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Iron Storm Review
developer: 4X Studio
PII-300, 32MB RAM, 500MB HDD, 3D accelerator
|ESRB rating: M
release date: Oct 25, 02 (released)
|» All About Iron Storm on ActionTrip|
Before I got to review Iron Storm, I honestly thought it was a strategy game. Why? I have no idea. Might be that the marketing folks at DreamCatcher didn't do their job right, or maybe it's because "Iron Storm" just sounds so much like a title for a strategy game. It turns out however that Iron Storm is anything but - it's an action shooter set in a gloomy alternate reality 60's, with no hippies and plenty of talk about the Russian Stock Exchange (yeah you read right - a Russian Stock Exchange in the 60's).
Simply put, the basic premise of this game is that WWI didn't end when it did, and that it somehow raged on for nearly 50 years after it begun. The game is set in an alternate 1964. Occidental and American troops are fighting against the armies of a sort of latter-day Genghis Khan: Baron Ugenberg. This megalomaniac - who put a bloody end to the Bolshevik Revolution - has got it into his head to create a sort of Russo-Mongol Empire, stretching from the Atlantic to Vladivostok. Believe me; this guy doesn't know how to put on a happy face...
Is that Statue of Liberty?
He was there just moments ago...
Faced with this madman, the West could think of nothing better than floating their armies on the stock exchange in order to finance this dirty war... and there are plenty of people who line their pockets by speculating on the deaths of others.
The front-line has divided Germany in two for years now. Half of the German people are fighting for the West while the other half are fighting for the Russo-Mongols.
The player is cast in the role of Second Lieutenant James Anderson - a "superhero" lone gunman with a task of infiltrating enemy lines and causing as much trouble for the Russo-German troops as possible. Upon your arrival in the trenches, you will be informed of your mission and given a short training session in shooting skills. And then you're off... fired on by the enemy, but guided by allied soldiers, you must head for the no man's land separating the two sides.
Generally speaking, there are two approaches to making a single-player FPS. One is to try and bring the story to the player through the use of elaborate cut-scenes and dialogue, and the other is to attempt to create a game world where players get to feel like their actions are generating the plot. Iron Storm definitely tries the latter approach to game design. Whether it's because making elaborate cut-scenes was too expensive, or they couldn't come up with more gripping dialogue to hold the story together, the developers opted for the Half-Life approach, which surprisingly enough worked out pretty damn well! While for the most part I didn't have a clue what I was accomplishing by fighting behind enemy lines, I somehow felt compelled to go on and finish another portion of the game all the time thinking that the next scene will reveal some special twist in the plot. Unfortunately, nothing spectacular happened, but I was still somehow drawn deeper in the game world. This game has flaws and it needs a lot of polish in several important areas, but there's just something about it that feels right. I was very skeptical at the beginning, but as I got deeper in it, I realized that the gameplay dynamics work very well, and although you might find Iron Storm too hard at times this will probably get you more addicted to its gloomy, hopeless and war-torn game world than anything else. Make no mistake about it; this is a tough shooter to beat. Enemy soldiers will be coming out of nowhere; devilishly placed snipers will make you wish you had heat vision, and health packs are scarce, even on the normal level of difficulty. In addition, the splash damage from the tank grenades along with nasty land minds will make your road as treacherous as possible. But to my amazement, I wasn't turned off by all this! Instead, I wanted to play on and prove that Second Lieutenant James Anderson can indeed defy all the odds and win the day!
No birds around here.
Can't see nothing! It's raining cats, dogs, and dead soldiers...
There are several key factors that make this game enjoyable even despite its high level of difficulty. The level design is very good. It constantly shifts from tricky outdoor environments to the claustrophobic trenches and ruined buildings of small German cities. Map design clearly depicts a grim world where a shadow of war has set in the land and in the hearts of people. Shell-torn houses, muddy ditches and endless trenches are all that is left of Europe after 50 years of savage warfare. Surprisingly, all this works pretty well in Iron Storm. It helps submerge the player in the game world, and as I said, makes him feel like he's the one creating the story. You are all alone, and there are snipers everywhere. Exploding German K9 units, infantry units, bunkers, and elite gunman will all stand in your way to victory. Sometimes, taking a gung-ho approach won't be the smartest thing to do and you'll have to sneak your way through heavily guarded areas...
Furthermore, the weapons are excellently balanced, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Iron Storm places a heavy accent on sniping, and usually that'll be the best way to mark hotspots and basically deal with the tough enemy troops (the semi-auto sniper rifle was my personal favorite). However, when in close and confided spaces you'll be best off with a shotgun and some hand grenades. Grenades are essential to victory in this game and you'll find them to be of great use when clearing out an area, or fighting enemy squads. Trust me; you'll need to take this approach if you want to stay alive in this game.
The enemy AI is tough. Very tough. The sad thing about this is that they're at times a bit too environmentally aware and will spot you from a mile away, even though they're looking in the opposite direction?!
Unfortunately, this doesn't in any way help you to enjoy the game more - quite the contrary. Clearly, this indicates that the developers cheated a bit to make the game more challenging. The level of difficulty in Iron Storm works for me (as I said, that's one of the reason why this game got me hooked), but I doubt that all of you will find this detail "amusing". Nonetheless, the AI does show certain positive traits - like snipers using cover effectively and trying to stay out of sight while sniping. Certain other types of elite units will dodge and use cover to their advantage. Nearly all enemy soldiers will run like hell when they see a grenade, and they won't hesitate to throw one at you when they get the chance. On the whole, the AI seems ... solid. The fact that they can be a little too aware of your presence is to a degree compensated by their human-like aiming skills. This is a nice move by the developers - instead of boosting their aiming ability and using this as an excuse for lackluster code routines, they actually made the enemy soldiers miss a few, especially when under heavy fire. Hell when shit hits the fan, they get scared just like the rest of us!
Graphically, I'd say that Iron Storm is a mixed bag of blessings. The animation is good, and so is the physics engine. I already talked about the gloomy atmosphere and its effect on the gameplay, so that's another positive side to it. However, the models look ... bleak and uninspiring, and they could sure use some more polys. Also, those of you who don't particularly care about id Software's trademark grayish tones and prefer Serious Sam-like graphics, will most definitely dislike the visuals in Iron Storm.
Few will however dispute the quality of voice acting in this game, which is on a really high level. And if it wasn't for the terribly irritating sound bugs (when explosions go off in the background) I would've had nothing but words of praise to say about the sound effects.
And while we're on the subject of bugs, I should also mention that the game wouldn't let me configure my desired keyboard layout. It simply crashed to main menu every time I tried to remap the keys. There is a solution however - you have to edit the .ini file in Notepad, but that's not as easy as it seems, as the keyboard keys are represented as "objects", each with their specific number. You'll just have to match an object number to a known keyboard key, then count the keys and you'll be golden!
Overall though, once I got rid of most of the nagging bugs and sat down to play Iron Storm, I soon got hooked on it and would not let go till the single player game was finished. In the end, that's all you should really care about when you're deciding whether or not a game is worth your hard-earned money.
8.1 Very Good
Fantastic atmosphere, great gameplay dynamics; weapons work well... challenging, but in a good way;
Very irritating sound bugs, and a few other minor ones. AI is too environmentally aware for my taste. The models could've used a bit more polys. Model design could've been more imaginative.
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