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 match 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. It 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 that 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 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 saves only 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. 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 reticle that was broken in the Xbox version of the game seems to be working properly in this version, but that's cold comfort for a game that would have been considered primitive even five or six years ago.
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 also does little to inspire. 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. Road to Berlin includes online multiplayer action for 16 players, in modes ranging from deathmatch and last man standing, to capture the flag, king of the hill, and VIP. The server browser, if you can call it that, simply finds a server for you to play on, without giving you a full menu of servers to choose from. It's as though the developers lazily tried to emulate the Xbox Live style of quickmatching, as opposed to the PC style, where you can browse from a list of available servers. It doesn't make much difference, though, as any online game you find is liable to be full of bots, with maybe one or two other human players. The netcode is so awful that you'll find yourself teleporting back and forth, with hit detection that's frustratingly poor even at modest latencies. There's offline multiplayer action against computer-controlled bots, 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, and you can't play against the bots in king of the hill or VIP modes.
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.