Reviews

Enemy Front Review – On The Frontlines Of Mediocrity

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Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Reviewed On: PC
Developer: City Interactive
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Singleplayer: Yes
Mutliplayer: No

Having once been flooded with a seemingly never-ending wave of shooters set during WWII it almost feels strange to once again be staring down the barrel of an MP40 in City Interactive’s latest title, Enemy Front, a game which makes incredibly bold promises on its Steam page it cannot hope to keep. Despite the sales jargon, this is not ” first truly modern WW2 FPS, featuring stunning visuals, open-ended levels and a richly interactive combat experience.”

Primarily tracking the events that took place in Warsaw during World War II Enemy Front attempts to tackle far lesser known chunk of the war, providing the chance for the Polish development team to give us a unique and fascinating look at their country’s history. This, however, is quickly shown to be a wasted opportunity as we’re introduced to Robert Hawkins, an American journalist lacking any discernible personality. Given the choice to tackle an area of the war relatively unknown by the majority of people, why oh why must we once again be saddled as an American? Worse, an American that within the space of an hour somehow becomes a great figure within the Polish war efforts, effortlessly pushing the resistance forward through his fantastic combat skills which he learned from…uh, nowhere.

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The basic premise is that Hawkins goes from douchebag reporter simply hanging around for the story, to genuinely supporting the resistance and actively fighting with them, broadcasting their story via radio to the rest of the world. Aside from the fact that City Interactive opted to go for the typical American lead character where it was not needed, it’s a solid setup for the story, but the writing is painfully thin throughout, throwing Hawkins from scenario to scenario with minimal connection. While most of the game focuses on Warsaw, Hawkins somehow also gets involved in resistance cells across Europe, each story told via flashback. His journey from moron to bonified resistance member is poor, as Hawkins motivations or reasoning is never explored, leaving his transformation feeling completely empty. Why didn’t he care about the resistance to begin with? How did he come to respect them? “Pfft, no idea!” shouts the game as it throws you into the next level.

As a reporter the best moments of the game’s narrative should have come from Hawkins radio broadcasts, perfect opportunities to provide a unique telling of the story of Warsaw. Sadly, though, these few moments are pitifully short and fall flat due to Hawkins having the personality of an onion. As an apparent war correspondent, it seems baffling that his radio transmissions contain exactly zero information on the current situation. He provides no insight into the resistance, no updates on how the effort is going or what they’ve been doing. He fails to talk about the struggle, the difficulties facing them or anything of importance, instead opting to throw out a couple of vague lines.

Those that surround Hawkins are equally lacking personality, a minimal amount of dialogue and screen-time giving them not even the remotest chance of becoming interesting with horrid voice-acting to boot. Just who are these brave resistance fighters that took on the Germans? Hell, for that matter what were their names? The narrative is so weak as to be almost laughable, a wasted opportunity to deliver something different, something powerful. It all wraps up in a rather anti-climatic ending around 5-6 hours after you star playing.

Naturally shooting is the name of the game here, so it’s good that the weapons feel universally nice to use, packing a decent wallop and satisfying audio, although the MP40 has a strange glitch in which single shots don’t use the correct sound. It’s the rifles that manage to steal the show, especially those of the sniper variety, which is perhaps unsurprising given City Interactive develops the Sniper: Ghost Warrior series. The controls are a tad sluggish and floaty, with  walking speed is annoying slow, but though these things do somewhat tarnish the game they’re not overly problematic. Still, they could certainly do with being tightened up, and the default movement speed increased.

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Far more of a  problem is the brain-dead AI who are incapable of attempting even basic flanking maneuvers. The German soldiers you fight against have a worrying habit of standing in the open or sprinting across open spaces when they need to be hunkering down, making defeating them a cinch even on the hardest difficulty, and that’s if they actually decide to move at all, as just sticking to a patch of ground a few feet across seems to be their primary tactic, turning battles into a shooting gallery. When they do manage to get a grip on the situation you can soak up considerable damage. Even on the hardest difficulty it’s entirely possible to stand behind a wall with the entire of your torso visible, and gun down every enemy while taking fire, completely taking away the sense of danger.  It’s also to possible to abuse the AI by simply hiding round a corner and killing the soldiers as they blindly come charging round to see where you went, each soldier clearly witnessing the death of his comrade in front but choosing to copy his fate anyway. Likewise you can sit at the top of some stairs or  behind a doorway and allow the opposition to come storming through.  The lack of challenging foes quickly saps the enjoyment out of the combat.

