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Enemy Front preview

by Jeff Mattas, May 08, 2012 6:00am PDT

World War II is still one of the most ubiquitous settings for first-person shooters. Largely based on runs from Normandy to Berlin, they typically try to harness the tone of films like Saving Private Ryan or the miniseries, Band of Brothers, highlighting the real-world conflicts and sacrifices of what journalist Tom Brokaw dubbed "The Greatest Generation." Enemy Front, the new game being developed by Stuart Black at City Interactive, is going for a decidedly different approach that provides an over-the-top feel more akin to the classic action hero style of war movies.

"Most World War II shooters over the last few years have been based around Saving Private Ryan. That kind of attitude like: respect for your grandfather's war, and the sacrifice, and all that sort of jazz," Black said, before the demo began. "We want to pull back from that and get back to the spirit of those old classic "man on a mission" movies from the '60's and '70's, like The Dirty Dozen, and in particular, Where Eagles Dare."

You might remember Stuart Black as the developer of the shooter for PlayStation 2 and the original Xbox called Black. Despite being criticized for its short length, lack of multiplayer, and relatively shallow depth, many folks liked it for its destructible environments and Hollywood-blockbuster style action. Though what I saw of Enemy Front was still more than a couple of months away from being in alpha state, Stuart Black's involvement (and a bit of his previous game's DNA) is quite evident.

Putting players in the boots of an OSS Ranger--which Black likens to the Clint Eastwood part in Where Eagles Dare--Enemy Front begins with a mission to blow up German artillery in the south of France. However, it's not long before the hero uncovers some enigmatic coded documentation, which gradually leads him on a trail of intrigue across Europe. Black told me that the player is supported by an upper-crust English Commando, and a "sexy French resistance fighter," though neither of these supporting characters made an appearance during the presentation.

As expected from the creator of Black, Enemy Front will include a giant swath of authentic weaponry to play with, ranging from expected fare like the Thompson sub-machine gun and the M1 Garand rifle. However, it will also treat players to more exotic weapons of the time, such as the Lanchester sub-machine gun. Each weapon will feel noticeably different to use, and though only a handful of such weapons were showcased during the demo, players can expect a lot more variety in the full game. Furthermore, manually reloading your weapon is much faster than waiting for the automatic reload after a clip has been emptied. Even different types of grenades have different attributes. The standard American frag grenades have a quick fuse and a tight explosion radius, whereas German grenades cause wider destruction, but have a longer fuse.

Black engaged in firefights against Nazis in a couple of the game's 11 levels--set in Dunkirk and the Owl Mountains--which, though linear, felt much more open than most missions seen in Call of Duty titles. Black told me that the game will include "about a dozen [enemy] class types that will make up squads of guys, and an important feature of that will be the kill order." In other words, deciding which enemies to take out first is an on-the-fly, tactical decision that will help determine how the conflict plays out. When encountering a squad comprised of an MG42 heavy machine-gunner, a medic, and a scout, the player needs to decide whether disabling the squads biggest source of firepower, healing unit, or the scout (who can call reinforcements with things like whistles and signal flares) will make the confrontation unfold quite differently. "We don't want there to be just one way of doing that," he said, before explaining that the game's encounters would exhibit a mix of both AI dynamism and scripting. Those worried about the game's length can rest a bit easier though. Black said that each of the game's eleven levels would run about forty-five minutes to an hour each.

"One of the most frustrating things for me," Black said, "is that when I'm playing Call of Duty--which I love, overall--it really pisses me off when I'm hunkered down somewhere trying to take a moment and read the situation, decide what I'm going to do about it, I get fucking spammed with grenades! Because the designers don't want you stopping, and they're making me play the way that they want me to play. You're not really letting me manage my experience. You're forcing me."

As such, you won't find enemies spawning behind you in Enemy Front, though they will try to flank you. Players won't get incessantly spammed by grenades when stopping to catch their breath for two seconds, but the cover in front of them may get whittled down by enemy fire as they wait.

Standard difficulty settings will be at play in Enemy Front, but layered on top of that will let players use collectible items he referred to as "style cards." When starting a new game, three choices--Hope, Honor, and Glory--were shown. Selecting "Hope," for example, would grant the player a complete HUD and regenerating health. Selecting "Honor" removes the recharging health system and requires players to collect medpacks to heal. The "Glory" setting removes the HUD completely.

A few more interesting gameplay systems that will help set Enemy Front apart from other WWII shooters were teased by Black, even though they weren't quite ready to show off during the demo. In addition to the "Hope, Honor, and Glory" settings, players will be able to unlock more style cards that will let them do things like use extended magazines. It sounds like an interesting system that has the potential to cater to a lot of different play-styles.

Black also mentioned that he intends to introduce some light crafting elements into the game as well, where players can collect various ingredients and expand their arsenals. The system is being designed around civilian NPCs, who will grant the hero special components if he's able to lead them to safety. If you hate escort missions, don't worry, since Black assured me that saving civilians will be entirely optional.

As mentioned, Enemy Front is in an early stage of development, but already shows a lot of promise. The game is being built using CryEngine 3, and as a result, already looks pretty good in action on the Xbox 360. Most exciting to me was the "style card" system, which will allow players to tweak their gameplay experience to suit their own personal styles. The game's dynamic enemy squad AI, which includes different troop types and facilitates different approaches to the firefights, also seems like it could be quite promising.

Enemy Front is planned for a simultaneous release on PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 in 2012.





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