Frontline Commando: D-Day is one of those games I can almost guarantee I’d never have tried if I hadn’t been asked to review it. World War II shooter titles aren’t my cup of tea, and so-called “freemium” gameplay, necessary evil or not, is something I try to avoid. Still, I’m a Professional Vidja Game Reviewer, and that means reviewing games of all sorts. Even the ones I’m pretty sure I won’t like.
Well, I did end up liking this one. Quite a bit, in fact. After several days’ experience I’m confident in saying it’s one of the better shooters available on the Play Store. The graphics are good, the gameplay is fun, and the freemium model, while a little irritating at times, isn’t as large a stumbling block as it could have been. Developer Glu Mobile packed a lot of good content into the title, and the hard work shows. Will I be playing it a month from now? Probably not, but it’s a solid enough game to make me think many others will be.
No setting can save a game if it’s not much fun to play. In this game’s case I found the opposite to be true. Despite the standard WWII scenery and weaponry, mowing down bad guys was still pretty enjoyable thanks to a wide selection of guns and the relatively easy control scheme governing them. Whether you want to spray the enemies with machine gun fire, pick them off one by one with a sniper rifle, or just chuck grenades at them until everyone’s dead, you’re covered. The ingame buttons, are placed well enough to work when they’re supposed to and stay out of the way the rest of the time. Aiming felt natural and fluid with the touchscreen control setup as well, with a minimal amount of lag or stuttering.
FC:DD’s enemies are smart enough to be lethal in smaller numbers. Compared to a game like Enemy Strike, which simply throws wave after wave of bad guys at you and expects you to tap you way to victory, it’s a big change. That’s not to say I felt like I’d been matched up against a human at any point, but it was cool to see guys I was trying to shoot duck when they needed to reload and run for cover when I chucked a grenade.
More Than A Gallery
I’m also a fan of the creative steps Glu Mobile took in mixing up the gameplay mid-level. I hesitate to call it a traditional FPS — mostly because it isn’t one — but there’s a bit more here than in your standard shooting gallery game. Instead of presenting you with a setting and sending you to a load screen after you kill everything, FC:DD sends your character sprinting to new cover. Not knowing how long your mission will last adds a new dimension of strategy to the game: Do you use the healthpack or save it? Chuck that last grenade or wait? It also means that you’ll spend a lot of time running through trenches, fields, and various other WWII settings between your character finding spots in which he can hide. Once you do locate cover, the ability to switch to a different vantage point (think taking cover on the east end of a broken wall instead of the west) lends things that much more depth.
That’s not to say the system doesn’t have snags. While the running gives most levels a little more variety I didn’t understand why I was given the option to move my character to the left and right, since movement didn’t change his path or even decide where he hunkered down. My suspicion is that it makes the running feel a little less like a cutscene between spots of action, when in reality that’s kind of all it is. Whatever the case, it was a lot better than staring at a load screen between each firefight.
Pretty Visuals, Rough Load Times
FC:DD is fairly impressive on the visual front, but it doesn’t come without cost. The load times, especially those before larger levels, can be ridiculous. I spent so much staring at the game’s default loading screen (a belt of machine bun bullets) I could probably close my eyes right now, count each round in my head, and come back with a semi-accurate number. The WWII facts displayed on some of the load screens don’t help much, either, since there aren’t nearly enough to keep things interesting. After maybe two hours playing I’d seen every one the game had to offer.
The visuals almost make the wait worth it. Almost. We’re getting past the point where games can be considered pretty “for mobile devices,” and this one’s on the borderline of the distinction. I can’t even say the title’s as pretty as a first-gen XB0x 360 or PS3 game. Don’t get me wrong, it looks good — it just wouldn’t on a console. A lot of games I’ve played this year would be impressive on either.
Lots O’ Levels
You won’t hurt for things to do in your time with the game. Its five campaigns (Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword) come packed with missions, many of which in turn have their own optional, branching tasks. Outside of the usual run-and-gun hijinks, a few offer side missions like manning an AA gun and shooting down bombers before they can strike a village. These quests tend to be shorter and, in my opinion, quite a bit more difficult than the standard fare.
The tradeoff for all that content? The levels get repetitive fast with regard to both layout and content. The trenches, one of the coolest level types when you’re still learning the game, are one of the biggest offenders here. Slogging through identical concrete hallways can’t stay pretty for long no matter how many pixels the game pushes. Fortunately, the nonlinear level progression means that you can switch things up a little if things do get boring. If you like the gameplay well enough it might negate the problem for you altogether.
Obligatory Microtransaction Whining
Like the load times, FC:DD’s freemium features skirt the boundaries of what I’d consider acceptable. The loadout screen before each level “helpfully” recommends the best weapon for the mission. That weapon is invariably available for purchase in the game’s store, and more often than not costs Glu credits (the rarer of the game’s two currencies). That alone is irritating. When the game starts popping up sale ads offering me one-time prices on various perks and additions like popups after a spyware attack, it’s even worse. I don’t mind the idea of premium content, I just don’t want to be reminded of its existence at every possible chance.
Solid With Some Flaws
A year or so ago this game would have been a solid five on the scale. It’s not on that level now, mostly because of the great games we’ve seen released already this year, but it’s still pretty darn good. If the premium feature ads weren’t so intrusive it’d also be a game I could see spending a couple bucks on to thank Glu for all the free stuff they did include. If you’re a fan of shooters — and specifically those of the WWII variety — there’s absolutely no reason it shouldn’t be on your phone right now. If you’re not, give it a go anyway. If your experience is at all like mine you might come away surprised.