Wot I Think: Iron Front: Liberation 1944

By Jim Rossignol on May 30th, 2012 at 5:00 pm.

Hello, ladies!
What’s a man to do if he’s bored with Arma 2, and tired of Day Z, but still wants meticulous rifle-toting in Bohemia’s soldier sim engine? Should he look to history and pick up X1’s Iron Front: Liberation 1944? Or is this a trip to the Eastern front too many? Here’s wot I think.

Iron Front, with patriotic solider sim blood pumping in its veins, has charged out in the open, and is now exposed from all angles to headshots of leaden criticism. There will be the standard charges levelled at this, which are frequently levelled at its parent military sim, Arma 2, which is that it is fiddly, clunky, and occasionally buggy. And those charges won’t be baseless – I’ve seen a crash to desktop with this, the release version of the game – but they will generally miss the point. There are plenty of fine World War II shooters, yes, and many of them are both atmospheric and slick, but what Iron Front does is something quite different – it tries to make a sim of that experience, with dramatic consequences. This is not a traditional FPS, despite its scripted campaign, and the real meat lies in the editor and the multiplayer, and not the two campaigns that the development team have clearly invested so much time in.

What we have here is an all-encompassing World War II sim, that does more for Eastern Front battle antics than a couple of years of wargame releases. That’s not to say this comes without problems, and further opportunities for criticism. But we’ll get to that.


Let’s look at those two campaigns for a moment. They’re set in 1944, with the Nazis tryign to hold off the Red Army attacks. You can play from the Nazi perspective, or from the Red Army perspective, and the situations that face you ramp up from small scale infantry engagements, to full-blown battlefields with aircraft and angry houses. Arma 2 handles this range of situations marvellously, but the experience is one that seems constantly hampered by the lack of vision from the designers. The trick to making campaigns work in an open-ended world like this one, is to stage your set pieces in situations where the player really gets to feel a part of action. Hell, even if the AI completes the objective, try and get the player in a position where he can see some of what is going on. Iron Front doesn’t often make that possible.

Yes, it routinely feels like a shonky mock up. The missions unravel bafflingly, while smaller issues make it feel like it has not had even basic player-annoying problems addressed. The Panzerfaust I had picked up from a previous part of mission is on my back – modelled accurately, as per Arma 2’s methodology – but that means when I go prone, to avoid being shot, the blast shield from the thing drops in front of my face. I am forced to go into the gear menu and jettison it just to see where I am going. By this time I’ve been shot by Russian riflemen I will never see. Yes, the campaign experience hangs between dry simulation and parodic slapstick. (The voice acting and so-forth is enthusiastic, but predictable awful.)


Reload. Reload. Reload. The excruciating grind of this campaign reminds us of why the Arma campaigns never really work. For reasons of persistence and so forth, multiplayer games do not seem to face this precisely problem. The extreme lethality of the world, particularly here, make being booted back to a save point into an agonising experience.

This too will bring criticism to bear on the game. If there are better, more convincing single-player World War II experiences out there, what am I really buying?

Which brings the focus of my fingers to the typing of the multiplayer passages: I’ve struggled a bit with the multiplayer aspect of this game, basically because there were few available multiplayer servers. Once I’d played a game of co-op with a pair of surly Russians, got into a public game with a lot of European folk, and spent some time messing about in the editor (you never really understand these games until you’ve spammed a map with tanks and watched it play out), it was clear that there’s huge scope for interest and entertainment here. The game is crammed with tanks, planes, and infantry paraphernalia. A huge chunk of the hardware from the Eastern Front is available to mission makers, and the maps themselves are large and excellent. While you’ll spot some standard assets that appear in Arma 2, there’s also plenty of bespoke stuff. I lost hours to the editor, just as I did with Arma 2. I’ll never make anything workable, but who cares – sometimes you just want to make an exploding tank zoo.


And, fucking hell, I know I am a nerd for maps and huge open game environments, but this is almost worth buying for the big slices of Eastern Europe it portrays. I had a poke about in one of the Polish towns, and every building could be explored. The potential for urban warfare is enormous. ENORMOUS. I sat on a hill and watched Red Army and Wehrmacht do murder on each other.

