It's like one of those Freudian dreams. I burst from the undergrowth, the stock of a chattering MP 40 jammed against my shoulder. Crimson puffs squib from the torsos of the three Ivans in the clearing, but nobody goes down. They just stand there as I hurriedly reload. More RATATAT. Still no effect. Scheisse, looks like I've found another of Iron Front's legion of bugs.
This standalone Arma 2 conversion is broken in numerous ways, yet still manages to deliver entertainment by the Opel Blitzload. Between the crashes, framerate slumps and mission trigger failures, I've been doing what I generally do in any descendent of Op Flash – playing some uncommonly plausible multiplayer, and fabricating my own solo fun with the preposterously powerful editor.
After five minutes with the battle builder I'm a Stuka pilot circling a T-34-infested Ukrainian village, a pistol-equipped partisan nearing a sleepy checkpoint. A few clicks more and I'm a Soviet AT engineer stalking a bogged King Tiger on the banks of a Polish stream, a downed Airacobra pilot attempting to steal an Fw 190, a bewildered British gamer staring at his own desktop.
Bah. Bally thing crashed again.
When Iron Front behaves itself it provides optical delights and tactical texture you'll struggle to find elsewhere. Yes, it's basically Arma 2 with fustier firearms, and there are strong hints of Red Orchestra in the brutal honesty of the infantry combat, but Bohemia Interactive's impressive tech and X1's charismatic cartography combine to produce portraits of Ost Front fighting with a feel and resonance all of their own.
There have been genuine Time Machine Moments during both my last two MP sessions. While most online scenarios feature teams battling to take or hold territory, the skirmishes in question involved a squad of human grenadiers clearing a string of AI-held hamlets. Squinting down the barrel of my MG 42 as comrades leap-frogged from dacha corner to dacha corner, I frequently found myself viewing scenes ripped straight from period newsreels.
Sadly IF's documentarian delights and near limitless possibilities are still accessed by one of gaming's least intuitive GUIs. If you're new to the Arma series you'll almost certainly struggle to make sense of the menus used to issue orders. The campaign tutorials skip some crucial stuff, and the manual is one of the worst I've come across in 30 years of gaming.
Other Arma shortcomings have survived the era shift. Stunning vehicle and aircraft visuals mask suspect physics and damage modelling, and abject audio. Planes don't so much stall as fall; 70-ton battlewagons are stopped in their tracks by flimsy woodsheds.
Modders will doubtless correct some of these, but Iron Front's potentially bright future depends far more on the efficacy of promised official patches.