Version tested: Xbox 360
Turning Point begins by asking what would have happened if Winston Churchill had died before World War II began. Then it immediately answers thus: Germany would have blitzed the UK into submission and, having fixed the trains and weaned us off dangling prepositions (a future to look forward to - sorry, to which we can look forward), invaded the USA by air in 1953. The game begins as you, some sort of construction worker erecting the steel framework of a high-rise building, get a close-up view of the initial bombardment of New York, as German ordnance dismantles your work and the city around you. Being a linear first-person shooter, this means your immediate goal is to navigate down to the ground using the only route available to you - alternative paths falling away, exploding or disintegrating in time-honoured fashion as you approach them.
Once you've gathered a weapon, you fight off a few paratroopers, using familiar Iron Sights (down the barrel) aiming for precision, and catch up with the local National Guardsmen, who send you to-ing and fro-ing, shooting Nazis, except next to a toppled Empire State Building, or in the White House or Tower of London. There's only ever one way to progress, with the general running-and-gunning punctuated by entrenched opposition. Sometimes you come up against more substantial armour, like a tank, and the prescribed answers are things like using that handily placed rocket launcher, or going down a manhole and planting some C4 on the tank's underside through a handily placed gap in the pavement, depending on which level you're on. For the most part though, you move forward, attack, clear the area, and then move on.
Developer Spark prefers to keep the action in close confines and that means corridors - whether it's in apartment buildings linked by rooftops and fire escapes, underground stations whose tracks are zigzagged with derailed train carriages, or relatively broad streets narrowed by debris and chain-link fencing. The health system doesn't rely on health-points but the more fashionable desaturation effect to represent discomfort, allowing you to recover quickly when you're out of the firing line, so your biggest threats are becoming overwhelmed away from natural cover, and the telltale clanking of the German Stielhandgranate, which is even more telltale thanks to a directional grenade damage indicator.
Since you're often operating in close quarters, Spark has implemented a system where you can grapple an enemy and bonk them on the head, take them as a human shield, or perform an environmental kill, the earliest of which sees you tossing a paratrooper off a building as he tries to cut free of his 'chute. Later you can smash heads through TVs or drown people in toilets. To break up the action and vary the terrain, you also climb ladders, and clamber hand over hand beneath pipes and along ledges. When you get to the end of a level, you're told how many people you've killed so far, which is pleasantly old-school, and then there's a brief intermission. One of the first informs you that the President and Vice President have both resigned, replaced by the Speaker of the House who surrenders on behalf of the US Armed Forces, only for a renegade General to ignore his orders and mount a resistance offensive.
Which is all the good bits and all the bits it's simple enough to explain without descending into angry rants, or thereabouts. Dealing with the rest will take longer, because Turning Point is almost relentlessly bland, frustrating, broken or inadequate. Probably the worst offender is the actual first-person shooting: aiming is as bad, if not worse than it was in Turok. No matter which sensitivity setting you choose, you're constantly trying to drag the aiming reticule into position, particularly using the Iron Sights feature, which ensures greater accuracy but barely lets you see what's in your sights. The aiming-assist is neither one thing nor the other, failing to alleviate all the painstaking back-and-forth over-compensation with the right stick. Generally you compromise by aiming roughly in the right direction and then trying to strafe yourself on target.
Actual combat is inevitably frustrating. Your enemies are dim-witted, but powerful in numbers, and flattered by your inability to actually point your gun at them, so you keep a distance where you can agonisingly picking them off. Even so, you mow down hundreds and hundreds, charting a contrived path up and down buildings, the route forever neatly aligned in unconvincing fashion, one doorway always safe from the wreathes of flame, one train door always open on either side of the carriage, one section of wall uncluttered by razor wire, one window always smashed as you approach along a rooftop ledge.
Compared to the deceptive linearity of Half-Life 2, for example, it's like potholing while drunk. Movement is laboured, and interacting with things like pipes, ledges and ladders is clumsy. The only puzzle I can remember involved pressing the action button on three valves in a row and then backing off, and the puzzling element was going around the room until the action icon actually appeared over something.
Sometimes you meet up with other people on your side, who seem unimpressed with your accomplishments to begin with, remarking that you're only a civilian but you've come in pretty handy - presumably referring to the occasion when you climbed under gigantic German tanks and wired up explosives (a dull mini-game involving matching wire colours and twisting the left stick to tighten screws), before single-handedly dispatching an entire Nazi platoon and then taking down an airship in the dark while dodging automatic weapons-fire. Later they send you alone to assassinate the President and dismantle nuclear bombs, so there's a definitely tipping point. There's lots of time to sit and contemplate this sort of thing as you auto-pilot your way through another series of unsurprising firefights, all the more unsurprising for the fact that the tougher ones where the difficulty spikes have to be replayed over and over, in-game cut-scenes and all, because the checkpointing is unsympathetic.
Turning Point's use of the Unreal Engine is also rather baffling, given the things we've seen done with it in Gears of War, BioShock and company. On occasion it looks like a PlayStation 2 game, and not in the sense that it's ropey-looking for a 360 game and we're being severe, but in the sense that it literally looks like a PS2 game. The character models are basic to the point of appearing to be cartoons on several occasions, while the textures are flat and bland. Even the more detailed areas are seas of repeating rust, brick and steel. Fire effects range from party streamers, to blobs of orange Vaseline having their own party.
The smoke effect isn't awful, but it, along with just about anything requiring remotely complex calculations, like standing next to smashing glass, causes the game to stutter and belch. Fighting up to the White House towards the end of the game, the frame-rate plunges far below 30fps as you desperately fire into the gloom. Textures regularly turn up late (at one stage I stood on a rooftop for about five seconds staring at a fuzzy billboard, only for the high-res image to arrive as I was turning away), and the shonky design often floors what little disbelief you were managing to suspend: following one chap as he hunches over to avoid imaginary enemy fire, he stops and stands bolt upright until you reach the magic point on the floor that allows him to resume his hunching and scamper the remaining five yards to the door you're approaching together. This sort of thing happens whenever NPCs are involved. Glitches aren't uncommon either, like shimmering character models and dead bodies vibrating or lying suspended in the air.
Venture online and you're able to engage in deathmatch and team deathmatch, but with the core FPS mechanics in such poor form and little to distinguish the combat from anything else, the only reason you would do so would be to drag a little more life out of a game whose single-player mode ends in under five hours anyway, replaying the same bits over and over included.
The idea of America resisting occupation is not particularly new, and it's not handled well here (Freedom Fighters, Io Interactive's long-forgotten multiformat squad-shooter, was a much better effort), as Turning Point singularly fails to extract anything from the high concept premise that can be used to justify it: the Nazis could be substituted for any other army, or aliens, and it would make no difference, and the only attempt to explore the politics of the situation comes as the President stares you down and starts preaching about how America is corrupted by people making the rich richer, before trying to shoot you in the head with a machinegun. So yes, it's just generally bad, if not entirely appalling, and given the huge number of excellent shooters released in the latter stages of 2007, there's no excuse to get caught out by this one. If Churchill had died, we might all be speaking German, but at least we wouldn't have to put up with nonsense like this.
3 / 10