War Front: Turning Point Preview

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Publisher: CDV Software Entertainment
Developer: Digital Reality

Platform: PC

The globe-spanning war of War Front: Turning Point is not quite the World War II we read of in the histories of today. Certainly, Hitler rose to power in a Germany still nursing the scars of World War I. True, the Nazi power began its blitzkrieg Westward, sending Europe into a massive conflict. But in the early days of the war, Hitler was assassinated and cooler heads prevailed. Sensing opportunity in the German turmoil, Stalin invaded Eastern Europe, seeking to seize territory from the distracted German forces.

As Europe's Western front found a tentative peace, the combined forces of the United States and the United Kingdom found themselves fighting alongside the Germans to combat the mounting Russian threat. Now, with the Russian army poised to roll through Europe, the war has indeed reached its...turning point.

Projected Release: September 29, 2006

Kyle Ackerman

PC gamers have seen more than their share of WWII-themed games – from first-person shooters to real-time strategy games – pretty much everything short of a WWII-themed dating simulation. First-person shooters have given us a cinematic and heroic take on the war's most famous battles, while turn-based strategy games have recreated every unit and supply line down to the most trivial detail. So what remains for WWII? Alternate history.

War Front: Turning Point begins with basic tanks, concrete pillboxes and conventional infantry, but the game's alternate take on the war is soon upgraded to a combination of the fanciful, the amusing and the obscenely destructive. After progressing up the game's tech tree, gamers are plunged into a war in which "mechanized infantry" are massive battle skeletons with mounted rockets, huge zeppelins ride the air currents to perform devastating strikes, and a simple vodka salesman can be enough to blunt the attack of an enemy's armored division.

A War of the Past With the Weapons of Today

Even after considerable play time on the current build, the game is still entertaining – mixing the lighthearted fun and fast pace of the Command & Conquer series with the staggeringly powerful heroes of a Warcraft III and a simplified resource management system. For all three playable sides (the Russians, Germans and U.S./U.K. force) there is only one "generic" resource that's collected from mines or oil fields. Everyone needs to have enough of certain buildings (such as HQs) to support a given number of units, and the Russians and Germans need to ensure they have sufficient energy to power their buildings. U.S./U.K. buildings are self-powered, but if the other sides don't have enough power, research and unit production slow down – a potentially fatal problem.

The three sides each have unique characters, and support very different play styles. The U.S./U.K. forces have strong ground troops, but are primarily an air power – they function best when dominating the skies with enough supporting ground forces to eliminate anti-aircraft perils. The Germans are well-rounded technophiles, easily able to dominate the ground with powerful tanks and armored exoskeletons. The Russians, in contrast, emphasize cheap and expendable units that rely on numbers and the synergies with other units to crush the opposition. And ice tanks that freeze opposing units. A Russian ground force, surrounded by propaganda towers, with a vodka dealer behind them, spurring them into an alcohol-fueled fighting frenzy, are a sight to behold.

The game's technology tree has three tiers. The first tier provides the player with basic starting troops that are soon outclassed. The second tier yields more combat-worthy staple troops, while the third tier offers an amusing array of resource-intensive super-weapons. This is the level where players acquire heavily armed zeppelins, impenetrable energy shields, guns the size of railroad cars, or even nuclear weapons that turn portions of the battlefield into an impassible glassy plain. While all three sides are available for multiplayer, the game will ship with two campaigns following the Germans and the U.S./U.K. forces as they resist the Russian incursion, making a Russian campaign fodder for a possible expansion.

Muster Heroes Against Live Opponents

For hardcore real-time strategists, single-player modes are just a warm-up for the inevitable matches against live opponents, and War Front's multiplayer is what will keep you glued to the keyboard. War Front is at its best when teams of players slug it out on the game's many battlefields. A few hours of hands-on time in War Front's multiplayer battles had people shouting across the table and gloating over every annihilated unit. But the tides of battle can shift fast – one guy hadn't even finished crowing about nuking another player's forward base when his own base was destroyed and he was eliminated from the game.

Certainly, the game still has some balancing and tweaking left before release, but the gameplay was solid and a day of multiplayer action was only enough to get an inkling of all the possible strategies and gambits – there's plenty still to discover after the game's release.

In the style of games such as Warcraft III, War Front offers each of the three sides three heroes. As these heroes gain experience, they can improve their abilities, making them into staggeringly powerful single units. That experience can be spent on passive abilities that empower nearby units and debuff enemies, or on active abilities that can steal enemy vehicles or destroy entire buildings. Suffice it to say, these heroes win battles, forcing other players to compensate for nasty surprises and shifting strategies.

By the Flicker of a Molotov Cocktail

Visually, the game is spectacular, offering everything players expect from the latest PC games, but the detailed animations are the most impressive. The Russian war factories sport massive crucibles that melt metal and pour the molten mixture with a rush of smoke. A Katyusha rocket launcher will send a barrage of vivid rockets to viciously pound oncoming armor. And the effects get really impressive when you witness nuclear attacks or the blue glow of the American impenetrable energy shields. War Front includes night battles. There's always a "fog of war" effect – enemy units out of your sightlines are hidden from view – but nighttime battles take the fog of war to pea soup-like thickness. At night, different tech upgrades take priority. Russian troops will need the flashlight upgrade and the German infantry will be thankful for their flares. At night, an expeditionary force can stumble right across a pillbox with little warning, so it's all the more imperative to keep your units together and in a full state of fighting readiness.

Pull the Trigger Yourself

There's one more feature that sets War Front apart from other RTS titles – the ability to take control over turrets. Every side has machines guns, anti-tank guns and anti-aircraft emplacements, and the player can step in and control those guns from a first-person perspective. Much of the time, this is only a gimmick, as RTS games treat your time as the most precious resource of all. That makes it hard to spare the time to sit behind the barrel of a cannon.

On very rare occasions, this feature can be the difference between victory and defeat. Not only is the player's range longer, but a player-controlled turret gets a 50% damage bonus. This can forestall defeat when that extra damage destroys the last unit your enemy was using to raze your base, allowing time to rebuild. It can also be entertaining in the early game if an anti-tank gun is built within (player-controlled) range of another player's base, allowing for an easy, early victory. War Front: Turning Point is a good looking game with great multiplayer potential, and three very different sides powered by exceptional heroes and dramatic technological advances. If, by chance, you were put off by Digital Reality's early effort, Desert Rats Vs. Afrika Korps, have no fear. This alternate-realty WWII offers a great alternative for RTS fans everywhere.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on August 10, 2006 6:51 PM.

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