 lets you play two campaigns (as either Russian or German soldiers), a scenario mode which is a single player sandbox, and of course multiplayer. So, how does Iron Front stack up?
Okay, let’s get the Single Player campaign out of the way: It is absolutely terrible…Actually, that’s not completely accurate. What I played of it was terrible. The reason I played only part of the campaigns is that I literally was not able to complete objectives and progress. I started with the German side because, let’s face it, it’s not every day that you get to roleplay as a Nazi. I loaded up the campaign and began the basic training/tutorial section. Here are some highlights from it:
-Running and obstacle course, capturing a flag, and running back to the waypoint, only to have the Commanding Officer not there. No CO, no advancement…*revert to previous save*
-Learning how to use an anti-tank rocket launcher, I accidentally fired it too close to my position and was injured. I dropped to the ground and called out for help. Nobody came to heal me but I didn’t die, causing me to just sit there flailing about for 15 minutes…*revert to previous save*
-Saving my game, returning to my regular life for a few hours, and starting Iron Front up again only to find that my save has disappeared. Seriously; the game just basically says “Sorry. Save File not found. Sorry”…*restart campaign*
So, I finally got past Basic Training and began the real mission. I arrived at a meeting spot and the mission briefing says to prepare for an imminent attack. The only problem is that the attack never comes. There is no feedback saying what you are supposed to do to trigger this event, so I ended up driving from one end to the other in this big empty map only to find no enemies.
With all of this in mind, I have to actually say that the German campaign is vastly superior to the Russian one. I couldn’t make it out of Basic Training in that one.
It opens with (I kid you not) a 15 minute unskippable scene consisting mostly of multiple walls of text describing the historical context of the scenario, all being read to you by a man with a terrible Russian accent. Once this ends, Basic Training begins. By this point, I was pretty good at shooting, throwing grenades, etc. Piece of cake! The critical task I was unable to complete however was backing a truck up, attaching an artillery gun, driving it to the other side of the map, unattaching it, and then pushing it to a specific spot on the shooting range. I managed to get it attached once, but have not been able to duplicate it. So, I stood there for 45 minutes trying to hover my sights on the exact spot to trigger the little ‘Attach’ prompt to no avail. To date, I still can’t get past it and I can’t find anything in the game to provide any guidance. I was really excited to see what Iron Front had to offer with its campaign, but unfortunately its shoddiness of design and lack of polish made it impossible to find out.
The only part of Single Player that I can even remotely recommend is the Scenarios, of which there are three. Two of them, Unexpected Visit and Supply Depot, are combat scenarios and the other one, Viewport 2, is a training area. In these areas you have immediate access to vehicles like tanks and (my personal favorite) airplanes. Essentially, these scenarios strip any pretense of a campaign and are just giant dicking-around sandboxes to play in. This part of the game was actually pretty fun for a while as it allows you to do what you want and doesn’t suffer from the same poor design and wayfinding of the campaign.
Now, Multiplayer is the mode that (partially) saves Iron Front. At present, there are not very many people playing online, but based on the maximum numbers on some of the servers, they are anticipating many more at some point. I can’t speak for the ability of those servers to perform with, say, 64 players because most of the matches I was in had no more than 15-20. The vast majority of them have a listed Ping of between 100 and 300, which is unimpressive to say the least and does not bode well for an increase in players.
The modes in Multiplayer are your standard bag of Team Deathmatch, Co-Op against bots, and Capture the Flag; nothing that hasn’t been done before and far better. Aside from the odd tank lying around, I wasn’t able to find any airplanes in any of the maps which I found to be somewhat disappointing. I feel there is/was an opportunity there to add some interesting modes, but what results is just another infantry simulator. That being said, it was generally pretty fun. There is a singular thrill of being one of only two players on a server that can hold 32, fighting against each other to control a market in the middle of a gigantic map. Conversely, it’s also fun to be ‘Komrade Leeroy Jenkins’ in a large team, trying to drive a Jeep headlong into an opposing force that has dug in. It’s definitely not for everyone, and if something like Battlefield 3 is to your liking then you will NOT have fun with this game. Like the Scenarios, as long as you are not married to the idea of having to maintain some kind of coherence to the game’s story it can be fun to mess around.
