Review: Battlestrike: Western and Eastern Front (PC)

Battlestrike: Western and Eastern Front
Genre: First Person Shooter
Developer: City Interactive
Publisher: City Interactive
Release Date: 04/07/2009

I would love to see a cultural anthropologist from an alien race examine our culture from the standpoint of video games. Especially video games based on real life events. The ultimate conclusion would have to be something along the lines of, “Those Earthicans really, really hated the subsect known as Nazis.” All that is a slightly rambling intro to the fact that we have another World War Two shooter on our hands. This year marks the seventieth anniversary of the war by common reckoning. I wish I had exact figures because I’m willing to bet that we have enough WWII-themed games to last another seventy years of play. Battlestrike: Western and Eastern Front is a two-game disc composed of Force of Resistance 2 and Royal Marines Commando. Let’s find out if either of them are worth enlisting for.

1. Story
At this point, you should know the general thrust of the story. Since you have two different games though, each deserves a bit of explanation. In Force of Resistance 2, you take the part of a young soldier who has just learned of a weapon that threatens the Motherland. The Nazis have cooked up a device that apparently saps your will to fight. On the other side of things, Royal Marines Commando has you infiltrating a Submarine Base to sabotage a new type of U-Boat. This is nothing you haven’t seen before, and aside from some good opening speeches, nothing you will really keep after the game ends.

Story Rating: Mediocre

2. Graphics
battle-5>Ah, Lithtech engine, we meet again. The Lithtech engine is like some kind of stupidly sharp blade. In the hands of a skilled user, it can cut some of the sharpest, smoothest graphics around. In the hands of a novice, you end up covered in bandages and wondering where it all went wrong. BWEF is not an example of good use of the engine. Textures are flat and faces animate strangely. Actual movement is decent at best, and you often find your NPC allies leaning impossibly around room clutter. I thought M. C. Escher had joined me at one point, as one of my fellow Royal Marines was bent impossibly around a footstool and somehow was aiming up while facing down. The game strangely manages to look pretty good in screenshots, but when you see it in motion it all falls apart. It tends to regularly pause to re-load every thirty seconds or so, which completely breaks the flow of the game.
City Interactive is obviously in love with particle effects, as all of the explosions resemble a man-sized white cloud, with occasional brown or red fillers depending on where the blast started. Environmental effects allow for some thick, white snow to fall through the USSR, but it is inconsistent. There is dynamic lighting in here, and some of those effects are really nice, but the juxtaposition of sharp lighting contrast and low texture resolution on the surface is jarring. In a lot of ways, I kept thinking back to No One Lives Forever 2, or a user-built mod of that title. When your graphics aren’t as good as a seven-year old title, there are some problems.

Graphics Rating: Below Average

3. Sound
While the graphics aren’t that hot at all, the sound is actually really good. Voiceovers before and after missions sound very authentic, and very appropriate to the situation. That is to say, the Soviet voices don’t sound horribly, horribly cheery. Whenever possible, German screams and expletives are actually in German. There are subtitles as well, which lead to some unintentionally hilarious situations. Hearing a stream of angry German and then reading, “Oh shit! A grenade!” for the first time made me smile. It was almost a lol-Nazi moment.

Weapon and environment sounds are just as solid, although less comical. Bullets zing as they go past your head, flames sizzle, and weapons clatter as they fire. In fact, the sound design is one of the best parts of this game. Nothing is going to floor you, but you won’t be depressed either.

Sound Rating: Very Good

4. Control and Gameplay
For as long as we’ve been doing first person shooters, we should have this down, right? Well, kind of. W,A,S,D do their usual duty, and the right mouse zooms in while the left mouse shoots. The basics of FPS gameplay are all along for the ride. The control is fine; it’s in the execution that things fall apart. I don’t subscribe to the theory that, “It’s a feature, not a bug” when something doesn’t work. Even on the rifles, zooming in doesn’t do a whole lot. Sure, these guns are seventy some years old, but when I fire thirty rounds at someone, they should have the common courtesy to fall down. Apparently the Nazi party had some Matrix-style dodging skills. Thankfully, the grenades are plentiful, and only outnumbered by the exploding barrels and fuel containers that litter the levels. If an enemy gets close enough to you, you can whip out your knife to stab them. Which would be fine, if they didn’t take three stabs or so even on the easiest difficulty.

