Just when you think that you couldn’t have another WW2 FPS, you get Ubersoldier from the developers at Burut CT, courtesy of CDV.
Formerly called East Front, UberSoldier’s original press release describing this WW2 shooter sounded as if it could walk on FPS water. Promising the ability to select between a “realistic” or “fantastic” script, time travel to change history where a triumphant Third Reich succeeded in developing a nuclear weapon and used it against the Russians on the Eastern Front, as well as building upon a unique system that would marry your character’s emotions to gameplay resulting in a new style of action, it sounded as if it were going to blow every FPS title out of the water in one go.
And then it got a name change and everything changed. Including the story and most everything else with it. Whether it was due to an overambitious design or something else, much of that ended up on the cutting room floor. So what is left?
UberSoldier fights only on the PC front with Starforce.
Don’t let UberSoldier’s background trick you. This isn’t Return to Castle Wolfenstein II, nor is it Uwe Bolle’s next film (although you might never know). But it does take a page out of the Third Reich’s fascination with the occult to provide a reason for the chaos that you’ll visit upon those hapless fascists, focusing on the efforts of the Ahnenerbe.
While history would record the Ahnenerbe’s attempts at lending the Nazi regime’s racial theories the kind of scientific legitimacy that would rewrite schoolbooks for the next thousand years, UberSoldier goes one step further and says that they actually did find something in one of their expeditions to the far corners of the world. Tibet, to be precise, and that this discovery led to the creation of a resurrection machine thanks to the genius of Ernst Schafer.
Killed by resistance fighters, Karl is brought back in Schafer’s first experiment. There is a problem with the process, though. The first person to speak to the newly revived will be the one to whom he will owe his loyalty to. As Karl begins to come to, the hospital he is in is attacked by the French resistance and the person he now owes his loyalty to is to one of its members that happens to find him. Oops.
As Karl, you’ll shoot and blast your way through twelve levels of mayhem as you try to exact revenge against your former Nazi masters. Why you want to do this is conveniently explained by the fact that you’re now following Maria, the resistance soldier that found you first. This is all that is apparently needed to provide a convenient excuse to destroy everything in your way to destroy the man that resurrected you and to keep those dastardly Third Reich scientists from continuing their experiments.
Karl’s controls are the same as any other FPS, with default WASD controls and weapons controlled by the mouse. Karl’s movements in the game, though, felt as if he were floating somewhere over the surface of the floor. There are also gobs of weapons available to you in the game, all of them derived from actual weapons used in WW2. You start off with a default load whenever you start a new mission, losing out on whatever weapons you were carrying. You keep the weapons you find between the different areas within those missions, but it was still frustrating to suddenly discover that my mini-arsenal was replaced with a puny popgun.
Many of the guns look okay and sound pretty powerful and some of them are far too accurate for their own good such as when you can snipe with your pistol. Most will also take up about 1/4th of the screen and fill it with barrel fire so that you can’t see what exactly you’re supposed to be shooting at. You can also toss out historical accuracy completely when it comes to what everyone is supposed to be carrying with them given where they’re supposed to be. The resistance seem to be better armed than the Wehrmacht, sporting Stg-44s and Russian PPSh guns. This might have been explained in the alternate future storyline that East Front purportedly was going to follow, but in UberSoldier, it just doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Ubersoldier doesn’t do a lot to really veer from the typical shooter fare of any other FPS involving the gratuitious slaughter of countless digital goosteppers. It does offer several twists that try to make things interesting, though. Burut and CDV had promoted the “Emotion”, or “Liv Kristine”, system as part of what makes the title unique, giving the main character a sort of ’emotional state’ that could tilt the game in their favor. From the press about the game, the main character’s emotions…fear, hatred, panic, etc…. would result in positive and negative reactions to what was occurring, “stimulating” the action. What it really boils down to, though, is a sort of ‘reward’ system depending on what you do to dispatch your foes.
