"What makes the invasion of the U.S. different from that of France? Who would fight back, and who would manipulate the situation for personal gain? Instead of seizing the opportunity to dissect the American experience, Spark slapped some fedoras and Brooklyn accents on the scene and called it a day."
What if? Itís an interesting question that most of ask when looking back on our lives. What if I had tried harder in school? What if I had asked that girl out? What if I hadnít eaten that fourth taco? When Spark decided to ask that question for their sophomore FPS, they went back to one of modern historyís most pivotal figures during an era of worldwide conflict. What if Winston Churchill hadnít lived to impede the Nazi invasion during WWII?
That was my first thought. I looked up from my steel girder, 26 stories above New York Cityís hard pavement, and saw the sky turn black with swastikas. I haphazardly sprinted across the beams as planes swooped into the skyscraper canyons. I watched helplessly as good men, rattled by terror, lost their footing and plummeted through the floorless frame. Steel twisted and brick shattered under volleys of bombs, but I paid little attention as I dashed for safety. I hopped in a rickety elevator, mashed the button just as another bomb hit, and rode it down in the most painful way possible. That concludes Turning Point: Fall of Libertyís most riveting moment.
When I first heard about Turning Point, I had flashbacks to the roaming chaos of Freedom Fighters, in which players were free to overtake objectives when and how they deemed fit. I imagined a battle through the burroughs, snaking through alleyways to sabotage an outpost in Times Square, and an epic battle below the stoic eyes of Lady Liberty. If not for three snapshots of landmarks in the background, I never would have known I was in New York. It could have just as easily been Chicago, Boston, or even my very own Milwaukee. Turning Point makes poor use of the materials at hand, and itís a problem that seeps into every aspect of the game.
Despite our worldwide presence, we Americans can be isolated in our arrogance. War isnít something that happens here. It happens on the TVs we watch from Martha Stewart living rooms. What makes the invasion of the U.S. different from that of France? Who would fight back, and who would manipulate the situation for personal gain? Instead of seizing the opportunity to dissect the American experience, Spark slapped some fedoras and Brooklyn accents on the scene and called it a day.
Iíll admit that not every game has to be as poignant as Call of Duty 4. Sometimes I just want to vent my frustrations and blow things up, but the action here is all paint-by-numbers. Explosive, red barrels are strategically placed for mass-destruction, rocket launchers rest carelessly near every oncoming tank, and red buttons should always be pushed. Itís as though the entire game was scripted to get you from point A to point B as quickly and effortlessly as possible.
Nearly all of Turning Point is a single-track conduit of barricaded streets and hallways lined with locked doors. In case you canít figure out that the ladder directly ahead is meant to be climbed or the dumpster is meant to be hurdled, they transform into flashing, yellow beacons. Such blatant linearity wasnít acceptable ten years ago, and now it feels slightly offensive. Much of the time, the paths set before you donít even make sense. If someone told me, ďFind your way to the subway,Ē I probably wouldnít start my search by climbing to the rooftops.
What happened to level design that actually requires logical thought? Iím not just talking about Turning Point either. I suspect that some developers think the Unreal Technology logo can compensate for their inadequacies. At the very least, they should learn how to use it properly. Massive frame-rate drops, flickering enemies, and disappearing textures sully the Unreal name. Then there is the darkness. I had to max out the gamma correction and double my TVís brightness before I could vaguely see the walls before my eyes, and the enemies still melded into the washed-out blackness.
This is a major problem, because while you canít see them, they can definitely see you. The brave men who will stand at your side are nothing more than illusions to set the atmosphere. When standing shoulder to shoulder at a fortified barricade, every gun was pointed directly at me. When I retreated behind the line to rest, grenades launched over the wall and landed at my feet. I was quite literally, a one man army. Heck, thatís even the name of an achievement for accumulating 400 kills.
Turning Point had a few memorable moments that fed out just enough scraps to keep me hanging on. The aforementioned barricade fight, scrambling through crumbling apartment blocs, and using Nazis as human shields were all highlights, but they can hardly mask the myriad of frustrations. Topping things off, I finished Turning Point in an underwhelming five hours. Call of Duty 4 wasnít a Homeric epic, but it had the multiplayer to back it up. In Turning Point, single and team Deathmatches are the only options, and the strongest rifle can take three, point-blank headshots to score a kill. I think Iíve said enough.
I have no qualms about making the comparisons to Call of Duty. Not only do the games share roots in WWII, but Spark Unlimited was the developer behind Finest Hour. It wasnít the crowing achievement of the series, but the solid level designs, heartfelt storytelling, and compelling multiplayer showed a lot of passion. After three years and a pitiful second showing, Spark probably has a Ďwhat ifí or two for itself. Itís an interesting question, but unfortunately, it canít change reality.
Staff review by Brian Rowe (March 10, 2008)
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