Realism in shooters is something the computer game industry has both striven for and struggled with for some time. It's good to feel that what you're doing has some connection to the real thing, especially when historical settings are involved, but it isn't fun to spend half your game time field-stripping rifles and doing KP. A veneer of authenticity can make for a more emotionally charged experience, but to pull this off, a game needs to hide the inevitable lack of realism that's at the core of first-person shooter gameplay. It's a delicate balance, and one that Iron Front: Liberation 1944 utterly fails at. As fate would have it, Iron Front also fails at not crashing constantly, not looking like its graphics were drawn by a teenager, and at being any fun at all.
Iron Front starts with a solid historical basis, at least: you play either as a German or a Soviet soldier in the middle of a campaign to win the Eastern Front in World War II. It's an enticing premise for those who have imagined the life of a foot soldier in the ranks of two of the world’s most ruthless dictatorships. Gameplay lands somewhere between ARMA and Battlefield 1942. There's a thick coating of realism, alongside a kitchen sink full of possibilities. You start off as a simple soldier, but ultimately you can do everything from manning heavy weapons to commanding tanks to flying fighter aircraft. Sniping, stealth, huge frontal assaults: everything’s included. Iron Front: Liberation 1944 is highly ambitious in scope, but ends up trying to do way too much. The ground portions do feel somewhat realistic (at least in the sense that you can die and kill instantly), but the opaque control system makes flying a plane cumbersome and inorganic.
To its credit, the game offers dialogue in both German and Russian (subtitled) or in horribly dubbed English, if reading isn't your bag. The thing is, regardless of the language you choose, you won't care what anyone is saying. Apart from the occasional stultifying cutscene in which you listen to a narrator read text that's already visible onscreen, most dialogue in the game is AI-generated radio babble that comes so fast and furious, and is so poorly tracked on your heads-up display, that it may as well be a TV left on in the background. Iron Front tries hard to give you a feeling of being one part of a much larger battle, but because the briefings interface is totally obtuse, and because the way information comes at you in missions is so confusing, the interface overwhelms both you and itself.
In fact, the entire game overwhelms itself. During the review process, Iron Front received a large patch that fixed some (but by no means all) of its stability issues. Yet in spite of the patch, the game still crashes, just not as often. Other bugs have revealed themselves since: loading screens frequently hang, necessitating forced quits; controls stop responding mid-mission for no apparent reason; AI entities stand around doing absolutely nothing while receiving effective incoming fire; and sound suddenly cuts out or goes extremely quiet in the middle of critical briefings. AI pathfinding is also a huge issue, with non-player characters frequently getting lost or trapped on geometry, and enemies patrolling in endless circles, doing nothing of importance.
As if the technical issues weren't enough, it becomes immediately clear when you begin a real mission that Iron Front is completely overwhelmed with feature creep. All sorts of small arms are, ostensibly, realistically modeled, along with vehicles, heavy weapons, airplanes, you name it. But the game tries to cram realistic performance for all of these things into its limited controls, creating a morass of impenetrable key bindings that are impossible to memorize and even harder to implement when someone is shooting at you. Why, for example, is there a separate key for "stand up"? Why can't you simply hit the "crouch" or "prone" button again? Conversely, double-tapping the forward button to sprint is extremely clumsy, especially since your sprinting speed is so similar to your normal movement speed that it's hard to tell at times if you've even started sprinting successfully.
Let's say you manage to look past all this and struggle through Iron Front's interminable tutorial levels to get to actual missions; you only have complete chaos to look forward to, because enemy AI is completely moronic, allies are useless, and death will randomly hit you with no warning whatsoever. You might be walking along a friendly runway in your HQ during the first 10 seconds of a mission, about to climb into the cockpit of a Focke-Wulf 190, only to be summarily laid out by God knows what in the middle of your own base. Was it an enemy bomber? A piece of shrapnel? Friendly fire? A sniper? It doesn't really matter--have fun looking at another loading screen while the entire mission resets.
Multiplayer offers little respite, although at least you don't have to deal with much in the way of AI idiocy. Still, almost all players of Iron Front appear to be located in Europe, so pings from the US, particularly the Western US, are absolutely awful. If you do get into a decent game, you better know how to speak German, because the guys you're playing with most likely do. But don't worry, you won't have to listen to them for too long--games crash, lag out, or unceremoniously kick you out on a regular basis. On the rare occasion you do get to play through a match, you spend most of your time sneaking about, encountering nary an enemy, and getting totally owned by someone you never see.
Alternatively, you're on the other side of this: you creep up on some poor soul who has no idea what's going on because Iron Front hates clarity, and you equip your Mosin-Nagant rifle, hunt for that one button that makes you look through the scope rather than the iron sights, press it, line up your target in the period-appropriate crosshairs, and then restart Windows because you've been kicked to the desktop, and your mouse cursor has disappeared.
Iron Front is unfinished. Playing through a game, even with some of the bugs squashed, gives you a sense of confusion more than anything else. More patches may be on the way to shore up what there is of Iron Front, but as it stands now, you're better off avoiding these perilous battlefields.