Instead of just gunning your way through hordes of foes, the system rewards how you take them down. If you manage to get three headshots in a row within a certain time limit (which starts up with the first lucky bullet between the eyes), you get a small, permanent increase to your “time shield” energy limit. If you get in close like Jean Reno and take three enemies down with your knife, your life limit goes up a notch. These RPG-like increases stay with you as you move from level to level and you’ll need them to survive. It’s almost an absolute necessity as your enemies have uncanny aim and deplete your health in rapid fashion. There’s no body armor here, but there’s a ton of health packs everywhere. Miss running back to where you’ve been just to grab that extra ten points of health? You’ll probably be doing that a lot here like I did.
But the biggest twist to the FPS formula that makes Karl Stoltz “Uber” is the time shield ability. While he doesn’t see dead people, he can stop bullets by projecting a shield around him. As bullets hang in the shield, he can run into foes and kill the same soldiers like some kind of shredding machine. The more bullets that hit the shield, though, the faster your energy will run down before it just ‘shuts off’. You can turn the field off on your own, but if you turn it off while it is still in the “White” portion of its energy meter, you’ll repel the bullets in your field, sending them COD to the nearest face. Killing more soldiers slowly replenishes the energy you have to use this ability and unlike your health, it doesn’t refill between levels.
And in order to take full advantage of the shield, you’ll have to work the Emotion system to upgrade its maximum limit. While there are more than enough targets for you to blow away and fill it up with every kill, it fills up extremely slowly. So slowly that if you use it all up, you might find yourself in a precarious position later on when a battalion of SS troopers come looking for you behind the wall of lead that they throw up.
The shield can be sort of overpowering at times, and you can tell that the designers really wanted the player to use it as much as possible when they unleash a Third Front against you. Many times, I’d flip the shield on and just run into a firefight I didn’t want to spend bullets on (the shield catches your bullets, too) and just kill the enemy with their own shots. The slow recharge, however, balances this out somewhat and it won’t protect you from grenades or explosions.
One potential downside to the whole upgrade system is in that if you miss too many opportunities to knife or headshot bad guys on your way to the end, there’s no real way to make it up. A lot of the firefights get pretty nuts as the Nazi war machine throws soldiers, planes, and exploding buildings and flaming barrels at you later on. Add to this the brutal and uncanny accuracy that most of the soldiers seem to have with anything (sniping you with an MG-42, for example) and you’ll find yourself banging away at that quick reload key more often than you’d like. It becomes all too easy to be turned into swiss cheese in some areas, ensuring that if you didn’t take advantage of the “Emotion” system, the only emotion you might be feeling later on is one of frustration when healing kits become more difficult to find.
In some levels, you’ll also have resistance fighters come in and help you at certain points although you might as well put cardboard cutouts out there. They’re useful for drawing fire and for acting as cannon fodder or to open ‘unopenable’ doors, but not for much else. They’ll do what they think is right, leaving you behind for the most part to either catch up or just watch them fall like dominoes. The exceptions to this are the ‘hero’ characters that are part of the story. They’re pretty invincible and at one point, I left the side of one of these to grab some health packs some distance back only to return and find that he had done some of the hard work for me without a scratch.
Damage is indicated on your main reticle, but its easy to not be able to see who is shooting at you with all of the clutter on screen that fills it from time to time. I found myself trying to get a bead on someone that apparently can see Karl just fine through the tangled collection of girders and posts a few hundred feet away in an enclosed tower. The enemy simply has eagle vision so as soon as they know you’re out there, they’ll start firing at the first pixel that comes around that corner in a somewhat psychic demonstration of hyper accuracy.
Aside from that, the Nazi war machine will also take cover and actually take the time to reload while protected, giving you the rare chance to run around and take them out however you want or squeeze off that sniper shot. Then you have the specialists, the ones that have flamethrowers and heavy machine guns, and the insane results of Schafer’s experiments to contend with which basically just lemming rush you.
Without the fancy time shield and the “Emotion” system, though, the game still pretty much boils down into your typical FPS shooter and before you know it, it’s all over. The main game itself isn’t very long and with no multiplayer to fall back on, there’s not a lot to compel players to go back through it again. Although the visuals aren’t bad and there are moments of great fun to be found in some of the levels, it can start feeling too much like the same thing.
