Iron Storm is set in 1964, in a world where World War I never ended, and countries have been embroiled in warfare for the past 50 years. The Great War, as it has been dubbed, has no end in sight, and mankind seems to be condemned to eternal warfare, until the inconceivable is discovered. An unscrupulous military-industrial consortium is speculating on the armies quoted on the stock exchange: the longer the war lasts, the richer the consortium becomes. A handful of men and women have now revolted, with a goal of throwing off the yoke of tyranny and restoring peace. To do this, they must first find the consortium and destroy it …
The concept of alternate histories has intrigued me ever since I saw the 1994 Rutger Hauer movie, Fatherland (a movie that's coincidentally also situated in 1964, which shows a world where Nazi Germany won World War II). The movie itself wasn't too spectacular (much like the cut scenes in the game), but the idea and concept were what made the movie VERY interesting and original (again, like the game).
The player is Lt. Anderson (in the European version of Iron Storm, you are Lt. Weasel, aka Wiz), and your objective is to infiltrate and destroy key enemy positions deep behind enemy lines. You fight on the side of the Occidental-Americans (the banner/flag is a nice mix between the US Stars & Stripes and the European flag), fighting off a "modern-day Genghis Khan" who wants to create a EurAsian Empire. You are assisted by your female operator, who stays in contact through your headset and gives you frequent mission updates and hints. From time to time, you will also be accompanied by a few team members to assist you in a scripted way (or serve as cannon meat).
The cut scenes are decent, although NPC skins are not very detailed. The game intro is quite nice, with a Saving Private Ryan-caliber assault, with troops climbing out of the trenches to rush a bunker, only to get mowed down by a heavy machine gun. Get the gruesome picture? It becomes clear quite fast that the main focus here is on the story and the actual gameplay; the movies are just there to tie the story together from mission to mission. Once you start playing, you don't really have too much time to pay attention to facial details anyhow. The grenades and bullets are flying around you, bombs are detonating everywhere, and you hear the shells fall while helicopters circle the sky. There is plenty of gore to be seen when either you or an NPC steps on land mines or gets caught by any type of grenade. Limbs start flying, blood splatters on the walls … pure carnage (although not nearly as detailed as the stuff we saw in Soldier Of Fortune II). The tone is set right off the bat.
The game can be played in 1st or 3rd person view (whichever you fancy), and the resolution ranges from a low 640*480 to 1024*768 in full 32-bit mode with all the bells and whistles. This may still be WWI, but time has not stood still; there have been technological advances, and some serious revolutionary weapons have been developed. In 3rd person view, it's great to see Lt. Anderson actually reaching over his shoulder to grab and change weapons (all of the weapons that he carries are visible from the back). "Some" of the weapons you can find/carry are a Russian short sabre, a Heckler & Koch MP-6 "Wotan" assault pistol with a silencer fitted, a Remington M910 "Bull's Eye" shotgun, a M203 40mm "Clovis" grenade launcher, flame thrower and antipersonnel and magnetic mines. You also have two types of hand grenades, one that obscures your vision - and your opponents' - and a lethal nerve gas that instantly kills your enemies. Unfortunately, there are hardly any weapon animations (great muzzle flashes though) when you change/refresh ammunition. While the audio effects and hand movement are all there, you never see Lt.Anderson actually taking out or putting in a cartridge of ammo.
The level design is very well done, with plenty of ammo, health and little hidden areas to be found. 4X studio's new PHOENIX 3D engine shows just how well an in-house engine can handle large outdoor maps as well as indoor/street fights. There is no specific path that needs to be followed, but staying in the trenches gives you good cover from fellow snipers waiting for you to stick out your head so they can put a round through it. The end of the first level is getting underground access to a church, which is cleverly positioned with the sun behind it, conveniently blinding you most of the time and making it hard to approach. You will encounter various weather types (rain, snow and dry heat) and complete night as well as day missions.
The game will bring you to the Friedrich line (the Western front), the Anton Denikin line (the Russo-Mongol front), the "Tzar Ivan" armored train, Wolfenburg (an enemy-occupied town), the Mad Baron's heavy water factory and the Reichstag in Berlin facing enemies like Kazakhs, Storm troopers, Sturmpionners, Siberians, Soldiers of the Guard, Eastern Special Forces and Kobolds.
Not much can be said about the sound in the game, apart from the fact that it is really good and adds A LOT to the atmosphere of the game. There is a constant sound of incoming artillery, explosions, machine gun fire in the background. The individual speech of the characters is well done, and the German and Russian speech is actually real and authentic, even if you don't know what they are saying, but that's what the subtitles are for. There is a wide range of bullet impact sounds (ripping through flesh, hitting walls or metal), and footsteps sound realistic and change according to the ground covering you walk on (snow, dust, metal).
In total, there are going to be six levels, but they are pretty large in size and are, of course, split up into sub-missions (four sub-missions per level). There is only the possibility of playing the game as a campaign; there aren't any skirmish missions to practice. The multiplayer part of the game looks solid, and with up to 19 players, it will add a lot of replay value to the game (with the usual three multiplayer modes: Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Capture the Flag). The Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch both use the same maps, based on single player designs but highly modified while Capture The Flag mode uses new maps different than singleplayer of Deathmatch one's. The CTF maps are especially cool when you switch to 3rd person view. When you get to the other team's flag you see it waving beautifully while you run back to your own base, very nice! You will be able to choose from nine different character skins to battle it out with friends over LAN or INET (provided through the GameSpy service).
This is still a beta (although 90% finished), so some changes can - and hopefully will - be made, but at this point, I found the AI path-finding mechanism to be desperately lacking. Often, you can see enemies being stuck in corners, climbing up ladders, or skywalking (characters run/walk but they do not move). Let's hope that this gets some much-needed attention. On the other hand, the enemy AI is solid as a rock, and it lifts the game to a higher level. Your occasional team members will assist you by giving you cover or taking out enemies on their own while the enemies hide to reload, use grenades to flush you out or call for backup if they feel they are in a losing situation. Enemy snipers will often patiently wait for you to come out so they can end your miserable life from afar. Speaking about miserable, the entire set of maps has an appropriately totally miserable look, but not in a BAD way. Consider the fact that a war has been waging on for 50 years, and try to imagine everything blown to pieces, rubble everywhere, and trenches being the main means of getting around. The game has a dark and gloomy feel, emphasized by the fact that you have to make your way through torn-apart houses, puddles of mud, underground tunnels, and bunkers while getting past massive hordes of Germans, helicopters, rocket launchers, machine guns, tanks and other diabolical devices.
It is good to see that DreamCatcher is taking a chance and making a detour from their adventure road to the more serious work with an original concept game. After Gore, Iron Storm is possibly their second sleeper hit of the year. Helped by its strong AI, Iron Storm is an addictive game that kept me playing and kept me coming back for more. DreamCatcher usually retails their games at a VERY reasonable price of $29, which can almost be considered a budget price in the days of $40-$50 games, but it sure offers a BIG-budget game for its modest price. A little tweaking, and I can easily recommend this game to every FPS fan ... a must buy!