Reviewed: March 17, 2008
Released: February 26, 2008
“WHAT IF” Two simple words that when put together form a very powerful question and the basis for countless sci-fi exploits into time travel and the exploration of parallel universes. The concept is quite simple in theory but impossible to prove. There are countless choices and events in our lives that have multiple outcomes, and all of those outcomes are realized in parallel worlds that run alongside our own based on the choices we ultimately make. Did you ask that special girl out back in high school? No? Well, in some other universe you did and are now married with three kids. Every choice and every event is a spawning point for nearly infinite possibilities.
Turning Point: Fall of Liberty bases its entire story on this premise. Much like the 2002 PC game Iron Storm that asked the question, “What if WWI had never ended?”; Turning Point picks one seemingly insignificant moment and warps our reality in a way we could never have imagined. In 1931 Winston Churchill was hit by a NYC taxi, and while he did survive he was crippled and walked with a cane for the rest of his life. Spark Unlimited boldly asks the question, “What if Churchill had died in that accident?” The next 8-10 hours of gameplay will be spent answering that question.
Turning Point wastes no time in thrusting you into an epic struggle to defend your country. The opening cinematic intentionally misleads you into thinking you are about to witness the bombing of London until the clouds part and you see the Statue of Liberty and the New York skyline. The camera quickly moves to the top of a skyscraper under construction where we meet Dan Carson, a construction worker who is about to save the world…at least in this reality.
In a world where America never got involved in WWII (apparently that whole Pearl Harbor thing never happened) the German war machine was able to conquer their half of the globe before invading America, and with a roll-over-and-surrender President in the White House, it didn’t take long for the Germans to walk all over the east coast.
With all sorts of zeppelins and fancy (almost futuristic) fighter planes zipping around the skies over NYC you must first make your way down to the street level; a task made that much tougher by collapsing girders, plummeting coworkers, and an army of Nazi soldiers waiting for you on the lower levels. Welcome to your tutorial and a small taste of what can best be described as an FPS with a bold vision and below-average execution.
Spark Unlimited is no stranger to the war genre. Back in 2004 they created Call of Duty: Finest Hour on the Xbox. It was an acceptable above-average FPS, but sadly, Turning Point neither looks nor plays any better than that 4-year old game on a last-gen system. Aside from the cool concept that drives the three acts of the story taking us from NYC to Washington D.C. and eventually London, Turning Point doesn’t try to do anything remotely new with the genre. You have the same type of WWII weapons and a standard FPS game design – point, shoot, repeat.
The AI is pretty dismal and most of the enemies perform with scripted perfection rather than any type of situational awareness. This makes the game fairly repetitive when you die and have to replay a segment and watch everything unfold the exact same way each time. And even though there is a somewhat impressive destruction model for the environments, don’t expect to see any blood or human damage in the game. Even by Teen standards, this is a very sanitized game. The ESRB logo states there is blood – they lie. And it’s not that I need gallons of blood in my games, but a war game without blood is merely glorified laser tag.
Controls are standard but offer some glitches of their own. The turning speed of your character is twitchy as is your aiming reticle, both in standard and zoomed-in modes. This makes it extremely difficult to accurately target enemies. This “twitchiness” carries over into environmental interactions as you slowly move the camera over an area until the hand icon appears - almost like those mouse PC adventure games. Nothing grinds my gears more than being shot at (and even killed) while trying to flip a lever I could see but couldn’t touch.
Level designs are a huge part of these games and Turning Point does some interesting things with the locations; especially the assault on the White House where the Nazis are heavily dug in on the surrounding lawn. The NYC levels make the most of famous landmarks – watching the Chrysler tower crumble and fall into the street brought back memories of the movie Armageddon. The London levels were also interesting and there is even some combat onboard a giant zeppelin headed toward the USA with a giant nuke.
Despite the cool story and interesting levels, the gameplay unfolds through a totally linear mission structure. You are not allowed to make any decisions or divert from the mission plans. You are generally constricted to one path between objectives and waypoints, so you seldom get to use your mind; only your reflexes. Then again, you are just a construction worker who had a machine gun thrust into his hands. Why should we get to make any command decisions?
Then again, for being a lowly construction worker, the National Guard seems to rely constantly on your abilities to fight and plant explosives. This leads to perhaps the only hint of original gameplay where you get to match colored wires to arm an explosive device, but even that experience wears thin after you've done it three or four times. Other than these moments, it is pretty much a shooting and grenade-throwing affair, where you are allowed two weapons and four grenades at a time. Don’t worry about med kits – the game uses the Call of Duty health system where you only need to hide and chill for a moment to heal those bullet wounds.
If you find yourself getting bored with shooting the enemies you can always try sneaking up on them and grabbing them. There is no melee combat but you can use grappled enemies as human shields or just knock them out. You can also use nearby environmental objects in various grapple takedowns. It’s a fun diversion that really only comes in handy if you are out of ammo or get jumped by the enemy and don’t have time to shoot.
Turning Point makes a lackluster attempt to incorporate some multiplayer. While standard DM and Team DM modes were acceptable back in the day of Finest Hour, gamers expect more out of their online experience today. The System Link and online modes for up to 8 soldiers just seemed tacked on at the last minute and are hardly worth a look.
The few times I was actually impressed with the visuals in Turning Point it was more for the bold visionary style and cinematic camera work than any technical or artistic flair. Character designs were merely average and suffered from weak animation. The weapon models looked okay but nothing we haven’t seen a million times before.
The level design was cool, but it often got repetitive, especially when you had to fight in the interior locations. Room designs, textures, and environmental objects repeated heavily making it hard to track your progress. It was like moving in circles. For a next-gen game the framerate was pretty poor, and it got worse with each new enemy that got added to the screen. I’m guessing this lowly framerate was responsible for most of my turning and aiming issues.
There are some pretty impressive cutscenes that blend seamlessly with the gameplay and move the story forward, even if that story doesn’t always relate to the gameplay. I was very impressed with the main menu and the in-game HUD worked well and didn’t interfere with the gameplay. For as average as the overall game looked, I was surprised that it offered support for 1080p, which only makes these deficiencies stand out even more.
Turning Point offers a stunning orchestral soundtrack that is worthy of a feature film. It really sets the mood and maintains the appropriate emotional levels throughout the entire game. There are moments of suspense and excitement and moments of action and heroism and each has their own specific music.
The sound effects are solid, with all of the standard weapons we’ve heard a hundred times before in every other WWII game we’ve ever played. There are powerful explosions and nice environmental sound effects, both ambient and directly related to gameplay.
The voice work, for the most part, is pretty good. There are a few low spots but most of the cast turned in believable performances. The script was well written and told a compelling story.
Most gamers can finish Turning Point in 8-10 hours and there is absolutely no reason to ever revisit the game unless you are going after specific achievements. There are no secrets to collect, no hidden weapons, or anything. Given the game’s low solo replayability and its lacking multiplayer, Turning Point is a weekend rental at best.
For those looking to bolster their Gamer Score there are 1000 Achievement points spread across 39 objectives. Sadly, 12 of these can only be earned during online multiplayer and it has been increasingly difficulty to find anybody playing this game online – especially in ranked matches. About 15 of the Achievements will come naturally through a single pass of the game while other milestone achievements will take focus and dedicated effort and possibly some replaying of certain levels.
Turning Point: Fall of Liberty is a fantastic concept that would make a great movie but doesn’t really evolve into much of a game mostly due to last-gen graphics and uninspired gameplay. If you are an avid history buff or enjoy a clever sci-fi twist dealing with alternate realities then the concept alone might be enough to make this worthy of a rental, otherwise wait for this title to hit the bargain bins.