Beneath the Armor Plate
The engine used in UberSoldier is Burut’s own and it doesn’t look half bad but it will crush lesser systems without warning. It was running fine at high settings on my system…for the first few minutes until I made it to a large street area filled with soldiers and other items and my 9600 Pro simply died. Apparently, 2.2GHz of speed and the 1.5GB of RAM that were enough for Call of Duty 2 weren’t enough for Ubersoldier.
Depending on how you feel about the use of photographic textures, you’ll either love or hate the look of the levels. They’re used everywhere, although you can tell how flat some of these textures look on some of the walls and doors that you’ll be running into on an almost constant basis. The feeling that you’re somewhere in WW2 Europe is…somewhat carried over. There are a few exceptions toward the end that can make it feel as if it has succeeded in putting you on the front or deep underground in the bowels of a secret Nazi base. For the most part, though, it felt as if I were paintballing through the rusty remnants of an industrial park.
Many of the interiors, such as the bunkers and secret lab facilities, are filled with small details like tables, equipment, and other objects that can go flying from bullets or bombs thanks to Burut’s physics system. You still feel like a pair of disembodied arms floating with a gun in your hands, though, and the gun animations are pretty sparse leaving you with the feeling that the guns are just there to let you know what kind of weapon you’re using. Most of the weapons feel somewhat similar to each other with varying degrees of range, and the iron sights on most of these things don’t do a whole lot to help you draw a bead on your foes since they’re more likely to use their hyper inflated sense of aim to pepper you with shots while you try to take aim. Fortunately, the animations for your foes coupled with the physics in the game help to make them look pretty decent, but that’s not saying much.
Most of the levels are pretty linear as you pursue objectives, basically having the player head through one area after another as you try and find that one door. Some levels are large enough to keep you guessing as to where you should go next, but an indicator on your compass will show you the general direction of where you’ll need to find more Wehrmacht cannon fodder. Most of these levels will basically pit you against the Nazis in front of you with little to be creative with, unless you see explosive barrels nearby that you can set off as a surprise. For some reason, the precious fuel reserves that the Third Reich desperately needed towards the end of the war are stocked everywhere you can look, providing you with more than enough explosive targets.
The artists have also added quite a bit of WW2 propaganda, much of it adding a lot of flavor to the levels…especially the indoor ones…although one poster apparently had a date on it placing it in the fifties. Political correctedness continues to rears its head in top form with the swastika replaced with the Iron Cross or just left completely blank on the flags in the worst cases making it feel as if Karl was fighting a bunch of Nazi wannabes.
Burut’s physics system sends soldiers flying through windows, crumpling to the ground, keeling over tables, falling over railings, and kicking back from a well placed sniper shot. Most of the objects and areas in the game are chock full of things that don’t react too well to bullets or grenades. Chairs go flying, furniture can be wrecked, and sometimes walls can be blown apart with the bricks going everywhere. Vehicles turn into flaming bombs, one scene filling the screen with fire as one kubelwagon went flying into the air after catching fire from the others that already blew up. Every environment seems to want to advertise this, with fuel barrels scattered everywhere just begging to be shot and blown, sending flaming wreckage everywhere.
The game is also addicted to dynamite charges. Most of the time, you’ll be sent everywhere on the map to find charges to blow up doors or put holes in walls. This can get a little ridiculous later on, not only in just how many times you’re asked to find these things, but where you’re sent to get them. The charges tend to just lie around in places like a maintenance shed or an office shelf, just in case someone needs to put a hole in the concrete wall of a building.
But most of the detail in the game appears to have been spent in making the soldiers look good and when you take one out, they don’t just fall over and die. You’ll watch helmets fly, rooftop shooters fall down through power lines, gear fly off Wehrmacht infantry as they hit the dirt, glass explode, and wreckage scatter itself everywhere. One cool effect comes from an enemy that uses telekinetic power to embrace you in a sort of whirlwind of debris to blind you and throw your shots off, picking up debris around you to block your bullets and whittle away your health.
It’s not all FPS action, though, and you’ll also find yourself torpedoing ships in a sort of sub mini-game and then defending her against air attacks with the deck machine guns in a nod to Call of Duty’s chase and defend sequences. While they add an interesting twist to the general run ‘n gun gameplay, they’re not particularly good and really stretch your sense of disbelief as you down half of the Luftwaffe or sink the warships of the Kriegsmarine in what felt like an updated version of Air-Sea Battle.
