A war-torn Warsaw apartment courtyard is littered with Nazi soldiers on patrol; they've gunned me down a half-dozen times. I try picking them off from afar--I'm dead in minutes. I rush them head-on, submachine guns ablaze like 1940s Rambo, but they take me down. Frustrated and baffled, I restart the mission (again) and spot an open window in a building off in the distance. I carefully creep over to it and pull myself in. A couple of minutes and a handful of stealth kills later, I sneak into the armory I have to sabotage and accomplish my mission. I haven’t suffered as much as a flesh wound, and the bulk of the soldiers remain milling around outside oblivious to my actions. You can mow down hundreds of soldiers in Enemy Front, a World War II-era shooter, but you’ll soon come to realize you'll enjoy it more when you don’t.
Enemy Front puts you in the shoes of an intrepid American reporter covering the war’s more inglorious theaters. Though it's packaged as a first-person shooter, it feels more like a puzzle game with guns. Case in point: I'm early in the single-player campaign, and I need to blow up a bridge in the French countryside. The main path to my objective is stocked with a half-dozen Nazi strongholds, and when I'm spotted, all the soldiers come pouring out as though they're controlled by an alien hive mind. After dying over and over again, I accidentally discover an alternate path that lets me flank everyone, sneak my way to the bridge, then watch it come tumbling down without firing a shot. That discovery makes me feel smarter, and it’s far more rewarding than blasting away hordes of enemies.
If you’re saying to yourself “oh man, I hate stealth games”, don’t sweat it; Enemy Front still gives you plenty of opportunities to blow stuff up. There are scads of missions where you rush through bombed-out buildings in close-quarters combat, manning machine guns, sniping from church towers, and destroying tanks with Panzerfausts. These action segments are smart punctuation to the larger missions where stealth is clearly the best path to success.
Almost as impressive as the variety of action Enemy Front delivers are the areas you’ll explore. The bombed-out horrors of Warsaw are strikingly juxtaposed with the bright French countryside and the bitter cold of snowy Norway. Even the loading screens contain gorgeous, original 3D visuals that depict moments in time from the viewpoint of very different character-- army officers, terrorized civilians, and nonchalant soldiers doing their duty.
Enemy Front also doesn't hold back on controversial subjects. At various points, you’ll come across depictions of atrocities being committed against civilians and partisans--and if you don’t act quickly, you’ll be confronted with the nasty results. Choosing to rescue a person who's about to be executed may be a heroic act, but it also means getting discovered and attacked by the enemy. Later on, you’ll have a harrowing walk through a barely-functioning Warsaw hospital that's under constant bombardment. In its crumbling halls, dying people beg for assistance--you can choose to help them or not. There are few easy choices.
That said, I can't help but wonder if Enemy Front was too ambitious a project, as there are a host of problems that really detract from the experience. Transitions in and out of cutscenes are very rough, and the sound mix makes it difficult to hear what characters are saying over the orchestral score. You meet a host of characters as the story unfolds, but the brevity of the conversations doesn't explain your transformation from a notebook-carrying reporter to a gun-toting one-man army; why exactly are you willing to risk your life for these people you barely know? What's more, bizarre moments are frequent. Watching a fellow soldier fire an invisible rifle through a window is a bit strange, as is seeing an unmanned rifle flop around on the floor, repeatedly shooting at the walls as though it has some sort of grudge against concrete structures.
Then there's the AI characters and enemies, whose behaviors are often erratic. Enemy soldiers rush right at with the intent to kill, then stand there for a moment or two before opening fire. At one point, one of the enemies I was fighting decided to sit down in front of me as we were descending a staircase; apparently he wanted a break? Unfortunately, there was no way to get around him, so I had to travel all the way back and around the level to come out the other side to reach my next objective, which was only a few feet away from where he remained seated.
The single-player campaign is the heart of Enemy Front, but there is a functional--if bare-bones--multiplayer component as well. Featuring three run-of-the-mill modes and a handful of interesting combat arenas, it offers little depth and feels tacked-on. Considering the lobbies were barely populated several days after Enemy Front's release, I don’t think I’m the only one that feels that way, either. If multiplayer action is what you're after, look elsewhere.
In some ways, Enemy Front succeeds in standing out in a crowded genre. Impressive visuals and expansive levels merge create memorable locations. And though some stages very obviously award stealthier playstyles, the gunplay is enjoyable when you're not overwhelmed with enemies. Unfortunately, a raft of weird bugs, mindless enemy behavior, and a multiplayer mode that feels like an afterthought shoot Enemy Front's potential square in the heart.
An ambitious effort that does not come together quite as well as it could have, Enemy Front is an entertaining experience that offers a wide variety of action in locales rarely visited.
This game was reviewed on PS3.
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