Iron Storm Review

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Publisher: DreamCatcher Interactive
Developer: 4x Studio

Platform: PC
Reviewed on PC
Windows System Requirements: Pentium III 500 MHz, 128 MB RAM, 32 MB 3D graphics card, 700 MB HD space

War began in 1914 – the war to end all wars. In 1964, that war is still raging, with both sides entrenched, motionless across the Friedrich line that splits the German provinces. On the western side of the line, the United States of Western Europe man their trenches, occasionally sending progressive waves of young men to their deaths, ministered to only by the wall of machine-gun fire from the trenches of the Russo-Mongol Empire. Led by Baron Nikolai Aleskandrovitch Ugenberg, known as The Khan, since the early days of the war, the Russo-Mongol Empire may be close to developing nuclear arms that could escalate this conflict far beyond the already eighty million dead.

As much as the world needs to see the war end, powerful forces need to see the war continue. Since 1925, the world's many armies have traded on stock exchanges. Speculators and businessmen's fortunes rise and fall with the tide of the war. In a mission kept secret from friend and foe alike, Second Lieutenant James Anderson has been chosen as a desperate effort to stem the bloodshed and turn the tide of war.

Kyle Ackerman

There have been several games recently that have captured a glimpse of the horrors of war, while still making a game that was compelling and entertaining to play. Iron Storm manages to capture the pointlessness of war. This is absolutely the game to pick up for players interested in capturing a fraction of the feelings of anger, frustration, confusion and impotence endemic to foot soldiers in a hopeless battle. This game takes a potentially fascinating setting and some interesting storytelling mechanics and utterly mangles them with problematic gameplay.

Iron Storm is set in the mid-1960's, in a world where The Great War (World War I) has continued unabated for fifty years. You begin in the trenches, have a brief opportunity to wander about your bunker adapting to the controls and environment, and are then thrust into frenetic action. The designers do an excellent job of scripting the opening (once you leave your bunker) to send you headlong into combat, but several of their design choices turn what could be a thrilling introduction into a painful crawl.

Iron Storm can be played as both a first person shooter and a third person action game, but is usually more enjoyable and easier to play from the first person perspective. First person shooters are an established genre, with certain established conventions – particularly with respect to the control scheme. The DreamCatcher version of Iron Storm at least supports "WASD" movement, even if some of the other keys are awkward. Many keys can be remapped with great effort, otherwise it is frustrating and distracting to need to constantly check your configuration in the early game to figure out how to interact. This is sometimes necessary for functions like dropping weapons, leaning, or changing view modes. You should be carried away in the heat of battle, not searching for a keystroke. Furthermore, it is very difficult to actually figure out if objects are usable. It seems there is a magic position relative to any given item that will determine if it is usable or not. That's fine if it is clearly indicated that an object can be used, but it's often (in the early game) not clear if that ammo-crate looking object is decorative, a firing step in a trench, or a usable object. Red crates can be smashed for items, but your commander should indicate that more clearly. Early in play there is a machine gun nest which, if you can take control of the gun, will allow you to fend off an oncoming horde of soldiers, but trying to find the right position to activate the gun is more likely to get you killed than give you access to the heavy armament. Even using a ladder can turn into a major ordeal.

If the controls aren't difficult enough, after being rushed past explosions, the execution of prisoners of war and threatening helicopters, you are immediately killed by snipers. You restart, and are killed by snipers. After some quick save/load repetition, you learn where the sniper is and take him out of action, only to be rewarded with more snipers and explosions that leave your corpse lying silently on the battlefield. Even once you have killed nearly everyone standing in this area of the trenches, it's not entirely clear where you go to reach your first objective. A landmark would be appreciated. All of this combines to create an opening to Iron Storm that could be exciting and impressive, but instead makes the player feel stupid and unskilled. It only aggravates the problem when you discover that the game crashes with some frequency. In certain areas, it's as if the designers declared "We can design something you can't defeat!" Of course, we can defeat it, with a few quick loads, but if we do, the game just crashes and makes us do the sequence over. That's usually the point that you discover a proximity mine and get to play the sequence over yet again. The goal of a good game is usually to make the player feel challenged, while allowing them to succeed, and it's even better if it happens within an interesting narrative framework. If you challenge the player too much, particularly with obstacles that seem unsurpassable, such as preternaturally skilled enemy snipers and crashes to the desktop, you make the player want to play something else.

If, somehow, you can bring yourself to make it past the opening of the game, you discover that Iron Storm really has a superb story. The alternate history of this world eternally at war is deep, detailed and interesting. With a little suspension of disbelief (How could you possibly float the armed forces on the stock market?) it's possible to lose yourself in the dreary world and its history. Research has emphasized military development, so this world of 1964 is considerably more advanced in the fields of computers and miniaturized communications gear. At the same time, enemy machine gun emplacements still have fancy brass flourishes, bringing a 19th century sensibility to 20th century death-dealing. Chlorine and mustard gas grenades are standard issue. Helicopters cruise overhead, and the sound of their rotors and bright searchlights wash over the trenches. One of the more grim lines of research created "mine dogs," which run barking at targets until they explode in a shower of shrapnel and flesh.

The choice to make Iron Storm both a first-person shooter and a third-person action game is interesting. Personally, I found it difficult to play effectively from a third-person view, although that perspective was necessary to use challenging items like ladders. The best part of the third person view is that you get to see how the hero, Mr. Anderson carries the vast array of armaments he wields through the trenches. You can switch between modes as you choose. Either way, the graphics are decent – not spectacular. The whole setting is appropriately atmospheric, evoking the feel of a gritty war, but that means Iron Storm is largely dark, drawn in shades of brown and gray. If other first-person shooters or movies such as Rambo have you wondering what it would be like for one man to take on an army, play Iron Storm. The answer is: you die. Horribly. And repeatedly. Iron Storm takes an exciting alternate history setting, around which a great game could be constructed, and then takes sadistic pleasure in executing you over and over. If you do decide to take the plunge, for your own sake, play on the easy setting.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on January 27, 2003 10:49 AM.

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