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After a three year gap, Spark Unlimited returns with a new first-person shooter for Codemasters...
- Alternate History setting allows for some creativity.
- Bomb setting mechanic is original.
- It's a short game...which is a good thing.
- Muddy visuals.
- Tons of bugs.
- Lack of innovation, fun, or enemy AI...
After a brief delay, Codemasters' and Spark Unlimited's alternate history first-person shooter and original IP, Turning Point: Fall of Liberty, finally arrives in the UK. Running with the notion that Winston Churchill failed to survive a real life encounter with a New York cab in 1931, leaving Europe under Nazi rule, Turning Point follows NYC construction worker Dan Carson on the eve of a Swastika-led invasion of the US during the 1950s. The 'what if the Nazis won' idea has been done on TV and in books countless times, but Turning Point's story at least suggests a new direction for what is an otherwise tired 'WWII' sub-genre of FPS.
Developed by Spark Unlimited, a studio largely derided for producing the most mediocre instalments in the Call of Duty franchise (Finest Hour and Big Red One) a few years ago, initial expectations for Turning Point can perhaps be described as 'lukewarm' at best - but surely they'll have risen to the challenge for their debut on the 'next-gen'...wouldn't they???
TVG braved the V-2 launches to take part in the US resistance movement and discover whether Fall of Liberty marks a turning point in Codies' (and Sparks') FPS fortunes...
Start Spreading The News...
The notion of the US getting invaded in an alternate history isn't perhaps the most original idea to hit gaming; Danish outfit IO Interactive (Hitman) tried it in 2003 with Freedom Fighters, which saw players fight against Soviet occupation in the Big Apple...a sequel is yet to emerge. But that doesn't mean that Turning Point can't succeed with its 'alt-history' adventure.
Beginning with the Nazi attack on New York City, which introduces players to Carson together with the game's widely generic mechanics, Turning Point quickly takes players through the Big Apple to Washington DC, and London. Throughout all the locations, gamers take part in what would be key moments in the fight back: assassinating the puppet US President, shutting down a Nazi A-bomb, and instigating the final turning point against the Germans, all with Carson as the deciding factor. The fact that Carson shows the remnants of the US military exactly how to kick some butt is skimmed over so lightly that it's glaringly unbelievable premise shines brighter than a halogen lamp.
But the need for suspended belief in the protagonist's heroic turn is the least of Turning Point's worries...
For starters, Turning Point isn't exactly what you'd call an innovative title. Archaic would be a more accurate description of the game; tired and woefully generic would be another. The gameplay just feels over a decade old, with well-trodden mechanics, largely unresponsive AI, with more bugs than an exotic pet store. Scripted events remain at the cornerstone of any game to drive a dramatic atmosphere, so in the urban warzones of Turning Point, a few would naturally be expected - but not so badly placed that the level of drama barely raises above that of a US soap opera. One early example of this comes when Carson helps to defend two barricades blocking the German war machine's path to a NYC subway. Armed with a Thompson machine gun the construction worker fights back against two APCs and armed blimps, which take turns to appear before retreating at a set time like an on-rails shooter.
The shoddy enemy AI surpasses even this in its level of shoddiness. At times (most of the time in fact) non-existent, the blundering antics of the Nazi forces is so unresponsive that it's any wonder they managed to launch a successful invasion of the US in the first place. From grunt soldiers that throw grenades away from the player and into walls next to them, to crack shot SS that can't hit Carson with an MP50 sub-machinegun from just a few feet away, the AI of the Nazis would be laughable if it didn't have such a negative effect on gameplay.
Perhaps the AI issues are just some of the many bugs that literally plague Turning Point at every square pixel, more than anything else. Beyond frame rate issues throughout Carson's story, the repeated bugs of NPCs flickering between animated states (most drop to the ground from a standing position with no animation in between), to disappearing through solid objects, and even disappearing altogether, gives Turning Point the feel of a wholly unpolished title - where was Quality Assurance???
Talking about unpolished, it seems that the feedback from Spark that the demo released on Xbox Live Marketplace wasn't an example of the final visuals is largely unfounded. Bland, muddy, and looking like a past-gen game (we thought that support for the original Xbox had died!), not to mention being riddled with texture tearing, and static lighting, Turning Point is perhaps graphically the poorest title to be released on the newer consoles. It would have made a very disappointing launch title for both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
...I'm Leaving Today.
There is perhaps an ounce or two of originality woven into the battered thread of gameplay. Grappling with the Nazi onslaught in hand-to-hand combat, with instant kills, human shield, and the occasional environmental kills on offer is certainly far more successful than Treyarch's lacklustre attempts at staged encounters in Call of Duty 3. Like so much of Turning Point, the practicalities of using the grapple are flaky at best. Carson seems to be more than capable of reaching out for a Nazi from a few metres away, but getting a grasp from shoulder distance is difficult, forcing players to move around like a muppet before the would be target shoves a rifle butt to the face. A slight annoyance at best and severely frustrating at worst - like some much of Turning Point - grappling just doesn't feel anywhere near as polished as it should be.
The other sliver of originality rests with the dynamic of triggering off bombs. It's a feature passed down from FPS to FPS like an old heirloom, with the gamer's participation restricted to just holding down a button for a few seconds whist their character arms the explosive automatically. Thankfully, Turning Point expands this cliché of the genre with a colour-coordinated mini-game where players have to select and hold the buttons corresponding to the three wires that fuse the bomb. A small touch that nonetheless glints through the murky depths of the rest of the Turning Point experience, it certainly scores a rare point for the game.
There is one other aspect that just about holds itself up against the rest of the shambles. The score for the game, written by 'Call of Duty' and 'Medal of Honor' veteran composer Michael Giacchino, is by far the strongest element of Turning Point. That said, it does little to boost the bland and unremarkable atmosphere players find themselves literally trawling through.
The single-player itself is mercifully short, with the most dramatic set piece saved for the very end of the game. Beyond that, Turning Point also features a wholly limited and dull multiplayer experience, with Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch neatly summing up the creativity of the online mode. Like so much of the game, Fall of Liberty's multiplayer modes and maps feel very generic and old hat, failing to act as a redeeming feature.
In response to poor review scores from across the pond, Spark Unlimited representatives have stated that Turning Point was targeted for a more casual audience than standard FPS titles - a reason that both Eidos and Pivotal used to explain away Conflict: Denied Ops. In truth however, claims that Fall of Liberty's allegiance to the newly popularised 'casual gamer' is little more than a thinly veiled excuse. If that was the case, why wasn't it developed for the casual gaming-focused Wii? And why should casual gamers be targeted with titles that are bug-ridden and all-round poor? Finally, what does it mean to be a so-called 'casual FPS' - surely casual gamers are too pre-occupied with Dr. Kawashima and Tetris to worry about saving New York City in any case...