[+Multiplayer is Functional] [+Scenarios Are Sandboxy Fun] [*Frame Rate Issues] [*High Ping In Multiplayer] [*Lack of Air Warfare in Multiplayer a Missed Opportunity] [-Single Player Campaigns are Abysmal] [-Bugs Result in Impassable Roadblocks and Lost Saves] [-Unhelpful Wayfinding] [-Tutorial Does Not Prepare You] [-Unskippable Cutscenes]
Iron Front: Liberation 1944 was built using Bohemia Interactive’s ArmA II engine. Like that game, it strives for realism in combat and massive playgrounds in which to play soldier. The story is taken care of in the aforementioned epic reading at the beginning of the Russian campaign. Beyond the historical significance of the period (which is admittedly fascinating but has nothing to do with this game), the story and characters are completely forgettable…except for your CO during the German campaign. He sounds like Jon Lovitz doing an impression of a Nazi soldier, so anything he says is hilarious…although I’m pretty sure that’s not what they were going for.
Screenshots of Iron Front: Liberation 1944 looked promising, but to be honest this game didn’t look or run that great on my PC. Granted, my computer is a couple of years old, but it can run Dead Space 2, Mass Effect 3, Metro 2033, Skyrim, and even ArmA II as smooth as silk. With this game, I had to turn the settings down to Low and drop my native resolution. Even still, it did not run consistently smooth. The only time my PC has run this hot is when I played Crysis last year on high settings. At least with Crysis however, you get the payoff of a game that looks incredible. With Iron Front, it is a system hog that rewards the player with bland environments blanketed in blurry textures and an up-and-down frame rate.
[+Unique Perspective in Well-Worn Period] [*Demanding Specs But Little Payoff] [-Voice Acting is Terrible, Even For a Video Game] [-No Real Creativity in Telling a Story] [-Bland Characters and Environments]
Iron Front: Liberation 1944 is $30 on Steam right now, which seems fitting because it is essentially only half a game. As it is a PC title, there is a very high likelihood that Modders will get a hold of it and create new content. It’s entirely possible that something might be created which takes the core game and turns it into something amazing. Then again, it’s equally possible that it won’t. $30 is certainly not as much of a financial hit as a full-priced game, but it’s hard to recommend a game like this when ArmA II is better, cheaper, and immeasurably more abundant in players, mods, and features.
[+Not a Full-Price Game] [+Likelihood of Mods in the Future] [*Few Players Now and No Guarantee That Will Change] [-ArmA II is Better and Cheaper]
Modern gaming is increasingly Multiplayer-focused, particularly with military-themed titles. While it is not uncommon these days for these types of games to have a tacked on single player campaign, the absolute least one expects is for it to be playable. Ultimately, it comes down to this; give Iron Front six months to a year to patch some of the more glaring flaws and grow its player-base and it might turn out to be a half-decent military simulator. The problem however is that (like with fantasy MMOs that try to emulate World of Warcraft) ArmA II has already fixed those problems, has a thriving community, and has a massive selection of mods. Aside from a setting which is not the standard one for a World War II game, Iron Front: Liberation 1944 really offers nothing to a fan looking for something different and it’s highly unlikely an audience will have the patience to stick around long enough for it to find its feet.
[+Multiplayer is Functional] [+Scenarios Are Sandboxy Fun] [+Unique Perspective in Well-Worn Period] [+Not a Full-Price Game] [+Likelihood of Mods in the Future] [*Frame Rate Issues] [*High Ping In Multiplayer] [*Lack of Air Warfare in Multiplayer a Missed Opportunity] [*Demanding Specs But Little Payoff] [*Few Players Now and No Guarantee That Will Change] [-Single Player Campaigns are Abysmal] [-Bugs Result in Impassable Roadblocks and Lost Saves] [-Unhelpful Wayfinding] [-Tutorial Does Not Prepare You] [-Unskippable Cutscenes] [-Voice Acting is Terrible, Even For a Video Game] [-No Real Creativity in Telling a Story] [-Bland Characters and Environments] [-ArmA II is Better and Cheaper]