What if they turned Diablo into a World War II game? It almost sounds like something you'd wonder out loud after too many drinks at a bar, but it really isn't all that bad of a concept. Battle Borne takes this idea and runs with it in its action RPG game, Combat Elite: WWII Paratroopers, where you control an American or British soldier from an overhead perspective as you explore and fight your way through Europe in the latter stages of World War II. Unfortunately, the game ends up feeling pretty shallow, with an odd control mechanism and camera angle, as well as a light RPG system that doesn't seem all that balanced.
Borrowing another common mechanic from fantasy-based action RPG games, Combat Elite lets you choose from one of three different characters. One is a US paratrooper with the 101st Airborne; another is an American with the 82nd Airborne; and the third is a British trooper with the 1st Airborne. Each character has initial starting specialties, which are two of the nine character attributes. Each character also has three attributes that he can't upgrade as far as the other two characters can. However, you'll quickly gain enough skill points to customize your respective soldier's ability to your liking, and in practical terms, there's no meaningful distinction between the three starting characters. If you wanted to turn the stealth guy into a run-and-gun type of character, you would be able to do that.
As you complete missions, you earn skill points that can be used to upgrade any of several different character attributes, like stealth ability, weapon proficiency with different gun classes, efficiency with med packs, and more. However, you'll find that certain abilities are fairly useless, like stealth and hand to hand. Sure, you could play the game as some kind of silent-killing ninja, but you'll find that it's much faster and easier to get through by upgrading your combat sense, which will upgrade one weapon proficiency, as well as your ability to lock on and target enemies. Med pack efficiency sounds nice, but med packs are so plentiful that there's really no point in wasting skill points in that area until later, when you have nothing better to spend your points on.
Each mission begins with some sloppy-looking and sounding in-engine cutscenes that lay out the objectives for you. However, you'll find that just about all 50 missions involve walking around an area, using your compass to guide you to your objective, killing all the Germans along the way, and then perhaps bombing some artillery pieces, assassinating an officer, or taking out a tank. Each level only takes a few minutes, so completing the 50-mission campaign doesn't last nearly as long as you'd think. The levels also tend to feel pretty cramped, and it seems as though you're being rammed along a specific path, more or less. At times you'll find alternate pathways, which will involve sneaking around the side of a heavily fortified camp to find a hole in the fence. But for the most part, Combat Elite's missions are all pretty repetitive and dull.
The game's interface doesn't help matters much, either. The camera is fixed on an almost direct overhead angle, and it's zoomed in far enough that you can't see for more than about 10-15 yards in any direction around your character. As a result, you'll often come under fire before you can even see who's shooting at you or where it's coming from. The compass has some colored indicators to show the direction of nearby enemies, but it would have been nice to just be able to pull back the camera a bit or adjust the angle to see more land. Perhaps more bizarre is how the game handles weapon aim. If you hold the right trigger button down halfway, the aiming reticle will come up ahead of your character, toward the top of the screen. If an enemy comes in range, the reticle will snap to that enemy and you can fire on him, but only if that enemy is toward the top of the screen. You can't aim or fire at enemies to the side or toward the bottom of the screen, even if you're facing in that direction. You constantly have to swing the camera around so that you're shooting toward the top of the screen. It's very strange, and though you get used to it fairly quickly, there doesn't seem to be any logic to why the game forces you to manipulate the camera in this way. Basically, you will spend most of the game walking around with the trigger half pulled, and whenever you see the reticle snap to a target, you shoot. Move around a little bit more, shoot some more. Lather, rinse, repeat.
There are some interesting things you can do with the controls, like duck behind boxes or other pieces of cover, much of which is actually destructible. You'll also be able to throw grenades with the help of a handy interface that shows the arc of your toss. You also have quick access to up to three different weapons from the D pad, and you'll find that the levels and enemies drop quite a lot of weapons and ammunition for you to scavenge. There's even a two-player cooperative mode that lets you and a friend play the campaign together on the same screen. Unlike in the single-player mode, you'll be able to aim and fire in any direction. But the missions are all the same, and you can't have a friend join you in the middle of a single-player campaign that you started. If you want to play two players, you need to create a separate campaign and play through the whole thing together.
Combat Elite's graphics and sound are rather ordinary, and they don't offer any salvation from its shortcomings in gameplay. It's nice that some elements of the battlefield are destructible, but the character models don't look all that great, and the death animations look stiff and strange. The gun effects and death cries aren't all that hot either, as they make the game sound a lot like some cheesy '50s-era war movie. The dramatic, orchestral music is pretty limited and forgettable, rounding out a presentation package that offers little flash or pizzazz.
Overall, Combat Elite: WWII Paratroopers comes off as a bare-bones action RPG game, offering very basic, simplistic gameplay. War game fanatics may find some mindless amusement from it, but the rest of us will end up feeling unsatisfied with its dull campaign, imbalanced RPG system, and strange control mechanisms.