There are a lot of cool environmental effects to play with, even if they don’t always help you. Circuit breakers, which for some reason are sometimes jammed five to a wall, will shock anyone who touches them. I suppose if you had some sort of “pushing weapon” that would matter, instead you are more likely to bump into them and give yourself a nasty jolt from time to time. There is a lot of machinery and whatnots that you can interact with, but it isn’t ever much more than flipping a switch to stop a noise. You can also fire through “weak cover” like wood or thin metal. Health follows the “invisible meter” style that regenerates as long as you aren’t taking more damage. The gameplay is just so recycled and generic throughout. Coupled with the fact that the game autosaves and stutters as it loads what is coming next means you have to really want to play this to get much joy out of it.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Poor

5. Replayability
You have two games here for the price of one. That’s it. There is no reason to go back after you’ve suffered through once. No multiplayer, local or otherwise, unless you count swapping seats with a friend while they watch you play. No collectibles. Nothing.

Replayability: Worthless

6. Balance

I covered a bit of this up in the gameplay section, but I feel the need to re-iterate. This game is inconsistent. The first round I fired in Royal Marines Commando was from my pistol. It dropped a pair of Nazis. I was like “Cool! Super-Death-Revolver-of-Doom!” I didn’t even switch back to something else. The next guy? He took four rounds in the face and still had to be finished with some precision stabbing. As soon as you are stabbing, the enemy is stabbing back, turning the whole thing into a, “who can penetrate first” contest. The lack of accuracy on your weapons means that you can shoot seven or eight times at someone before you even register a hit.

Thankfully, anytime you see something red, feel free to shoot it, as it will likely explode and take out anyone around it.

Balance Rating: Poor

7. Originality
battle-3No. Look away. Do I have to draw you a picture? World War Two shooters get knocked down to Dreadful in this category to begin with, and had better have something new and interesting to claw their way out of that pit. Two games on one disc? Okay, I’ll give you that. But they could practically be expansion packs of each other, so that doesn’t help. Okay, I’ll grant you that the focus is on soldiers that don’t usually get a lot of attention in this type of game. Run along now.

Originality Rating: Very Bad

8. Addictiveness
Is it a gripping experience that keeps pulling you back? I don’t think so. The levels are pretty quick and there are a good variety of authentic weapons to use. Aside from that, the only redeeming quality in this game is the sound design, and there are better games out there with sound that is done better to boot. Even if subliminal messages had been embedded in the game you would get up and walk away, shuddering every time you thought of loading this up again.

Addictiveness Rating: Dreadful

9. Appeal Factor
Good sound, occasionally hilarious sub-titles, and a lot of weapons do not an attractive gaming experience make. As I said earlier, a WWII shooter has to have something amazing in this day and age to get people to want to play it. Historical accuracy has been done. Vampires and werewolves have been done. Superheroes haven’t really been exploited, but I think that is only a matter of time before you step into Steven Rogers’ boots. Unless you were born with half the DNA of a WWII historian and half the DNA of a Pokemon Master and decided to catch all the Nazi-killing games out there, I can’t see this game appealing to a lot of people, especially with the small feature set.

Appeal Factor Rating: Dreadful

10. Miscellaneous
battle-2About the only thing good I can say for the game is that it doesn’t take a huge monster rig to play. If you turn down the effects it should be fine on a mid-range PC. That, and it’s cheap. You are getting a pair of games here, after all. Unless you really, really are interested in taking part in some of the lesser known World War Two theaters, you don’t need to play this. I’m a huge fan of the film Enemy at the Gates, and I was hoping for something that would capture just a bit of that feeling. I’ll have no problem going back to the film, but I don’t think I’ll ever boot these games again.

Miscellaneous Rating: Bad

The Scores
Story: Mediocre
Graphics: Below Average
Sound: Very Good
Control and Gameplay: Poor
Replayability: Worthless
Balance: Poor
Originality: Very Bad
Addictiveness: Dreadful
Appeal Factor: Dreadful
Miscellaneous: Bad
Final Score: Bad Game!

Short Attention Span Summary
If you are still looking for a World War Two FPS after all these years of them, you may want to keep looking. Battlestrike: Western and Eastern Front does provide a glimpse at two groups that don’t get a lot of attention, but the gameplay is so stale and clunky that you’d be better off with something else. The sound effects got the lion’s share of attention for this game, and it shows. Even though you are getting two games on this disc, no multiplayer puts the final nail in the coffin. At least until the WWII FPS rises again from the grave to feast on the time of the living.



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