Iron Storm

Still in the mood to get some twenty-year-old first-person shooters off the Stack, I pull up Iron Storm (Wanadoo, 2002). 1It is possible that my choice here was influenced by the title’s similarity to the name of the studio that developed the last game I blogged here. I picked this out of the bargain bin back in the day because the premise sounded interesting: it’s set in an alternate history where World War I dragged on for fifty years. “Alternate history sci-fi? That sounds cool!” I said, failing to realize how little it would mean in the context of a shooter, that the premise is just an excuse to play soldiers without an obligation to history. I had basically tricked myself into buying Call of Duty without even the pretense of realism. And then I found it excessively difficult to survive the very beginning — it throws you in at the deep end, asking you to pick off some snipers that you can’t even tell what direction they’re killing you from for the first half-dozen tries or so. So I shelved it, and am only getting back to it now. At some point I seem to have picked up the Steam version in a bundle, so I’m playing that instead of installing from disc.

It’s not quite the FPS I remembered — it’s a hybrid that lets you switch freely between first-person and third-person perspective, and defaults to third-person. The designers probably expected that you’d stay in third-person most of the time, but I find myself preferring first, because there’s fewer things on the screen to keep track of that way: instead of your character and an aiming reticle, it’s just the reticle. As befits a game set in a war, there are NPCs on your side, creating some slight sense of comradery as you engage the enemy together, but you leave them behind before long: you’re a solitary commando on a special mission behind enemy lines. The environment is heavily based around trenches — trench networks that branch off to places irrelevant to your mission, that you can easily believe go on for miles and miles, surrounded by nothing but ash and ruins.

Having played through the first level and some ways into the second (out of a mere 6, apparently), I’d say the overall feel is mainly characterized by tension. You can be killed so easily, and the enemies are prepared. They don’t have to run around dodging your attacks when they’re already in a secure machine gun nest with good cover. Sure, sometimes they do just mindlessly run into your fire anyway, but I’ve also had the experience of seeing a soldier escape around a bend and just wait there, aiming at where he knows I’ll be, because I need to keep going forward and all he needs to do is keep me from doing that. In an excellent bit of genre-appropriate interaction design, you can crouch and even crawl on your belly to take better advantage of cover. The ending of level 1 had me crawling around an open area, badly wounded, hearing the impact of bullets on earth around me, unable to return fire effectively because the sun was behind them.

1 It is possible that my choice here was influenced by the title’s similarity to the name of the studio that developed the last game I blogged here.

2 Comments so far

  1. Merus on 6 Jun 2022

    I suspect that history may be unkind to this one – the Wolfenstein reboot has a similar premise, and is far more willing to engage with the narrative consequences of a Nazi regime that managed to survive that long.

  2. matt w on 6 Jun 2022

    Wouldn’t the Nazis never have come to power in this alternate history?

Leave a reply