A good first person shooter usually needs a good old-fashioned conflict. Often there’s a good side and a bad side, like in a war. The past year or so we’ve seen plenty of good first-person shooters that were about the Second World War, all with its very own view of things. Whether or not it’s getting overdone is questionable, and with the release of Iron Storm, I for one happen to be on side of those who want something really new.
The story, which in my opinion is somewhat refreshing, goes a little something like this:
The year is 1964, and for nearly fifty years the world has been plagued with war; the First World War. Things didn’t resolve like they did in real-life, mainly because of a naughty power-hungry Russian, who wanted to expand his empire. People have become used to the war, and to raise capital the army has pretty much been put on the stock market. You take the role of a brave lieutenant who will be sent out behind enemy lines to disrupt things: evening out things a bit. Further into the game and its storyline your objectives change somewhat, but prepare for hours of mindless shooting.
Iron Storm’s graphics are a good example of a mixed bag. It manages to capture some essential things about the WW1 atmosphere, such as letting several of the levels be in trenches and bunkers, with plenty of explosions and a fiery sky far above. Many of the major battles during the First World War were fought like this, so being able to take a part in environments like these is a refreshing and interesting touch.
Yet, there’s plenty that could’ve been improved. For starters, the level-design gets boring fast. Iron Storm is one of those games that I like to call a Quick Load Shooter, which means the difficulty is not very forgiving. With long levels, little health to be picked up and a plethora of enemy soldiers you’re bound to die, a lot. But, I digress. Since you’re bound to die a lot you’re also bound to spend a lot of time in each level. Playing in a boring trench for an hour, just so you can get to an equally boring bunker isn’t especially rewarding in my eyes. The textures that the levels are essentially filled with don’t reek quality either. They are not only blurry at times, but are also bland and about as far from vibrant as textures get. Sure, there are plenty of games that look much worse, but it annoys me a game that deserves good graphics end up looking mediocre.
In third-person mode things look better. Mr Good Guy who we happen to control is very nicely animated. For instance, he can only carry a certain number of weapons, simply because he can’t fit any more on his coat. When choosing a weapon he realistically holsters the current one, and pulls out the new one. Personally I prefer the first-person mode, where instead of looking at well animated hand movement you get to look at the dull weapon models, and the apparently deformed hand that’s holding them.
Explosions are always good. They help at creating an exciting atmosphere, and at least in the first couple of levels Iron Storm does fairly well. In the very first level you are accompanied by teammates, who not only speak with you once in a while, but who also shout and sound life-like. Unfortunately, later in the game you’re basically left on your own, so most of the sounds you’ll hear are related to shooting, except for the Germans who occasionally belch out some slightly funny things. Besides from the vile Germans you’ll sometimes hear your lovely female helper, who briefs you on your mission and gives you tips throughout your missions. Her, and the rest of the voice-overs are well done, and fit the characters well enough.
The musical score is far from dramatic, and actually seldom played. A classical music based soundtrack could’ve been great in this particular game, but if you have for instance a Wagner CD lying around then I suggest you toss it in the stereo when playing this game.
I have to admit that my first impressions when playing this game weren’t great. Luckily I’ve been wrong before, and in the case of Deus Ex it turned out to be one of my favorite games. What specifically got me hooked to Deus Ex was its gameplay, almost nothing else. Its graphics weren’t superb, but it simply gave you so many options on how to do things that it ended up being more interesting than the majority of first-person shooters.
After hours of playing Iron Storm, in search of that one point where everything would just shift from being routine shooting, to requiring some form of brain activity I ended up in a bad mood. Usually playing and reviewing games is fun, but in this particular game it turned into a chore. The missions you’re given are usually just about infiltrating the enemy encampment, getting from start to end; through a legion of enemies. The gameplay is actually so simple and boring that you hardly ever will even have to press the Use button. Instead, you move slowly forward in a maze of trenches, spot an enemy or two, and fill them up with lead. But, what’s funny is how an enemy can take three shotgun shots to the chest without falling over, in close range, while barely “touching” their head instantly kills them! The only response you get when shooting enemies is that they move a little bit backward. There’s no skeletal system like in Soldier of Fortune 2, where shooting someone in the leg would cause them to act accordingly, instead we’re left with a low polygon model that moves a tad backward. It doesn’t feel “good” when shooting a villain, like it did in the Soldier of Fortune games, and for me that’s a decent sign that the game isn’t terrific.
Earlier in the review I mentioned that the AI is very unforgiving. It is, like the graphics, not impressive. The normal functions of the enemy, like moving around in the trench, on the lookout for superheroes, and firing at them, works well enough. However, the AI isn’t always capable of moving the bots around obstacles, so at times you can see them just running at an obstacle non-stop. What’s worse is how the enemy often sees you miles away. Snipers often lie hidden besides rocks, popping up quickly, just to make you life difficult. Usually they see you long before you have any idea where they are at, so in order to get past an area filled with enemies you’re bound to reload again, and again, and again. Medal of Honor: Allied Assault had its share of similar situations, but it felt much better in that game, since it was usually because of a mistake you made and not some sniper with the eye-sight of an eagle.
Sure, some people enjoy a good challenge, but personally I like more depth in the gameplay than pong.
Several great games have disappointing single-player parts. They make up for it by being awesome when played with your pals. Iron Storm isn’t awesome when played with friends, but it does include the basic multiplayer functionality we expect from modern first-person shooters. Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and Capture the Flag are luckily included, but also Isolation Case, which is nice for variation. The levels are generally well made, with plenty of vantage points and fun to be had. Sadly, there are no bots available.
Unlike a few other reviewers on other gaming sites I don’t like this game. It isn’t dreadful the way you think of Arthur’s Quest as dreadful, but it is one of the few first-person shooters that have really annoyed me. Had Iron Storm used the Unreal Tournament 2003 engine for graphics, had it optimized its artificial intelligence to be more realistic and forgiving, and had the missions and their levels been more exciting then I’m sure this could’ve been a great title. Its storyline is fairly decent, but with such a mediocre execution I feel that almost everyone would get much better value for their money by purchasing No One Lives Forever 2, Battlefield 1942 or Unreal Tournament 2003, which are all great action games in their own way.