Last night me and the cat stayed in and watched Kelly's Heroes. What a cracking movie. Yes, the plot is cobblers, Telly Savalas' performance is criminal, and the Tiger tanks look a bit Blue Peter, but talk about style, talk about swagger.
War Front isn't quite in the same league, but there's a tongue-in-cheek irreverence running through it that's reminiscent. Instead of treating WWII like a sacred relic, Hungarian veterans Digital Reality have kitbashed it into an ironic Red Alert-style RTS. In their version of the war Herr Hitler dies early, the Germans conquer London, and Panzers end up rubbing schurtzen with mechs, mobile shield generators and burrowing APCs.
How bad can a game be that features National Socialists in giant robo-suits? Not very, according to my ancient Austrian dentist Mr Muller. Although WF doesn't exactly break the mould with its base-building, resource gleaning, research and swarmy combat, the theme is novel enough, and the execution expert enough, to counteract the conservatism. Heck, the game is almost worth buying just for the cutscenes.
Long, numerous and jammed with hero quips and slow-mo mayhem, they really are a cut above the drab interludes that pad most RTS campaigns. Unusually for an East European production, there's no sign of skimping on voice talent or script either. Memorable lines like "By nightfall it will be 'Big Hans'" (uttered by a German observing Big Ben through binoculars) are delivered with exactly the right amount of Bavarian ham.
One 11-mission campaign follows the antics of a bazooka-toting, broad-obsessed obermensch called Roland Hellmann, the other his grenade-happy motorbike-wrangling American counterpart. Both gradually unveil generous faction armouries that are half Blitzkrieg, half Gear Krieg. The western allies' advantage is in the air: ground attack aircraft, primitive helicopters and heavy bombers armed with earthquake bombs and nukes.
The Jerries do a nice line in king-sized Panzers, jetpack infantry and doodlebugs. If you want to play as the Soviets, sampling their freeze rays, Katyushas and lumbering multi-turreted land battleships, you've got to explore the well-equipped skirmish and multiplayer modes.
Each side gets to construct WF's most interesting structures: player-crewable turrets. These allow you to repel assaults using a Beachhead-style first-person view. Shooting down the odd Aphrodite (a pilotless B-17 packed with HE) or flame-grilling the odd wave of paratroopers in person breaks up the usual RTS routine rather nicely.
It's only that usual routine that keeps me from scoring this low-brow charmer higher. The devs seem to have expended all their imagination on the setting, units and cutscenes. The pattern of play - building a base, waging war - has ended up as middle-of-the-road as a Tiger on a country lane.
WWII on Benylin. You could do worse