Iron Storm is a 3D shooter featuring gritty, realistic combat set in a disturbing alternate-reality world. World War II never took place in the game world of Iron Storm -- because World War I never ended. Players take the role of Lt. James Anderson, assigned to a dangerous but crucial six mission campaign to infiltrate enemy territory and destroy key enemy assets. Both stealth and weapons skills with be necessary to reach this goal. Play against friends online in a game of "DeathMatch" and "Capture the Flag."
The game takes place in 1964. The speculative fiction setting offers a distinct blend of equipment that ranges from the barbed wire and trench warfare of WWI, to the radar and automatic weapons of WWII, and on to the modern equipment that might develop over 50 straight years of global warfare, such as electronics, helicopters, and even lasers.
If war is hell, then fifty years of war is a whole lotta hell. That's the premise of Dreamcatcher's Iron Storm -- that World War I never ended, and fifty years later one side is on the verge of researching nukes -- and it's a promising one. As we saw in Crimson Skies, this sort of revisionist history offers a unique chance to blend familiarity and fantasy. At times, Iron Storm lives up to this promise.
Set in an alternate 1960's, the opening levels are an obvious attempt at a Half-Life-styled introduction. You run around trenches, people talk to you, and you eventually figure out where to report for duty, at which point you try out some weapons and accumulate the goodies you'll need for your first mission. Then Iron Storm veers very briefly into Medal of Honor territory as you join a squad of men trying to get across a battlefield. You clear the way for them and they tag along behind you. So far, so good...
At this point, it's possible to ignore some of the game's glaring flaws. The character animation is truly wretched. When you kill someone, he snaps into a rigid stance and jerks upwards like a pogo stick, as if rigor mortis had instantly set in. Character models seem to be brushed with some sort of monochrome varnish, presumably to give them a historical sepia tone effect. Instead, they look like the tan soldiers from one of the Army Men games. You can play Iron Storm from a third-person perspective, but this would mean you're constantly watching that stiff animation. So the solution is to play from the first-person view, ignoring the ugly enemy models and overlooking the bad death animations altogether.
This isn't too hard to do because the terrain and level design graphics aren't bad. Although there's a murky rust-colored wash over most of the game (again, presumably to give it that sepia-toned historical flavor) the graphics engine does a fairly good job of rendering earthen trenches, concrete bunkers, shattered villages, underground labs, and even a fancy train. Early on, there are a few battlefield settings with bombed-out buildings, ruined trees, and helicopters patrolling overhead where Iron Storm really comes together. There are also some nice touches, like the working televisions that you can use to watch newscasts. Then you can switch over to a rudimentary radar display that shows whether any enemies are near. The Radar Channel, if you will.
But the game's flaws get harder and harder to ignore. The AI does a lot of running around hither and thither, which might be mistaken for cleverness if it weren't so random. When the AI is actually shooting at you, it's frustratingly accurate. And, when you're dealing with snipers, the whole thing comes crashing down. Think of the roughest sniper sequences in recent games. Jedi Knight II? Medal of Honor? This is worse.
Iron Storm pins you down with sniper fire early and often, forcing you through aggravating save-and-reload loops. It's one of Iron Storm's favorite tricks: put someone with preternatural aim in a distant window and challenge the player to get the drop on him. Working your way through city streets elicits a real sense of dread, not because this is how a real soldier would feel, but because you know you're going to have to reload the game as soon as some guy in a far-off window kills you before you even see him. You can turn on a bright red targeting reticule that moves over opponents, but the effect is like something out of a light-gun game ... and it doesn't do you any good unless you're already looking at someone.
Soon, the puzzles start getting in the way. Early on, you have to sneak around and avoid combat for a while before dropping all your weapons and then running up to the enemy. This isn't the only time you're forced to throw away all your weapons. In fact, the next time it happens, you have to surrender to an enemy, with virtually no indication that this is the proper course of action. You then have to slowly follow him through long hallways and step into a glass cage, where you're imprisoned until a scripted sequence comes along to rescue you. There's another puzzle in which you have to destroy two tanks, but each tank requires a separate solution. For some mysterious reason, the mines you use to destroy the first tank don't work on the second tank. Ambiguous puzzles like these really hurt the flow of the game and introduce a lot of tedium. And then, of course, there's the requisite moving platform / jumping puzzle. Ugh.
You'd think the alternative history angle might have afforded the developers an opportunity to come up with some interesting weapons. While the weapon models themselves look interesting, seems scientists haven't invented anything different in Iron Storm's alternate fifty years other than the same shotguns, machine guns, and rocket launchers we've seen in nearly every other first-person shooter. There is an interesting poison gas grenade that causes the victim to stagger around for a while, which is great in multiplayer games. You can see the victim's character model gyrating drunkenly as he tries to hold his view steady. On the list of Things More Fun Than Merely Shooting Someone, this is right up there with the goat poison from the first No One Lives Forever. Good luck finding a multiplayer game, though.
If you can get past the awful animation, Iron Storm might have fared well enough as a multiplayer deathmatch game along the same lines as Medal of Honor. The game is at its best when you're simply running around, shooting vaguely realistic guns at people shooting the same guns back at you. But, without any bot support and much of a multiplayer community, this is just another example of Iron Storm's failure to live up to its potential. What's left is simply a frustrating and tedious single-player game.
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