I’m a grizzled veteran of many fictional wars. Chernarus, Everon, Takistan, I’ve fought across them all through a long campaign that’s lasted from Operation Flashpoint to Arma-2. When Iron Front: Liberation 1944 was announced, I was happy to accept the call to relive the enormous and ferocious battles of the eastern front.
As an ArmA veteran, I had a fair idea what to expect: a complicated interface hiding a detailed simulation of large scale combat. What I wasn’t expecting was just how disappointing Iron Front would turn out to be.
Dragging you kicking and screaming to the vicious battlefields of 1944’s eastern front, Iron Front: Liberation 1944 offers two single player campaigns. You can either follow the German army as it attempts to fend off the Russian advance, or support the Russians in their fight to push back their foes. Either way, you’re in for a steady development from small-scale infantry attacks to enormous engagements involving massive numbers of units. Large scale combat is something the Real Virtuality engine has always been very good at, and I can think of no better venue for it than the eastern front.
However, whilst the engine is more than capable of it, Iron Front’s developers seem reluctant to take advantage of the sheer scale possible. As a result, the campaign feels lacklustre and limited in scope, with small scuffles where devastating attacks should be. Now I’m used to the confusion of war, but when even the mission designer doesn’t seem to know what’s supposed to be happening, missions can feel a little patchwork to say the least.
In addition to the two campaigns on offer, Iron Front has a large collection of single-player missions available- by which I mean three. Whilst further missions are being promised post-release, given just how simple the Virtual Battlefield mission creator is to use, I’m amazed more time wasn’t put into adding just a couple of minor skirmishes to bulk out a hilariously small mission list.
On the other hand, Bohemia’s engine has always been less about the missions on offer, and more down to what you can create with it. Like the majority of players fresh from ArmA-2 will inevitably do, my first step was dive straight into the editor to check out both the new units on offer and the new collection of maps. Like ArmA before it, Iron Front gives access to a massively flexible mission editor that is remarkably simple to use, meaning within minutes you’ll be flinging tanks and infantry at each other and laughing maniacally at the resulting carnage.
The units on offer, however, are a little disappointing. Although a great deal of time and attention has been spent on each model, there are only seven infantry types available to each side. Budding pilots will be similarly saddened to hear the aircraft collection consists of only four. Whilst the armour count is slightly more impressive, it’s still a disappointingly sparse collection that I’d expect more from a mod than a full-priced release.
Unlike ArmA’s complicated battlefield engagements, Iron Front brings only two opposing forces to the table, meaning without civilian or independent forces wandering the map you can open fire knowing you’re not taking out a potentially friendly unit. The Independent and Civilian sides are still present in the editor, but left bafflingly empty. Added to the low unit variety on offer, it feels less like a streamlining of game mechanics and more like a step back to a more simplified look at warfare.
The maps, on the other hand, are a welcome addition. Ranging from a tiny 1km map to a vast region of eastern Europe, fans of cross country hikes will adore the realistic depiction of mid-war Europe. Improving on ArmA-2’s urban environments, the vast majority of Iron Front’s buildings can be entered, providing a new level to already unforgiving and deadly combat mechanics.
Whilst the Virtual Battlefield engine is not exactly adored for its stability, it’s been around for quite a few years now. Since ArmA’s release, Bohemia Interactive have managed to iron out most of the creases in an initially notoriously buggy engine, and yet somehow X-1 Software have managed to take a step back, producing a game plagued by instability, crashes and disappearing save games. Long treks across the countryside are more likely to end in a crash to desktop than a snipers bullet. In a smaller fast-paced shooter this might have been a mere irritation, but in an open world environment where it can take twenty minutes just to reach your target, having the game crash just moments before you open fire borders on agonising.
Were Bohemia Interactive behind the reins of Iron Front, I would have confidence in long term support and patches eventually bringing this game into a workable state. However, with Iron Front in the hands of the relatively unknown developer X1 Software, all I can do is hope their reaction to the community feedback is equally as swift. A current patch has been released which provides additional stability to multiplayer, but I still suffered from several crashes post-update.
There is one thing I must also make abundantly clear to any fans of ArmA. Iron Front: Liberation 1944 does NOT support mods. Due to a licensing agreement with Bohemia, any modification must instead go through a strict approval process before being officially added to the game by X1 as either paid or unpaid DLC. It’s a pity that an engine with such powerful flexibility fostering such an enthusiastic community is being hampered in this way, and also it means we’re unlikely to see hover tanks or Santa Claus being added any time soon. With ArmA 2 already filled to the brim with a collection of historical mods already covering this era of warfare, it’s reasonable to ask why this is worth spending money on, and having played through the material on offer, it’s a difficult question to answer.
I desperately want to be able to recommend this game. With varied terrain across enormous open maps, an engine supporting hundreds of units involved in simultaneous combat and accurate ballistics, it could have revitalised the stale genre of WW-II shooters. But that’s a pedigree it’s inherited from Bohemia Interactive’s work on the VB engine, and its a pedigree X-1 Software have failed to make the most of.
As a result, I’m hesitant to give a rating to Iron Front. I realise that it’s very early days, and many of the problems I’ve mentioned could be resolved within months or even days of me writing these words. However, the fact remains that they shipped a flawed product that’s already been topped by ArmA’s modding community’s spectacular I-44 mod, and that’s something I can’t let pass.
Verdict: Off Target
Platforms Available – PC
Platform Reviewed – PC
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