All this, however, brings us to the final, critical volley. There’s another group of critics that Iron Front is also exposed to, and they are the Arma players who point out that the game already has extensive World War II modifications, brimming with additional assets, so why would anyone need to buy this, a commercial version? That’s a tough question, and one that I don’t have answer for. The game’s developers and publishers will point to the wealth of additional planes and artillery piece, the maps, and the campaigns, and so on. But that doesn’t really seem like enough when the Arma 2 community has already produced so much of that for free. And the many rough edges are not going to convince any casual players, either.


No, Arma II is not short of World War II modifications, and this simply complicates matters. I can’t honestly recommend Iron Front to anyone, precisely because it reminded of the things about Arma which irritate me, and precisely because so much of what it does is already supported by the community. But I also recognise that certain players will get a kick out of this game: a great big Panzerkick. There’s no denying that this is a big release, that does try to justify its price tag. It delivers World War II scenarios with aplomb, and when used right, it will be impressive. I just wish it had done more, and tried harder, particularly in the single-player campaigns. Make the opening mission a situation in which you get to watch a tank battle through binoculars or something. What’s actually here is so by-the-numbers, so underwhelming, that my interest vaporises in the warm summer sun.

That one other particular modification is showing off what can really be done with the Arma 2 engine – and capturing so many imaginations in the process – seems a little embarrassing for a full-blown project like this one.

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52 Comments »

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  1. Torgen says:

    What a shame.

  2. SanguineAngel says:

    I would eat a well produced, easy to play version of this game right up in my pie hole. The final screenshot alone makes me giddy

    • Cooper says:

      I kind of thought that too. Plonking down some cash for a smooth experience in installing and playing something that might otherwise just be a mod is sometimes worth it.

      Things like SixUpdater have helped streamline mod support for Arma 2, but mods still remain bloody fiddly.

  3. Sparkasaurusmex says:

    “The extreme lethality of the world, particularly here, make being booted back to a save point into an agonising experience.”

    ugh… save points?!
    Probably a misunderstanding on my part, but I’ve always thought of save points as a console port thing.

  4. Simas says:

    It’s a re-skinned WW2 arma. They didn’t bring any other new mechanics whatsoever (other than a directional damage for tanks?). Still, I feel it was worth the price and after the first Steam patch the multiplayer should be in a playable and very fun state.

    What hit me the most was:

    – The very poor ArmA2 style sounds. I think ArmA missed so much with not investing more resources in their sound engine and overall sound design.. 50% of the battlefield experience is how it sounds. Iron Front followed ArmA in this regard.

    – The flight model of the planes is just plain horrible. They feel like jet engine aircraft with a decorative propeller ported straight out of ArmA 2 game. If you are a fan of a serious RoF or CloD flight model, don’t even try flying them.

  5. yanqui says:

    >tryign

  6. Jimmy says:

    Great to see the review here in RPS. Now, how many people are still playing the Invasion 1944 mod for ARMA2 and how does that compare? Are there enough players to support either one of these? The advantage with the more dramatic in your face RO2 is that for all its problems I can quickly load up a game on familiar servers and start face shootin’.

    If I buy IF:1944 for the multiplayer (single player does not interest me in the slightest – best left to early MoH and CoD which they do right), will I find a server with 60-90 players, now or in the future? So many questions, but of course it depends on whether this new game finds a community or whether it just attracts a few ARMA enthusiasts with divided interests between other mods, commercial and non-commercial alike.

    What plucked my interest in this game was the tank and air aspects, but if they play little better than Invasion 1944, why not just stick to that since I already have ArmA CO?

  7. Inigo says:

    ACH. NEIN. ZWEI. IST. DOWN.

  8. turek says:

    @Simas – about the sound engine. This is how bohemia captures sound:
    http://pro.bistudio.com/index.php/services/audio-recording-studio/gallery.html

    I think it’s more of a case that COD and BF made some of used to more dramatic sounds, which may or may not be true.

    • Reefpirate says:

      Indeed, while doing some research about firearms for a project I was working on I was a little disappointed by how firearms actually sound. In most games, with the subwoofer pounding, guns have these large, dramatic, booming, bassy sounds… But most weapons in real life just sound kind of like tinny pops or firecrackers going off.

