Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Developer: Digital Reality
Release Date: February 2007
We recently got to try our hand at being armchair strategists with CDV Software's upcoming War Front, a real-time strategy game based on an altered history version of World War II. While the terms "World War II" and "RTS" have appeared together numerous times as descriptors to titles with both markedly high and dubiously low quality and value, War Front comes across as somewhat fresh, if not traditional, thanks to the blending of your standard tried-and-true RTS gameplay and content. While based on The Big One, this combination manages to throw most conventions associated with World War II out the window and instead runs with an alternate, almost-stylized version of the war.
In War Front, the general footnotes of the historically accurate version of World War II remain intact, such as how the Americans fought alongside the British to fend off and eventually fight back the Germans while the Russians fought and held their ground on the eastern front. There are still Sherman and Panzer tanks as you would expect, the technology looks very early '40s, and the uniforms on each side are about what you would expect from your standard GI or German infantryman.
The deviations come in the form of the slightly altered (at the very beginning of either the Allied or German campaign, a battle is fought inside of London), to the technically possible (Germans have infantry squads that utilize jet packs to fly quickly from place to place, and the Allies have Sherman tanks equipped with racks of rockets), to the deliciously absurd. The idea seems to be that while the core of the game is still technically Allies versus Axis, you are not doing so with the same tired WWII-based content used in similar RTS games and are instead waging war with fresher concepts that are loosely based upon reality, without adhering strictly to it.
Base building in War Front is very similar to that of your standard Command and Conquer titles in that you have a variety of buildings that each serve a distinct purpose, and you have an economy driven by resources such as money and power. Allied buildings don't need power but cost more money to build, while German buildings cost less but require a base's power output to be functional. Regardless of which side you play as, you need to first have a headquarters created, which builds your engineer unit. In turn, the engineer unit goes on to create your barracks for infantry production, war factories for armored units, and other units such as radar stations to upgrade the capabilities of your mini-map and defensive positions, such as bunkers, anti-tank guns, and anti-aircraft guns.
A unique feature of War Front comes in the form of the ability to man your base's defenses personally, putting your viewpoint into a fairly realistic first-person gunnery seat in one of the aforementioned anti-tank or anti-aircraft guns. Aside from being an interesting way to defend your base, manually controlling these emplacements from a first-person perspective has its own pros and cons. While controlling an emplacement, the structure is much more capable, and it's both more accurate and deals nearly twice as much damage, on top of just being fun. However, while you are doing so, you cannot control your units or the rest of your base whatsoever, so it's a trade-off for those who love to micromanage.
One of the things that War Front brings to the table that is noteworthy is a rather able-bodied graphics engine capable of both the standard nuts and bolts, such as detailed textures and modeling, as well as a realistic shadowing and lighting system. Day and night cycles back and forth as you play on a quite accelerated rate, and while in single-player, this only really amounts to eye candy and spotlights mounted on the bases scanning around themselves for dramatic effect. It can be fairly easily construed that in multiplayer, a night assault under the cover of a forest might be particularly advantageous to a cunning player. The lighting and shadowing deserve special mention and really bring a look to the game that belies its "still in development" status. It can be difficult to resist the urge to just rotate the camera around a tank and look at how it self-shadows onto itself or to admire an intricately modeled church during the orange glow of the evening light.
There are a few rough spots here and there in War Front, but for a preview build, the title seemed rather close to the quality one would expect from a final release, and most of the polish seems to be in place. Granted the voice-overs can lose sync here and there, and while manning an emplacement, the hit boxes around trees can be massive, but by and large, those two bugs, which are presumably easily fixed, were the only hindrance to War Front's somewhat-unique RTS gameplay. One only wishes the same could be said for a good chunk of similarly-styled real-time strategy titles on the market.
While the statement that, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," is more often true than not, there's no rule against altering it to taste, and if the preview build is any indication, War Front is shaping up to be a rather admirable World War II-based real-time strategy title for the gamer who is weary of the strictly historical stance taken by so many other titles and just wants something with a focus on entertainment. Keep an eye on War Front as it nears its ship date.
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