A couple of other problems are worth noting. Upon hitting an enemy a white X will show, while a red X indicates that you’ve killed them, but the game has a bad habit of mixing these two up, and thus on several occasions I was almost gunned down by an enemy it claimed was dead. Furthermore, enemies usually don’t visually react to anything less than a kill-shot, making your vicious sounding rifle feel considerably less awesome.

The health system needs some work, as well. Enemy Front opts for the standard regenerating health system with the edges of the screen turning slowly red to indicate how much damage you’ve taken, but it does a poor job of telling you how close to death you actually are.

From time to time you’ll come across opportunities to kill Nazis using the environment, such as cutting the brakes on a truck so that it rolls down a hill or shooting the metal holding rods on a pile of logs so that they crush a passing patrol. These bring a nice dynamic touch to whatever levels they’re included in, but are incredibly underutilized throughout the entirety of the, only occasionally appearing.

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Another feature that seemingly got forgotten about during development and therefore only appears sporadically the opportunity to make a small decision. In the opening hour of the game, for example, you’ll be asked to choose between taking an MP40 or a Kar rifle, saving a parson or grabbing the explosives first and then between either sneaking into a church via catacombs or blowing through the wall. However, past this point choices seem to fade away, and only reappear occasionally. Furthermore it’s clear that the development team either did not have the money or the time to fully utilise these moments, as the choices you get to make amount to little in the grand scheme of things. Choose to save the parson, and you’ll still have to go get the explosives after. Opt to blow the wall to the church, and it just means entering from a slightly different direction. Later on choosing to provide sniper cover merely means a grand total of about a minute difference in how the level plays out. Fully fleshed out these choices could have provided replay value, and made the game far more interesting.

While simply shooting every Nazi in sight is the most straightforward approach, stealth is actually a viable alternative, the relatively open level design giving you plenty of opportunities to sneak past enemies without being seen or picking  them off from the shadows. At the most basic level you have a standard takedown move which doesn’t alert any nearby enemies, despite the gurgling sounds of someone having their throat slit. This method of dispatching a foe leaves you vulnerable for far too long, though, making it awkward to use unless you can truly be sure that nobody is going to come round the corner in the next 30-seconds or so, while the clumsy, stiff animation lacks the savagery of something like Far Cry 3′. The bodies of those you’ve knifed or shot can be picked up and hidden in a dark corner somewhere, but again picking someone up feels too slow, as does the movement speed the game allows when carrying a corpse. Enemy Front would have benefitted greatly from raiding Far Cry’s moveset and incorporating the ability to kill and drag an enemy into one seamless move. Indeed, as it stands the standard melee attack actually kills enemies instantly, making it considerably more effective and potentially encouraging the player to sneak up on foes from the side in order to use rather than the takedown.

Your stealth arsenal is bolstered by a couple of weapons that include silencers, such as a single-shot pistol and a submachine gun, and being able to throw rocks to cause a brief distraction. By far the most entertaining stealth feature is being able to time shots with things like the screeching of a train’s brakes, a tannoy or planes going overhead, using the loud noise to mask your gunshot. Naturally the developer’s tend to leave a sniper rifle around for those sections, and indeed they present some of Enemy Front’s finest moments. There’s just something awesome about using the binoculars to pick out a lone enemy, lining up a shot and then waiting for the loudspeakers to fire up, using the noise to pop a headshot. Nice.

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Speaking of the binoculars that’s one area in which Enemy Front does take a leaf out of the Far Cry book, although of course Ubisoft’s open-world shooter is hardly the only game to use the tactic. By staring at an enemy through the binoculars you can “tag” them and thereby keep an eye on their movements. Strangely, though, tagged enemies don’t show up on the mini-map as well, which feels like a strange choice.

Stealth also encourages you to check out the levels a little more than the straight shooting does, which is great as this is one of the few areas Enemy Front manages to separate itself from the rest of the field a little.The third level of the game is easily the best example of this and Enemy Front at its clear best; a high vantage point gives you the chance to scope out the upcoming group of buildings and enemies. Heading off to the left at the beginning lets you sneak through a river to a sniper rifle hidden in a wheelhouse, giving you a good opportunity to pick some Germans off or to simply grab a weapon that could come in handy, while going right rewards you with a silenced pistol. The areas are small, but have enough space to move around and try a couple of different methods of progressing. Continue through the level and two side-missions pop-up, the first asking you to help out some resistance members who are under fire, the reward being another chance for a sniper rifle and a trench gun to boot. A bit further on you’re presented with a chance to save a resistance member about to be executed by firing squad, the dilemma being that to save him you’re going to have to become embroiled in a full-on firefight, as stealth isn’t an option.

