Like many of the children of the 80s and 90s, I had a grandfather who fought in World War II. Like most veterans, he was incredibly proud of that fact, and like most children of the 90s, I grew up virtually fighting my grandfather’s war in games like Medal of Honor or Call of Duty. Well, not precisely. You see, he fought in the Pacific Theater, a part of the war that video games, and media in general, have decided to ignore, with a few exceptions such as The Pacific, Letters from Iwo Jima, and games like Medal of Honor: Rising Sun and Call of Duty: World at War.
I’ve always suspected that’s because it’s so morally acceptable to kill Nazis. There’s no justification needed. They’re Nazis. They’re evil. You have to kill them, so you do. It’s probably why there has been no shortage of World War II games over the years. They’re just so easy to make. You don’t need to come up with an original premise, story, weapons, enemies or game mechanics. You just drop a guy, probably American, into World War II, and have him kill Nazis. Why? Because they’re Nazis, man.
Like most World War II games, Enemy Front opts to focus on the war’s European Theater. The story follows Robert Hawkins, an American (because of course he is) journalist who is more dedicated to finding the war’s next great story than fighting the Nazis. Of the course of the game, he’ll join up with various groups of resistance fighters – the Polish, the French, the Dutch – and gradually come to the realization that the war, and the people fighting it, are more important than finding the next great story, and Hawkins ultimately dedicates himself to telling the stories of the brave men and women who persevere against the Nazis in the face of impossible odds.
It’s a nice thought, on paper. The problem is that the plot is patently ludicrous. Hawkins is billed as an everyman, a background character, and for a while, you believe it. At least, until an early level sees your French contact, who is going to smuggle Hawkins and his partner, a photographer, out of Nazi occupied France, captured by the Nazis. The photographer, of course, is too frightened to do anything except cower behind a nearby rock, but not Hawkins! Armed with nothing but a pistol, he sets off after the Nazis, decimates a few dozen Nazi soldiers, destroys a Panzer tank, and saves the contact single-handedly.
He then uses the fame from the ensuing story to procure a spot on a top secret Dutch team sent on a mission to destroy the Nazi supply of heavy water, and thus delay their attempts at crafting a nuclear weapon, because this is clearly something that journalists did all the time in World War II. The sheer stupidity of the plot might be bearable if every character Hawkins interacts with wasn’t perpetually shocked by his frightening capacity for bloodshed, but everyone continues to view the man as some sort of liability, often referring to him as “newspaper man” and questioning his ability to contribute to the cause as though he hasn’t brutally and efficiently dispatched dozens of Nazis before their very eyes.
I wish I could tell you that the story, which is poorly written in addition to being about as intelligent as a bag of rusty hammers, is the worst part of Enemy Front, and that the gameplay makes up for it, but I can’t. Every aspect of this game, from the stealth to the enemy AI, is heavily flawed. The allies in question are, of course, nearly useless, and rarely contribute to the combat scenarios you’ll find yourself in. The enemies aren’t that smart either, often running around corners into your bullets, but you’re allies are definitely worse, so it’s up to Hawkins to get everything done It’s a good thing for these Europeans that American photojournalists are here to save the day! He’s so efficient that one wonders why the U.S. didn’t just drop him into Berlin with a couple of rifles and grenades and call it a war, but apparently that never crossed the minds of the top brass.
The gameplay is what you’d expect from a first-person shooter in the post Call of Duty 4 world. Hawkins is allowed two primary weapons, a pistol, and a few grenades and other explosives, and left to find his way through the game’s rather large levels. The environments are one of the few things Enemy Front gets right. They’re big and expansive, and allow you to approach most of the situations any way you please. In fact, it’s sometimes more efficient to avoid large groups of enemies entirely, and just sneak through the areas. You won’t get to see Hawkins’ magnificent killing prowess this way, but hey, them’s the breaks.
Unfortunately, opting to turn the whole thing into a sneaking mission raises other problems. It’s possible to sneak up behind enemies and execute a stealth kill, but the animations take far too long to make them viable, likely because Hawkins is enjoying himself too much, and executing one usually means leaving yourself open to being spotted by other enemies, who will run up to you while you finish choking and stabbing your victim and begin shooting you at point-blank range. This is a problem because you aren’t invincible during these scenes, which makes the stealth kills almost pointless in any given situation.
Still, the game does give you other tools to be sneaky. You can throw rocks to distract enemies, use loud sounds to mask your shots, and mark enemy locations on your minimap for future reference. The game even provides a meter that measures how aware your enemies are of your presence. Once again, however, stealth far better in theory than it is in practice. Enemies are fairly frequent, and it’s hard to get around them all without being spotted. It’s definitely possible, but it’s time consuming, and it’s far more efficient to just murder everything you see before moving on.
Thankfully, murdering things is fairly satisfying, even if the game is a little generic. Guns are loud, and enemies react fairly well to being hit, which lends everything a sense of weight. CI Games even borrows a bit from their Sniper: Ghost Warrior series, as the game will occasionally zoom out and follow bullets to their intended targets in slow motion. It’s a nice touch, and the sniping is one of the game’s better aspects. Unfortunately, even the satisfaction you’ll gain from this is short-lived due to the game’s awful hit detection, which makes everything a bit of a gamble. Shooting a guy in the head or the gut will occasionally produce no reaction, but shoot that same guy’s earlobe? Headshot, baby!
And that brings me to Enemy Front’s biggest problem. No, it’s not the graphics. The game uses the CryEngine, but you’d be forgiven if you didn’t notice because of the poor character models and the low-res environmental textures. No, the biggest problem is the bugs. Enemy Front crashed on me the first time I ever launched it. That probably should have been a sign of where things were going, but I continued on, and the game continued to crash during loading screens, after I died, and really any time it found convenient.
We’ve already talked about the shoddy hit detection, but that isn’t the game’s only other issue. Enemies have a startling tendency to drop through the floor, as one did when I was about to snipe him (though his icon continued to face me on my minimap for quite a while afterwards, no matter where I turned), and certain scripted sequences will sometimes trigger improperly. This, coupled with the frequent crashing, makes it nearly impossible to enjoy what few good points the campaign has.
I say the campaign because Enemy Front also has a multiplayer mode. There are only four maps and three modes: Team Deathmatch, Deathmatch, and Radio Transmission. The last of the three is the most interesting, a spin on territories modes that require you to capture and hold radios long enough for them to send a signal, with the added wrinkle that capturing two radios that are next to one another will boost the signal, and fill your team’s bar up even faster. Unfortunately, the game is pretty much bereft of players, and the small amount of maps and modes means that this probably won’t change anytime soon.
What we’re left with, then, is a World War II game that attempts to do something different, but ultimately fails due to a poor story, mediocre gunplay, awful AI, weak game mechanics, and a slew of technical problems. It’s a shame, because you can tell that CI Games in genuinely trying here. But if this is the best they can do, perhaps it’s best if they stay out of World War II.
This game was reviewed on the PC.