Coming from Andrade Games is the Übel Edition (no, I don’t know what that means either) of a game that released on Steam back in 2017, SturmFront – The Mutant War. Promising all-action, all-blasting gameplay and a banging heavy metal soundtrack, this new version is now available on a home console near you. I guess the question we need to answer is this: can SturmFront still bring the noise nowadays, or should it have stayed in the past? Come with me to a ruined world full of mutants as we blast ourselves an answer.
The story of SturmFront is as bonkers as you’d expect. It is the year 1984, and the world has come to an end, thanks to a Great Plague. It was this which was apparently engineered by human hands, before devouring all life on Earth, giving rise to a new breed of lifeform, the mutants. Apparently these mutants have alien DNA within their cells, and so cannot be controlled by mere humans. Luckily, a surviving scientist by the name of Dr Hartmuth Griesgram (wonder how much that name is worth in Scrabble?) has decided, despite being heartbroken and eccentric, to fire up his human manufactory one last time. He has created us, his ultimate creation and humanity’s final hope: the prototype SturmFront battle unit. We are a cyborg, built to fight and built to win, and so we need to hit the ground not only running but shooting as well.
We have a name, at least: Siegfried von Hammerstein. And to go with the 80’s feeling and 80’s setting, our avatar looks like Dolph Lundgren, so the whole vibe is bang on. We are a semi-organic battle machine (almost a Universal Soldier, in fact) and our mission, whether we choose to accept it or not, is to head out into the world and shoot everything that moves, doesn’t move or even just looks at us a bit funny. This is a love letter to all retro top-down shooters of the past, and the first game it put me in mind of was Commando on the old Commodore 64. As we run up the screen, the alien scum, luckily displaying very little in the way of common sense, just rush straight at us; straight down the barrel of our guns. Tactics and survival are not high on their list of priorities.
The enemies come displaying a wide range, starting from tiny scuttling spider-type things, that are birthed from so-called “Flesh Tunnels”, at least until we kill them with fire. The enemies then go up in size to aliens with guns, of various flavours, and then to the bosses, who are certainly memorable, especially the one that seems to take inspiration from Arnie’s Total Recall. All of these enemies seem to be able to fire a seemingly endless stream of bullets, and the bosses even more so, making SturmFront almost like a bullet-hell shooter in places.
The challenge on display here is also on the old school edge of things, with Siegfried able to take a maximum of three hits before we are whisked back to the start of the level. There are no continues here, and even the difficulty that professes to be “easy” is, in reality, anything but. The achievement for getting to the end of the game, on Hard mode, without dying once certainly looks to be a long way away. There are things to find as you make progress through the levels – skulls that give a little backstory to the game – and each one you find links to the next, so they are quite easy to locate. Whether you can weave your way to them through the masses of bullets though is another matter.
Control-wise and SturmFront – The Mutant War: Übel Edition works pretty well, with a choice of control methods to employ. You can play on the sticks, with the left moving Siegfried, the right aiming the weapon, RT firing the main weapon (of which you can pick up a variety of firearms) and LT working the flamethrower. The other option is to use the face buttons on the controller, with each one firing in a specific direction, just like Smash TV back on the SNES; A fires downwards, B to the right and so on.
Obviously, applying bullets to the baddies is the aim of the game, but the flamethrower is a game-changer, and not necessarily in a good way. You see, explaining what is happening is not SturmFront’s strong point, and it was only when I reached the first boss that I realised that the flamethrower actually cancels out enemy bullets. So sitting in the corner of the boss chamber, shooting away, and pressing either LT or LB when a bullet got near made the rest of the encounter pretty trivial. While guns that you pick up run out of bullets, your default weapon never does, and even though the flamethrower can likewise run dry, there are enough gasoline cans dotted around to make sure you’re never really in danger.
Edit: It’s come to our attention that the Flamethrower only eats up bullets in the Easy difficulty setting. On Normal and Hard only your skills will be of any help.
However, one thing that Siegfried is crying out for is a dodge move, as he never moves at a speed above a gentle saunter, and I feel a roll or something similar would make the gameplay a little better.
Graphically and this is all very much on the retro end of the scale, and while the graphics work well and are animated nicely, it is hard to pick out smaller enemies when the background is busy; with the corpses of your victims, say. The sound is pretty awesome though, all thundering heavy metal and boombastic gunfire, and it all fits the action perfectly. The voice that growls “Rocket Launcher” or whatever weapon you grab is perfectly in keeping as well, and all in all, the presentation of the game would not be out of place in an old-school arcade.
In conclusion then, SturmFront – The Mutant War: Übel Edition on Xbox is a blow for blow recreation of the arcade games of yesteryear. It’s loud, gory, brash and unapologetically retro, with action that is nothing but non-stop. The bullet-cancelling properties of the flamethrower do help a lot, but the difficulty, especially on the higher levels, is stupidly intense, however this does mean that the challenge is real. It runs well, and apart from minor gripes with the visibility of certain enemies, SturmFront is a very good game. If you want a challenge, you’ve come to the right place.