      • RR_Raptor65 says:

        That’s how guns sound in recorded audio and on youtube videos, microphones aren’t that good at capturing sound the way the human ear does. In real life guns have a ‘depth’ to the sound and do sound very meaty and powerful, even an AR-15 has quite a punch to it and I have yet to see a game that replicates the “SPROOOING” sound those guns make due to the large spring that runs through the stock.
        Distance matters when recording a gunshot as well, too close and all you’ll pick up is a rasping sound, too far and it’s little more than a pop and each different kind of gun has it’s own ‘Goldilocks’ zone where it’s as good as it’s gonna sound on a microphone.

        Best way to replicate that feeling in a game is to add bass, the problem is a lot of games make the actual report too long and so it sounds like a long Hollywood boom instead of a quick thump. Getting a gunshot sound just right is really not that easy.

  9. Trashcanman says:

    The ARMA games suck massively in SP. Which is a shame. In MP however they truly shine. The SP here sucking comes as no surprise, but I would have liked a little more info on the MP. In the end that is why people play theis and it is the meat of the game.

  10. Cooper says:

    There’s a simple solution to Arma 2 engine campaigns. Make death simply boot you into another ‘body’.

    Non-Player Characters (that need not to die), player character (that also needs not to die) and scripts (that need to fire off and work) are all antithetical to what is one of the best mil-sim-sandboxes ever.

    • Chiller says:

      This. The fragility of infantrymen is a strength of their simulation; it should be embraced. Casualties are unavoidable, so let the player play as a whole platoon rather than a single soldier. They’ve toyed with this idea a bit in ARMA 1 iirc, but nothing came of it eventually.

    • Kektain says:

      For what it’s worth, you can do this in the editor. Any unit can be marked as “Player” (the default spawn when the mission starts) or “Playable” (can be switched to after death). It’s not perfect; you can switch to any playable entity at any time, not just after death, and instead of a big zoomable map you have to choose from a list. But it’s something.

  11. str4 says:

    My issue with ARMA single player is how much they direct you. I feel like the game is so open, why not utilize that? Give me a rough objective and then throw me in and let me figure it out. No way points or crappy squad mates. I want missions that will takes days, so I can utilize the night, and I want to be able to go where I want, when I want, and I want to figure it out for myself.

    • pendergraft says:

      The Manhattan mission in the main ARMA 2 campaign is almost a perfect example of this. You’re in charge of only three other operatives and have a helicopter and its pilot at your disposal while tasked with a handful of objectives that you can complete in any order you like. You had to locate rebel camps, assassinate a general, find a couple of civilians needed for questioning (the only clue you had on one of them was that she drove a red car), and a few others. I think you even had access to a UAV drone. You got to set your own insertion and extraction points instead of just following the game’s orders. It was pretty much unplayable at release, but it works a lot better now, and is probably one of my favorite gaming moments ever. I really hope they model the ARMA 3 campaign around it.

      I bought Iron Front last night and am disappointed by the campaign. They made the same mistake that every custom campaign mod has made, which is to use cutscenes involving a guy running up to a group of guys and engaging them in conversation. Even if you had Morgan Freeman, Max von Sydow, and Michael Wincott doing the voice acting, the ARMA engine does not allow for this sort of thing to occur without being utterly laughable. The NPCs are so lifeless, sock puppets are more convincing. And the missions themselves seem to be of the “Go there, do this, the end,” variety.

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    Chaz says:

    Achtung Spi… Sturmovik!

  13. Shortwave says:

    D’aww, I was really hoping to hear more good news about this game but the MP seems to be suffering badly. TBH, the only fun I’ve managed to get out of the Arma II engine is simply looking at the game as a graphically advanced and highly detailed (world) combat flight simulator. Haha.
    If MP picks up and the engine is magically less buggy I will def’ consider this as a on sale purchase.
    But eh! We’ll see.

    To be totally honest, RO2 is finally actually playable..
    And the bump from the free weekend is totally going to be noticeable.
    Despite the dev’s totally lying to customers about why the game ran like shit.
    AKA, telling us it was our computers and that the game was made for future hardware, lol.
    “Made for future hardware” but doesn’t even have DX11 or xfire/sli support. >.> Kay. Lol..
    EITHER WAY, it does every this game does but better now. Except for map/player size of course.
    I lot of people were seeing that as a game that could replace RO2 at least..
    But I just don’t see that being possible now. But that’s a good thing.
    Honestly happy to see RO2 doing well and finally in a playable condition.

