Developer: Widescreen Games
Release Date: Feb./March '04
Ahh, the Big One. Fought a little over six decades ago, World War 2 threw a monkey wrench into the affairs of the world as superpowers came to blows on three different continents. Of course, none of the participants of the war would have thought that their battles would be recreated countless times by countless video games. One of the newest games to try and recreate some aspects of WW2 is Widescreen Game's Airborne Troops. Instead of casting the player as a mere foot soldier sent forth to the battlefield you play as a Sergeant on a secret mission behind enemy lines where stealth is your only friend and the only thing you can count on is the weapon in your hand.
Airborne Troops is very much so a sneaky, more tactical 3rd person shooter rather than a full-bore action title. Across every level your character can hide in the shadows, sneaking up behind unwitting Nazi's and slamming a knife into their kidneys. Should you get too close to a Nazi no amounts of darkness will save you and they will begin to fire at you, but as long as the enemy forces stay unaware and don't hear gunfire the player can hide in the shadows, analyzing enemy patrol routes and striking when the opportunity arises. When going from place to place you can either run or move in a crouch, the latter of which is slow but totally silent. Running around generates noise, which in turn lets any nearby enemy where you are. Once an enemy sees you and begins to fire you can either return fire or try and run and hide in the shadows, though the latter is much harder as even if enemies lose track of you they no longer move around and rarely stop in a place fit for a silent takedown.
Inevitably there are times that you have to engage in a gunfight and throw stealth to the wind, whether it is due to a mistake, necessity, or simply impatience. The player has a fairly large selection of both American and German weaponry such as the Colt 1911 pistol, the KAR bolt-action rifle, the M1 Garand rifle, and the Thomson submachine gun. Selection of which weapon you are currently using is performed by the mouse wheel, which proves to be cumbersome when you are looking to equip a specific weapon while in the middle of a firefight, especially when you have many guns in your inventory. To fire a weapon you must first press the right mouse button, which brings your weapon to bear and allows you to aim, then actually firing the weapon by pressing the left mouse button. When not in aim mode the left mouse button performs a melee attack with the weapon, which is fairly useless. With the exception of the weapon selection the gunplay feels fairly solid, though the main flaw is the overzealous auto aim. Though your aiming reticule is either a small dot or two brackets it almost takes a conscious effort to miss an enemy. Say for instance you are using a Colt 1911, which has a dot reticule, and want to shoot and explosive barrel behind two Nazis. Instead of using one shot to blow them both to smithereens, you must use the entire clip to kill both of them.
One thing the game does fairly well is eliminating the feeling of linearity as you pass through the games six large levels. Though there is no getting around the fact that you will always get from point A to point B more or less the same way every time you play there are often bombed-out buildings and alleyways you can traverse to take as a shortcut or simply to gain the advantage over an enemy force by scouting out enemy positions before your next move. The same doesn't really go for the indoor levels, as you are simply in one hallway and room after another that don't really look or feel different.
Graphically Airborne Troops is dated by any definition of the word. The game is being developed for both the PS2 and the PC, the latter of which justifies any negative reaction your mind has to the word "port". The resolution is fixed at 800x600, and while that does mean the game runs blazingly fast on nearly any hardware it also means that much of the game's detail is lost. Despite the fixed resolution and the limitations it sets, the levels themselves are not only diverse but are detailed with objects that not only set an authentic feel but make the game look much less bland. In the outdoor levels the player will find boxes, barrels, bits of lumber from destroyed buildings, parked vehicles, and tank stoppers. Indoors, tables are covered with lanterns and bookshelves, cloth-covered crates, and overturned chairs. Character models themselves are about par the course in terms of their overall quality, the texturing could use some more polish while the overall look looks fairly authentic. The animations are done excessively well, which not only look very fluid but also realistic.
Airborne Troop's sounds however have much less going for them. The musical score is decent, the best of which is played on the main menu and really sets the mood, with different songs assigned to different situations in game. While enemies are unaware of your presence a slower, subdued theme plays, whereas in the middle of a firefight the rest of the orchestra kicks in to deliver a much faster and tense song. The sound effects however are almost all of a significantly low quality. Every gunshot, ricochet, near-miss, and explosion sounds like it was taken directly from a generic sound pack, with every sound effect sounding very tinny and packing much less oomph than they should. The only decent sound effect is heard when you sneak up on someone and stab them in the side with the knife. Hopefully more authentic or at least less recycled-sounding effects will be set into place before the game goes gold.
Airborne Troops is still in development and currently lacks a North American publisher, though it does show promise clouded somewhat by potential shortfalls. The auto aim in the gunplay system really needs to be toned down, or at least given the option to adjust or turn it off, as it really makes aiming feel less like a skill and more like a simple affair of pointing and clicking in the very general vicinity of an enemy. The ability to choose resolutions other than 800x600 would be welcomed as well, especially when given the fact gamers want as much detail and as little amount of jaggies as their hardware can muster. The stealth aspect of the game is a one-trick pony, you sneak up and stab Nazis and that's about it, though it never wears on you as it is really about sneaking up on the enemy and using darkness and shadows to your advantage. As a whole, if Airborne Troops stays the course and smoothes over its shortcomings it could prove to be an entertaining title, though admittedly one that will probably remain low key.