As if to prove a point about just how awful video games can be, publisher Groove Games has released World War II Combat: Iwo Jima, the second game in a series that debuted earlier this year with the terrible Road to Berlin. Don't let the generic title fool you--this game is anything but innocuous. Iwo Jima is so dreadfully awful that when playing it, you'll feel more than just the sting of regret from throwing your $20 away. You'll feel frustration, anger, confusion, and amazement at the overwhelming dearth of quality, inspiration, and general effort in this title. Every single aspect of World War II Combat: Iwo Jima, from the punishing checkpoint system and generic mission design to the hideous graphics and bug-ridden gameplay make for a game that is completely without merit. If Iwo Jima proves anything, it's that if ever there were a series that doesn't deserve to be a series, it's the World War II Combat games.
As the name so plainly states, World War II Combat: Iwo Jima takes you through several missions set on the heavily contested island of Iwo Jima during World War II. You start out storming a beach and move on from there, single-handedly fighting through foggy jungles and crumbling villages to capture the island for the Allies. It's certainly a fine setting for a World War II shooter, with plenty of important battles and heroic missions to draw inspiration from. But the game mostly ignores this material; instead, it uses the name and some brief video clips to set the stage. This is far from effective, though, and you're left with an ugly, unsalvageable mess of a game.
As a first-person shooter, Iwo Jima has high standards to live up to on both the PC and the Xbox. But even if this game had come out five, or even 10, years ago, it would have still felt behind the times. It's a first-person shooter, so you start each mission with a few different types of weapons. You have a primary weapon, which is usually a rifle or machine gun; an explosive weapon, such as grenades or a rocket launcher; and two secondary weapons, these being a pistol and a knife. You're given no choice of which weapons to take with you into combat, and you can almost never pick up new weapons during the mission. You can find some grenades, and at one point you do get a completely useless flamethrower, but other than that, you're stuck with what you have.
Using these limited weapons, you have to work your way through each level while completing mission objectives. You might have to destroy three radios, take out a couple pillboxes, or sabotage some enemy airplanes. The objectives are all laid out right in front of you, so at least you don't have to go searching all over a level to find what you're looking for. In fact, the game actively discourages you from wandering off the beaten path by placing invisible mines all along the pathway, so if you try to go exploring, you'll get blown sky high. All of the enemies you fight look identical, and they all act like idiots. Some enemies will run right up to you and start firing wildly, sometimes expending full clips from point-blank range without hitting you once. Sometimes the enemies will just stand there and fire their rifles straight up into the air, which is rather bizarre. What's more bizarre is that they'll often hit you even though their guns aren't aimed in your direction. Even more annoying is that the same random fire works both ways. Sometimes when you have a dead aim on an enemy's head, you can blast away and get no response. Other times you can use the sniper rifle for a one-hit kill with a well-placed footshot.
To their credit, the enemies in the game are all accomplished dancers. Sometimes you'll see enemies do the jitterbug as they try to move around by rapidly vibrating like windup toys, or you'll see them do a modified version of the moonwalk as they float along the ground backward without moving their legs. They also appear to be experts at doing the robot, as they twitch wildly and spasm about in a way that couldn't possibly be human. But while an enemy will appear to be busting a move, in actuality they're all just busted.
Despite that the enemies are entirely devoid of intelligence, they'll still end up killing you many, many times, because they'll usually have a numbers and positional advantage over you. This wouldn't be so difficult to manage if there was any way to replenish your health, but there isn't. There are no medikits, and it only takes a few shots to kill you. There is a checkpoint system in the game, so you don't have to start over at the beginning of a level when you die. But if you pass a checkpoint with low health, you can find yourself in an impossible situation because you can't backtrack but you might not have enough health to survive to the next checkpoint. The only way out is to either start the entire level over again or keep playing and dying until you've memorized the exact placement and behavior of each enemy--and hope the game's random hit detection works out in your favor. It's an extremely aggravating design, because the game becomes an extended and exasperating exercise in trial and error, and your success depends more on dumb luck than on any measure of skill.
If you're sick of dealing with the sloppy gameplay in the single-player campaign, you can play a multiplayer game online with up to 16 players. However, unless you can convince some poor sap to purchase another copy of the game, you're going to have a hard time finding anyone online to play against. We were unable to find anyone to play against with the Xbox version, and although there a handful of people playing the PC version there aren't nearly enough to have a full 16-player game. It's safe to assume that if there aren't any players online a few weeks after the game was released, there won't be a sudden explosion of interest in the game later on. You can play against bots, but the multiplayer gameplay is just as watered down and unpleasant as the single-player campaign. There are the standard deathmatch and team deathmatch modes, as well as king-of-the-hill, capture-the-flag, and last-man-standing modes. None of them are the least bit interesting and certainly don't bring any worth to this game.
Visually, World War II Combat: Iwo Jima is a horrid mess of ugly textures, blocky character models, chunky animation, and severe clipping issues. The levels look so drab and full of unsightly hard edges that the short draw distance almost seems merciful. Every area is shrouded in thick fog that blocks out your view of anything more than a hundred yards away. Despite the very jagged, unnatural geometry of the terrain, nothing in the game is truly solid, since enemies often clip through doors and walls and will often clip through the ground or one another. There's very little detail to be found anywhere on Iwo Jima, to the extent that its inhabitants barely even have faces. On the PC, you can crank up the resolution, and on the Xbox you can play the game in 480p if you have a capable TV, but those options don't do anything to improve the look of the game. The sound is no more detailed and is mostly composed of repetitious, tinny gunfire and hollow explosions. There's an occasional, almost inaudible, mumbling from enemies, and the narration that sets up each level is so flat that it sounds synthesized. The music is generic and repetitive, as well, but it's easily the least offensive element of this game.
No matter how broke, desperate, or crazy about World War II you are, there's no reason to play this game. If you're looking for a cheap shooter, go to the store and grab any game off the shelf and you're practically guaranteed to have a better game than this one. Whatever you do, don't play World War II Combat: Iwo Jima.