IronStorm

Preview - after fifty years of trench warfare, it's time for you to bring an end to the Great War

French publisher Wanadoo is a relative newcomer to the gaming industry, best known in Europe as the internet subsidiary of France Telecom. With more than a dozen games due out over the next few months though and a line-up including the entertaining Fifth Element inspired New York Race and European distribution duties for the massively multiplayer role-playing game Dark Age of Camelot, they have certainly got off to a flying start. But when we met up with Wanadoo at ECTS in London last month, the game which really caught our eye was IronStorm from 4X Studios.

A War To End All Wars

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A military bunker complex of some description

IronStorm is set in an alternative universe where the First World War is still going strong in 1964, with millions of soldiers dead and no end in sight. The result is a bizarre mixture of the two World Wars and Vietnam, with much of Europe in ruins, trenches criss-crossing the continent, and technology focusing on tough, reliable weaponry rather than sophistication. This gives the game a unique atmosphere and visual style, best described as drab and depressing. The world has a grimy decaying feel, buildings are in varying states of collapse, barbed wire is strewn across the battlefields, and everything looks a bit primitive and jerry-rigged. Soldiers fight their way through trenches with assault rifles, while tanks and armoured vehicles rattle across no man's land and helicopters fly overhead. Into this terrifying war-torn world comes a Western forces officer called Wizel, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Corporal Steiner, James Coburn's character in the classic war movie Cross of Iron. At first you are tasked with breaking through enemy lines on the Eastern Front to destroy Russian heavy water supplies which are being used to create a primitive nuclear weapon that could change the course of the war, but before long it becomes clear that there is much more at stake. Not everything is as it seems, and you may have the opportunity to finally bring the fifty year conflict to an end.

Life Amongst The Ruins

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James Coburn look-alike Wizel about to let rip with his sniper rifle

The game itself is a semi-realistic shooter, with a choice of first and third person perspectives as you guide Steiner .. sorry, Wizel through the trenches, ruined cities and military bunkers of eastern Germany, taking in Berlin and an armoured train along the way. In keeping with the unusual setting though this isn't a simple case of run-and-gun Quake-style action. As well as a variety of enemy soldiers, you will also have to face hazards such as gas attacks, artillery bombardment and the ever-present mud. Stealth will also play an important role apparently, and your trusty sniper rifle with its nifty telescopic sight should come in handy for those Enemy At The Gate moments. The whole thing is powered by an impressive home-grown graphics engine that is equally effective at handling intricately detailed ruined villages, vast stretches of run-down trenches and cramped interiors. The early levels we saw in action at ECTS positively oozed atmosphere, and although the game is still almost a year from release it was already looking very promising. Its unusual setting and eye-catching visuals should help it stand out from the crowd, and it looks like set to be one of next year's more interesting shooters. There are also plans afoot for PlayStation 2 and Xbox ports of the game alongside the PC version we saw, which should help it reach a wider audience. It's just a shame about that unfortunate choice of title...

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