It’s just a shame that Enemy Front struggles to keep this level of quality in its level, with only a few more brief flashes on something great. Levels become less interesting while secondary objectives almost disappear, helping our resistance fighters replaced with far more boring missions that provide no reward or reason to complete them, past the game asking you to. Still, the levels are open enough to allow you to breathe far more than we usually see with todays tighter, scripted shooters, although you’ll still find yourself stuck in quite a few confined and considerably less interesting areas.  The game describes itself as being open-ended, but its far from that.

Going the sneaky route is by far the more enjoyable way to tackle Enemy Front as it largely avoids the AI issues. It’s a barebones system with nothing in the way of nuance, but stealth has a nice, simple flow to it. A meter provides a guide as to when an enemy can see you, and the time given to duck into cover or hide in a bush feels fair. Sneaking up behind an enemy also grants the ability to take them hostage, where you can then gun down his comrades with a pistol or slit his throat, a tactic which is actually faster than the regular stealth takedowns.

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Scattered around the place are boringly named Secrets, which…do nothing. Collecting them serves no purpose, a missed opportunity, perhaps, to present us with some historical facts about the situations we find ourselves in. You can also draw the symbol of the resistance on certain walls, but again there’s no actual reason to bother doing this.

Graphically the game is pretty good,  running on the usually impressive CryEngine 3, although barely putting a dent in what its capable of. Textures are a little weak and character models more so, while animations are wooden, with lip-syncing in particular being incredibly poor. But overall the game looks solid when running at the highest settings, and there’s some nice detail in the weapon reloads, with each one having two animations depending on whether the clip is empty or partially empty, a nice touch. The art-direction in regards to some of the locations is quite good, and a strong color-palette full of vibrant colors is a welcome change from the drab shooters that we normally get to see. The presentation really stumbles, though, during cutscenes, which look crap.

For those with a competitive mind there’s an incredibly barebones multiplayer offering here that feels like it was included merely to conform to the norm. There’s a grand total of three modes – deathmatch, team deathmatch and Transmission, where you capture and hold points – that take place on just four maps, although they are very well designed maps, it must be said. That’s not exactly a lot of content to sink your teeth into, and even this soon after launch its damn near impossible to get a full game, making testing it for this review a little tricky. If you do find a game you’re in for a mildly enjoyable but completely average experience. This is as straightforward as multiplayer shooting gets, and I’d be surprised if you sink more than a few hours into it.

You may not even make it that far, though, due to the genuinely atrocious spawning system. In my first game I died a total of 17 times, 12 of which were immediately upon spawning. The game spawned me in the same spot five times in a row, right across the street from a sniper who quickly introduced my skull to some bullets. There’s just a couple of spawn points per map and the game has a very nasty habit of throwing you into the game right next to an enemy, making for a frustrating experience. Only Transmission partially escapes this as both teams spawn at opposite ends of the map, though spawn killing is still possible.

There’s other problems, too. There’s no map rotation on the servers, so in order to launch a new map the host must shut down the server and fire up a new one, which is baffling. There’s also no method of switching teams, and players cannot join a game that’s in progress, so if you get stuck battling a team of six on your own then prepare yourself for a miserable time. There’s a baffling glitch that causes a cursor to appear in-game after playing a single multiplayer match, and there’s no way of getting rid of it apart from restarting the game entirely. It’s not a huge problem, but it is distracting and is simply downright odd. Finally there’s no hit markers during multiplayer, so you’re never sure as to whether or not you actually shot the enemy. Finally, there’s no custom classes so you need to handle loadouts mid-game, which is a cumbersome way of handling things.

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The ability to create a dedicated server was patched in during this review process, which is a nice addition, but for reasons beyond me you cannot host a dedicated server and play at the same time.

Enemy Front’s multiplayer is the very definition of half-assed, and the meagre resources used in its creation would have been better spent crafting a more polished singleplayer that could deliver on its own ambition.