  14. hello, please change your username says:

    Can you massacre civilians there?
    Can you be part of NKVD squad that’s main task is to kill off deserters that are running away from front line?
    Is there a possibility to recreate Katyn massacre or round up civilians and deport them to Siberia?
    Oh and can you rape women like Red army did at that time?
    And steal watches?

    • Unaco says:

      No. No. No. No. Yes.

      Currently, there are no civilian models/units in the game. There’re no female models/units either. No shooting of deserters. And no Siberia map, or option to deport anyone.

      Watches are, as normal with ArmA, in a unit’s inventory so you can take them from a corpse. But you can only have 1 watch.

      Edit: Actually, the Katyn massacre could be recreated in the editor, somewhat. But that would be up to the player themselves.

      • MistyMike says:

        I don’t think that comment was meant literally UNATCO.

        I think he’s just exasperated with another of those sanitized Eastern front theme park shooters, where all the unpleasantness is erased and big boys get to play with realistically modeled historic guns.

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          neofit says:

          Yes, but the freaking genius must just have read the re-release Mein Kamp and is making the Red Army the bad guys and the poor sweet nazis freedom fighters. Notice he didn’t ask if you could bring millions of Jews into gas chambers, starve millions of prisoners to death, rape, slaughter and burn to the ground hundreds of Oradour sur Glane’s in that Lebensraum to the East. Oh no, his Parteigenossen would never stoop to this, mind you.

          • MistyMike says:

            The bottom line is that in the east two tyrannies were fighting with each other and the common people suffered the most as a result.

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            neofit says:

            The bottom line is that in the east two tyrannies were fighting with each other and the common people suffered the most as a result.

            Not quite. A nation that lost millions fighting for its very survival, and at the same time freed Europe and probably more from living in slavery under a nation of self-appointed super-humans, deserves a bit more respect than being put in the same bag as the nazi scum.

            Mr “insert username here” has apparently just finished reading one of those sanitized, post-Nuremberg memoirs of a German officer, filled with chivalry, professionalism and kindness, whose watch was apparently stolen by those evil eastern barbarians (who apparently invented rape too) for absolutely no reason whatsoever, and “insert username” is revolted by this sort of things. His “questions” are completely irrelevant to what happens or can happen in this or any other game.

          • DoctorBrain says:

            “…nation that lost millions fighting for its very survival, and at the same time freed Europe and probably more from living in slavery…”

            Really? The Communists “freed” Europe? That’s funny, since as far as I can remember, they raped and pillaged their way into central Europe and absorbed everything in their path, then ruled everything east of Berlin with an iron fist for the next 50 years.

            There’s no denying that Hitler and the Nazis did lots and lots of bad things, but pretending that the Soviets are the good guys because they fought them off is naive. WW2’s Eastern Front consisted of little more than two really, really bad regimes pummeling each other. There were no good guys.

  15. mod the world says:

    Thank you, but Red Orchestra has ruined my appetite for unforgiving Ostfront FPS for the next 30 years.

  16. SkittleDiddler says:

    So I guess back to Red Orchestra 2?

  17. wodin says:

    Has it’s issues, however they will all be fixed at some point. I’ve made some great scenarios very quickly with no idea really what I was doing, yet experinced some superb street fighting. The measly stock scenarios and odd campaign really don’t show it off at all. The three scenarios I knocked together where far more exciting.

    Also playing Blitzkrieg multiplayer mode single player and putting 50 on each side is great fun aswell, again better than the stock scenario’s.

    If you where disappointed with RO2 and enjoy ARMA 2 , I say buy it. It’s going to be a far better east front realistic sim than RO2 will ever be. Once new missions come out and the bugs fixed.

  18. thecaptain says:

    Sure, the bundled single player and multiplayer are a bit lackluster, but the content and combat balancing are spot on: tanks, planes, infantry, and support weapons.

    I think this one’s going to be worth it for the inevitable multiplayer modes and mods. There’s a scale of battle (dozens of tanks, hundreds of infantry, passable AI soldiers) that you just can’t get from a regular shooter like Red Orchestra 2. While this essentially feels like a full priced, polished mod, it’s also a game that will probably have a larger playerbase than any similar arma 2 mod, and might have a longer multiplayer lifespan.

