Every once in a while we run into a game that is almost completely devoid of redeeming qualities. When that game happens to be in a crowded genre like a first-person shooter set in World War II, it casts an even darker pall on an already horrible product. World War II Combat: Road to Berlin is just such a game. Road to Berlin is an utter failure from top to bottom, offering ugly, drab graphics, and terrible sound that matches the low quality of the gameplay and game design.
There are 10 missions in Road to Berlin's very brief campaign. In each of the missions, you're given a primary weapon like a submachine gun or sniper rifle, a pistol, and an explosive weapon such as a grenade. You'll explore various locales in the European theater such as a German air base, a submarine pen, and hardened bunkers as you kill dozens of Wehrmacht on your way from point A to point B. Sounds like any other WWII shooter, right? Well on the surface it does, but somehow the game designers couldn't even manage to get a game theme, which has been cloned dozens of times, to work well. First of all, there are absolutely no health packs that you can pick up--the only thing you can loot is extra ammunition for your weapons. This makes the game a lot harder than it needs to be, as you need to be able to get from the start of a mission to the end without dying. The missions aren't particularly long, and you can absorb a decent number of shots. But, any mistake you make means you have to start over at the last checkpoint, which promotes a trial-and-error approach to the missions where you try to memorize the locations of all the enemies.
And speaking of checkpoints, the save system in the game is flawed, as well. Each level is broken up by a few checkpoints that you can start from if you die. But if you happen to reach a late checkpoint with only a smidgen of health left, you may find it impossible to finish the level at that point. The game only saves your last checkpoint, and there's no manual saving, so that means you could find yourself forced to start the entire level over again if you accidentally trigger the last checkpoint with too little health. Further adding to the frustration is the inability to pick up or change weapons. You'll start some levels with a sniper rifle, which is so poorly implemented that it takes you out of zoomed view each time you fire, and it takes far too long to load in the next bullet. When you get into close-quarters situations on these levels, there's no way to pick up a different weapon, and so you're stuck with trying to shoot at close range with the sniper rifle or just using a pistol.
If the core gameplay were any good, some of those inherent design flaws might be forgivable, but this isn't the case. The mechanics of moving and shooting in Road to Berlin are downright terrible. Aiming with the weapons feels chunky and imprecise no matter how you adjust the sensitivity. The movement of your character just doesn't feel right, nor does the movement of enemies, who sometimes appear to be sliding across the ground like carnival shooting-gallery targets on rails. Level design is boring and uninspired, and whether you're outdoors or indoors, everything has a drab, gray and brown look. Plus, the guns don't handle very well. For example, the automatic weapons spray too wildly, and aiming down the iron sight of your weapon doesn't seem to improve your accuracy much, if at all. The worst part is that it's often hard to see anything. Enemies will begin shooting at you from the very limits of your visual range, so that they're just specks in the distance. The threat reticule around your crosshair that's supposed to tell you where you're getting shot from is broken, so no matter what direction the shots are coming from, the reticule reports that you're being shot from behind and to the left. And, in some missions, it might just be a "friendly" soldier shooting at you. In one encounter that involved computer-controlled teammates, the artificial intelligence scripting broke and soldiers who should have been on our side chased our character around and shot at him instead of the enemy.
Road to Berlin looks and sounds about as awful as it plays. Environments and characters are laughably blocky-looking, and the level design is boxy and uninspired. You'll see vehicles like trucks, tanks, and half-tracks, but these don't even have articulated wheels or treads. Details like these are instead crudely drawn into the textures. The sound does little to inspire, too. All the guns sound the same, like sharp firecrackers instead of real weapons. There's a bit of voice narration before each mission, done by a bored voice actor who phoned in the effort, and there's no real music to speak of. The game includes offline and online multiplayer action for four players on split-screen or 16 players over Xbox Live. We didn't find anyone to play online, so we tried a little offline multiplayer action against AI-controlled bots, which are included in the game. But just like the single-player aspect, multiplayer action in Road to Berlin is horribly dull. The bots don't exhibit much strategy, making beelines to the enemy flag in capture the flag or just running around randomly in deathmatch mode.
Calling World War II: Road to Berlin just another in a long line of uninspired World War II games would give it far too much credit. In a way, Road to Berlin isn't a WWII game at all, as you'll spend more of your time fighting with the poor game design than you will fighting against Germans. And, when you're done with that, you'll probably find yourself fighting the urge to snap the disc in two and throw it out the window. Avoid this game.