Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Developer: Best Way
Release Date: Q4 2005
A while back, the running gag was that there were few things more enjoyable in a video game than lighting Nazis in fire. You know, SS troops running around frantically trying to put themselves out, that kind of thing. The development studio Best Way isn't exactly a household name on the interactive entertainment market, and although their previous title Soldiers: Heroes of World War II did manage to turn some heads of its own, Outfront II looks like it has the potential to really let Best Way leave their mark amongst the crowd.
In Outfront II, you control a squad of five soldiers (with the possibility of that number fluctuating somewhat) in the European theatre of World War II. You can give general orders to your squad and watch them react accordingly, and set a variety of commands such as movement speed or combat stance, but one of the more interesting features of Outfront II is the ability to take direct control of one of your soldiers. In direct control, you aim using the mouse button and move using the keyboard, not totally unlike a third-person shooter. In this mode, your fellow soldiers will generally follow your lead, thanks to fairly intelligent AI.
One thing is for certain though; the AI's intelligence isn't just limited to friendly soldiers. Enemy troops will realistically try to flank you, ambush you, lead you into traps, roll grenades under vehicles at you, and numerous other situations where you can't help but rue the AI's tactful strategies. If you throw a grenade into a room containing an enemy unit, that soldier will do his best to sprint away from the impending danger and take the closest cover he can reach. The AI intelligence on both sides of the conflict was fairly impressive, and lacked the strict and rigid look that usually plagues complicated AI units in games.
Each soldier has his own inventory, and while the player has the responsibility of making sure his soldiers are properly equipped with enough weaponry and ammunition, the player also has the ability to outfit the soldiers as necessary by scavenging supplies from dead enemy soldiers. The inventories are laid out in a grid-based system similar to Diablo's style, with weapons and other supplies each taking its own amount of grid space. To fill this space, soldiers can carry and wield machine guns, rifles, pistols, grenades, bazookas, flamethrowers, and other infantry weaponry of the time period. To this end, players can truly customize their squad to their liking, choosing to give rifles to all of their men or instead giving some of them flamethrowers and machine guns to balance out the squad.
The environment itself can be interacted with in so many ways that it can almost be considered a character unto itself. Every building in the title is wildly destructible, with individual sections of walls able to be broken down or blown apart all the way to the point that you can level an entire house to its foundation. Another interesting and ridiculously enjoyable feature is the flamethrower's inherent ability to light things on fire, and pretty much anything at that. Houses that catch fire will slowly burn down, flames will spread from grass to trees, trees to houses, much like fire in the real world spreads. You could effectively make a flamethrower unit send an arc of flame to cover a retreat or to bottleneck an enemy advance, as a wall of fire is a rather imposing obstacle. In the wintry levels, tanks can fall through the ice on frozen lakes, and all units will slide around a bit.
The graphics engine retains the overall look that Soldiers set forth but is much more detailed and polished overall. The units themselves are detailed, and their equipment worn on their uniform changes depending on what is in their inventory. The environment as a whole is fairly detailed as well, lending a feel of authenticity to the landscape of the battlefield. The special effects are really where the game is detailed: the windows of burning houses shatter due to the pressure buildup inside, flame itself spreads realistically from object to object, smoke and explosions look fluffy and volumetric, and in general, there are plenty of things to catch your eye.
Overall Outfront II looks to be a fairly strong title, and appealing to both fans of the direct control action and fans of the more tactical squad-based RTS style of play. Graphically, the game looks immersive thanks to a plethora of little details that all add up, but the real draw comes in the relatively deep and yet still easy-to-understand gameplay. Look for more information as it nears its European release date, and cross your fingers that it finds a North American publisher as well.