So, by this point if I’ve successfully conveyed what Enemy Front is you’re probably thinking it’s an unspectacular WWII shooter, a game that won’t blow you away but could offer up some solid entertainment in a setting we’ve not been to in a while. However, what goodness exists here is hidden under a stinking pile of technical problems, at least on the PC version of the game, though consoles seem to have plenty of issues too. Keep in mind that these problems affected me personally, and as always could be due to the specific setup of the computer used to test the game or the mixture of components.

At the most basic level the optimisation seems poor, with the framerate constantly fluctuating even on lower settings. Considering this is running on the CryEngine and the likes of Crysis 3 can maintain good performance with its wonderous visuals, Enemy front’s average graphics and poor performance is almost insulting. Furthermore in an attempt to get a more stable framerate I first opted to turn on V-sync, but this resulted in the FPS being capped at 24, a problem which can be fixed by editing the config files. Therefore I decided to switch the game from using  DX11 to DX9, thinking that if the visual impact was not huge I’d prefer to have the smoother framerate. The first time I switched to DX9 the game was enveloped in a murky, brown cloud , rendering it unplayable, and the second attempt to utilise DX9 later in the game caused the character models to vanish, leaving floating guns in their place. DX9 is currently unusable for myself and many other people.

Bringing up the in-game options and attempt to either switch to windowed mode or change the resolution resulted in the game crashing complete, forcing a reset. The game was plagued with terrible screen-tearing until I discovered that going into options from the main menu and switching to windowed mode and then back again magically fixed the problem. This issue in particular seems to be effecting a lot of people, as is a glitch where simply crashes the game entirely after a few minutes of play, a problem that I mercifully did not encounter. Audio glitches were rampant, with one frustrating one causing a strange screech to emanate when characters spoke or weapons fired. I also encountered enemies that were frozen in place. For a while the game also insisted on starting with a half-size screen, despite the options saying it was running in fullscreen,

Here’s where things become complicated, however. All these problems occurred on the first computer I tested the game on. Out of curiosity I loaded the game on to a second, more powerful computer and had considerably less problems. The framerate was still very unsteady, keeping in mind that both computers should have been able to run Enemy Front without a hitch, but screen tearing largely vanished while crashing became a rare occurrence, with mid-game changing of resolution no longer being a problem. The audio glitches were still present,  V-sync was still largely useless and DX9 still refused to work.

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The thing is that in between testing the game on one computer and other a total of two small patches were released, and the developers have not stated what these fixed or changed within the game. Changing back to the first computer the problems were still present, though. Screen tearing was heavily present, changing resolution mid-game caused a crash and even changing to windowed mode from the main menu twice caused a crash, too. Considering that the hardware in the machine meets Enemy Front’s requirements with ease, and that the forums have a large number of problems being reported as well, with a great many people suffering far worse problems me, I must conclude that in its current for Enemy Front is a game with serious issues.

These problems are all the more frustrating when you consider that there’s a genuinely solid game buried beneath them all, but in its current state this is not a game that should have been released, and serves as just one more example of the shoddy state of the industry. Having been announced back in 2011 the game was originally due to be shipped in 2012 before being delayed until 2013, and then 2014. One cannot help but wonder what the hell City Interactive were actually doing in all that time. A quick dig into the game’s development reveals that features were cut and added constantly, but details as to exactly what are thin on the ground. However, considering elements of the game such as the environmental hazards, choice system and secondary objectives feel like they weren’t correctly worked into the game I have no problem believing that Enemy Front’s development has been a mess. It reeks of having been pulled apart and rebuilt over and over with no focused, creative direction.

Still, once you get it working and keeping a playable, if still unstable, framerate then there’s fun to be had. It’s a purely average shooter that does absolutely nothing particularly well or different in comparison to the competition. With updates that improve the AI and fix the technical problems, you could add half a point to the final score. With heavier updated it could even reach a score of 3 But in its current messy state, wait until you can grab this one on sale.

The Good:
+ Exploring different areas of the war from normal.
+ Finding an unexpected sniper rifle.
+ A tad more freedom than most shooters.

The Bad:
– Lousy performance.
– Terrible AI.
– Glitches and bugs.
– Half-arsed multiplayer.

The Verdict: 2/5 – Okay
A welcome return to WWII with okay gameplay and a inept story. It’s the myriad of problems that let it down.

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