Germany's National Socialist party of the 1930s and 1940s was a bad bunch, that much is historically established. If there's been any silver lining to the entire Nazi movement, it's that the modern PC gaming industry has a free-range "thug" template that is reviled to such an extent that we never seem to grow weary of digitally killing them, or of finding new ways to vilify them even further. Apparently, the slaughter of 11 million European people just wasn't quite nasty enough, and so we love to point and laugh at the widely rumored supernatural experiments that the Nazi Schutzstaffel were dabbling in, trying to create the ultimate killing machine ... an "Ubersoldier," if you will.
Now there was plenty of action all over the globe during the events of World War II, but for some reason, we keep seeing a focus on the European theatre – France and Germany, with some Belgium and maybe Russia for flavor. Oddly, you'd think a Russian development team would look to the epic battles of the motherland when cooking up a first-person shooter set in this timeframe, but in this case, Burut went in much the same direction that Grey Matter went with Return to Castle Wolfenstein. In this unnatural FPS, you play a German special operations trooper who is killed in an ambush by German resistance fighters, resurrected by insane SS doctors as part of the "Ubersoldier" project, liberated by the same German resistance fighters who killed you in the first place, and used as a spearhead for their efforts to put an end to the very same Ubersoldier project that brought you back from the dead. Luckily for the freedom fighters, SS zombies don't dwell much on circular logic or hold much of a grudge.
Part of the whole "coming back from the dead" package includes powers some consider to be ... unnatural. The most blatant of these is a force-shield that stops all bullets in and out. Similar to Neo "The One" Anderson, you don't need to dodge bullets; you can just stop them in mid-air. If enemies want to bum-rush you and pull a knife, that still works because the barrier doesn't stop a human from running up to you to shank you. As the old saying goes, though, "Don't bring a knife to a gunfight," and thus the barrier remains extremely effective in getting through masses of enemies because they generally never think to use their bayonets and just keep shooting at you. How this has anything to do with being undead is still largely unclear, as is why this portable wall gets stronger each time you score three headshots in a row. It sure looks nifty though, and it certainly clarifies why the resistance wants you to take point in all their sabotage efforts.
While we're on the topic of things that look good, the graphics of Ubersoldier are a generally quite high-quality. The character models are curious; some are amazing examples of 3D realism, others look somewhat blocky and don't seam together smoothly, and a few just look completely unfinished, with texture surfaces that have no detail at all. Also, most of the enemies use a single facial mask, leading you to believe that cloning was much more common back then than it is now. In contrast, the environment textures are consistently detailed in a spectacularly gritty way, quite similar to those used in Painkiller. The entire game world looks used and real, especially in areas of heavy industrial output, like the naval shipyards. Finally, we have the weapon models. These obviously received a great deal of TLC, so it's a shame that Burut couldn't seem to have any success with the hands. At times, it almost looks like pink lego is gripping the stock of your Sturmgewehr 44 assault rifle, and not the leathern digits of a hardened SS automaton.
The excessive ragdoll physics is easily the best part of Ubersoldier. Huge explosions are a commonplace occurrence, and bodies fly with reckless abandon in a way that by all rights should be greatly disturbing. Thanks to the over-saturation of violence in the media, however, we can all kick back and have a good sadistic belly-laugh as Jurgen the hapless Untersturmführer is thrown so violently into a wall by an exploding 40-gallon fuel barrel that his spine telescopes and his lifeless corpse attains an almost elegant malformation. It's not gristly death; it's art! Wry commentary aside, this is probably the best (and most eerie) use of ragdoll I've yet seen in an FPS.
So far, everything seems to be in place for a good time, but sadly Ubersoldier falls apart as soon as you hear the voice acting. Let us paraphrase: you're playing a German, killed by Germans, resurrected by Germans, liberated by Germans to fight Germans. "Meine Leiben!" you might say, "Deutchland, Deutchland, uber alles" indeed. How strange then that all the enlisted military yell at you with a southern drawl, and stranger still that all officer classes speak with an emotionless British accent. This is one game that I feel very strongly should have been acted out 100% in German with English subtitles, but alas … "I'm gunna gitchew reb'll" is what we're treated to instead. I do wish I could have been in the room when Burut decided this was the wiser course of action than a more authentic array of voices.
Further throwing things off the scale of "fun" is the AI. To be fair, it's quite good once you're in a protracted fight; NPCs will attempt to use cover and avoid your assaults whenever possible, while seeking the best possible position to retaliate. What is most bothersome, however, is the heavy use of scripted ambushes; at all times, the enemy knows exactly who you are, where you are, and when to pop out of doors, through windows, or out of manholes to attack you. After roughly three levels, the precognizant habits of the Nazi infantry become almost abstract. One wonders how they could have possibly lost World War II with such an acute sense of anticipation.
Ubersoldier isn't bad, and considering the fact that it's a debut release speaks volumes. There are many veteran development teams that put out less playable titles than this one, and it's a budget title as well, which works heavily in its favor. However, the similarities to Return to Castle Wolfenstein, the laughably poor voice acting, the distracting AI, and the terribly unfortunate inclusion of the Starforce copy restriction system makes this a harder game to recommend than it should be. If you're a die-hard fan of the FPS genre and an even die-harder fan of the mystical, supernatural mythology of WW2, then by all means, grab this title as soon as you can. If not, then you may want to put it off until it comes down significantly from its initial retail price.
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