    So I say: bring on the new gameplay modes, modes, and maps! Where’s my open source, offbrand Heroes and Generals knockoff?

  19. gophur says:

    I hear there’s another simulation based WWII shooter in the works out there…

  20. JS says:

    First of all, the Panzerfaust doesn’t have a blast shield, that’s a Panzerschreck. You can’t make mistakes like that when writing about a milsim. Too many grognards out there for something like that to be missed… :-)

    Other than that, I couldn’t agree more with this review. Sums up my impressions of Iron Front perfectly.

  21. dopey says:

    Jim,

    Have you played in any ARMA communities? Either way, I recommend giving United Operations a go, just try and look past all the drama / don’t get involved in that bit.. But you’d be hard pressed to find better and more fun gaming as far as ARMA goes elsewhere.

  22. Scrofa says:

    I’ve been waiting for THIS since OFP.

  23. Meusli says:

    I had a great time on this last night, reminded me a lot of the best bits of WW2online. Lying in a trench as the mist rolled over the ground taking pot shots at German infantry trying to cross a bridge, totally drew me in. When us steam users get the patch we should be able to play with more players which should ratchet up the fun even more.

  24. bongosabbath says:

    tryign. :/

  25. pendergraft says:

    The multiplayer browser makes me sad. There’s only one other player on the 1.01a beta servers, of which there are many, and ~25 people on the rest of the regular 1.01 servers. Most people bought it through Steam, I guess, and are unable to use the beta patch. Hopefully this picks up.

  26. Mattressi says:

    Does Invasion 1944 have a comparably large map? One of the things I love about Arma 2 is running around the Chernarus map, playing mods that let you have a free-play, open-world experience. Are the maps in Invasion 1944 comparably large? If not, it sounds like I should get Iron Front, even if it’s just for the map(s).

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    neofit says:

    I remember trying this I44 total conversion a couple years ago, as well as another full stalker-like total conversion (Rising Dead maybe?). They both had the same problem: saving a game generated a 200 MB or so file, and took a whooping 2 minutes onto an SSD, and of course same time with a reload. I remember a dev of one of them explaining that there was no way around it and this was the way total conversions worked in the Arma2 engine: if the map, the units, the weapons, everything was changed, the game generated a huge save file. I don’t know to what extents it is true, and whether it has been changed in a patch, but in any case it wasn’t playable, and I am glad that IFL44 brings me a total conversion that is now using actual stock assets.

    Not that it helps much with WW2 mod making though. One thing this article forgot to mention is that modding is currently disabled in IFL44. From the BIS forums, apparently translated from the German FAQ:

    Q: How about community mods, can the devs say something about it?
    A: Not yet, but we´ll be glad to include good mods into IF.

    Q: So atm it´s not possible to load mods in IF?
    A: It is possible, but not without our help, as they need to be signed with our key.

    As usual, the optimists say they are doing this now to debug their game without any mod adding problems, the pessimists say that we are d00med. My opinion is that there is no guarantee they won’t go the way of many small eastern underfunded developers, i.e. move on and leave the game as it is.

    • Cirius says:

      Were Iron Front in the hands of BI, I would have absolutely no concerns that the lack of mod support and constant game crashing bugs would be fixed.

      However, in the hands of an ‘unknown’ third party developer, I just hope Iron Front receives the support it needs. Without modding support and further time investments from the developer , this game will die a very quick and tragic death.

  28. Xerxes17 says:

    I’d say it’s worth it simply for the armor modeling. It’s a very good tank sim. Hopefully mods in the future will allow us to massively expand the game.

    • tigershuffle says:

      with Arma 3 round the corner…and my Arma2 time spent running away from zombies on Chernarus I think ill pass, besides still need to get Invasion44 workng properly

      Does beg the question whether they could/would port over the armour modeling once Arma 3 is released to let the Arma2 engine have a new lease of life ??!n

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    MajorManiac says:

    My favourite game mode in ARMA 2 is the CTI one. Its a huge RTS where you can capture the entire map one town at a time. Each town providing recourses to buy more solders, vehicles and aircraft.

    Is this mode included in the game? I’d love to play it in a WW2 setting. It’d basically be Company of Heroes the FPS.