The Boys from Biloxi
Aside from the action, what is probably the worst part of the title is what it does to give you a reason to keep drilling Nazis. If the story wasn’t all that great to begin with, what is supposed to be helping to tell it ruins what is left. Don’t expect the kind of narrative and background provided in titles such as Return to Castle Wolfenstein, Medal of Honor, or Call of Duty to help with the immersion. The localization of the title leaves a lot to be desired. Some of this is also echoed elsewhere such as the manual, which refers to the Ahnenerbe but which the game calls the “UberMacht”, or missteps in the subtitles especially the name for the first stage by calling it a “Psychopathic Hospital” as other examples. Even the original press release for East Front called it a psychiatric hospital, so I’m not sure what happened. But the greatest culprit of this can easily be heard in the voice acting.
Instead of The Boys from Brazil, we get The Boys from Biloxi voicing most of the cannon fodder that you’ll find in the game with a kind of southern US flavored country twang. When Wehrmacht soldiers yell “Rebel!” or “Scum!”, I half expected the General Lee to come roaring through one of the industrial brick walls of the game with Bo and Luke Duke blasting away with PPSh automatics. It’s that bad. I event went so far as wonder if it were possible to pull the .wav files for the German soldiers in my copy of Wolfenstein 3D and see if I could replace their lines with those instead.
There are one or two slim exceptions, such as Karl Stoltz’ Germanic accent sounding like a young, sleepy Jurgen Prochnow (Das Boot) soundalike providing some solid acting if only because he does sound Jurgen Prochnow-like. But don’t expect deep dialog even when the voices sort of come together. Most of the dialog itself isn’t great and its not because of the delivery. Hearing your allies say things like “I see Nazis” in a weak play off of the infamous line from The Sixth Sense over and over again was only one example of this collision between somewhat serious gameplay and cheese.
Because of this, when it tries to grab the player with a dramatic play on emotions, it doesn’t work very well because the characters aren’t very convincing leaving you only with the paint-by-bullets gameplay. The potential was there, but too many things went wrong to really make it stand out as more than bitter dressing.
The game also makes use of Starforce protection which didn’t work with the first CD-ROM drive that I tried to play it from (although it installs fine from it). It doesn’t announce itself when it installs, so be warned when you are asked to reboot your system in order to ‘enable’ the protection. Once it was enabled, however, it failed to work with my Yamaha CRW-F1S drive. Fortunately, I had another drive that I could play the game from, but watching the message come up saying that I didn’t have the ‘real media’ when I had the disc in the drive to play it was more than a little irritating. Making me scramble around to try and find another way to play the game I had bought because it doesn’t like my drive is not exactly something I like spending my gaming time on. Every game that I had installed from this drive worked fine except for this one.
That said, there are a few other technical issues that also drag the game down a bit. As noted before, you’ll need a pretty beefy system to run this puppy. The recommended system specs should be considered the minimum specs needed to run the game. Savegame loads take some time to complete and the level loads are pretty terrible, taking a few minutes to just start the game. Even Quicksave isn’t that quick, a book nearby for me to read while it restored my previous position in the game. On the up side of this, it was pretty stable and didn’t crash once during my playthrough.
And as mentioned before, there’s also no multiplayer. UberSoldier is strictly a single player experience which doesn’t take very long to blow through. Veteran FPS players may find themselves finished with it in one weekend and then find that there isn’t much else to do afterwards than in raising the difficulty.
UberSoldier does have those moments of gritty WW2 action, but while it does a few new things that make the gameplay interesting, it doesn’t do enough. The “Emotion” system of in-game upgrades along with the time shield effect were interesting additions that helped to make it somewhat unique. Outside of that, however, the rest of the gameplay doesn’t exactly provide more than what other titles have so recently dominated the playing field with.
A weak story, terribly bad voice acting, and a short single player experience along with the complete lack of multiplayer can also be major turn offs for gamers looking to do something else outside of playing with the time shield or in knifing soldiers just to get meager health bonuses. It plays like an extended demo of the new engine that Burut built and unless you really need to see what physics applied to a WW2 FPS may look like, you may want to hold off on spending your ration tickets on this one.
– World 1-1