I've always found bad demos slightly soul destroying. I mean, I've seen people say, "Don't judge the game by the demo." In fact, some demos even come with a little publisher warning at the start saying that what you play may not necessarily represent the finished product. To which the obvious response is, "Do you know what the word demo is derived from?"
Obviously, demos do represent the final product. Game companies do not send out little playable segments of their unreleased titles as a complete show of good will. They are marketing tools. As such, they can be decidedly counter-productive.
Some aren't. I bought the original Call of Duty based purely on the demo. On playing the original Call of Duty, I realised that I'd made a grave mistake. The best level - Burnsville, I believe, is utterly perfect - was the demo.
There were actually two whole levels of Deus Ex released. That's not a demo. That's getting a fifth of the game for free.
And so on and so forth. When a demo is good it can inspire you to buy something you'd never considered, swing a decision in the favour of something you've been considering or confirm your greatest optimisms about a game.
The Xbox 360 Turning Point: Fall of Liberty demo is one of those counter-productive ones.
The Turning Point demo is, I assume, the intro level. There is a preamble explaining how the following, a Nazi invasion of mainland USA, did not actually take place. This is Sliders territory, y'all. To be honest, unless your history is really patchy, this seems to serve no real point other than a pre-emptive destruction of any suspension of disbelief.
Then it starts. Luftwaffe jets strafing buildings. Huge zeppelins looming over New York harbour. The Statue of Liberty getting blitzed. You're some anonymous construction worker and your first job is to get down off your half-constructed building.
Fortunately, the Nazis are using Convenience Bombs, which remove all but one route off the metal struts.
Naturally, you pick up a gun and take the fight to the heavily armed Nazis who are all around. At this point, I'm still not sure if they're meant to be Fallschrimjager or just the pilots of downed jets who've brought assault rifles with them.
You shoot a few of them, clamber through the wreckage of a couple more buildings and then see some fellow New Yorkers (more on this later) who are going to organise a first line of defence. You jump in the back a flatbed lorry. As you're driving away, a skyscraper behind you collapses slowly in on itself and a huge cloud of dust smothers you. That's it.
As a demo, its overly short and devoid of excitement or tension to the extent its just boring to play. It fades in with you standing on a girder and the jets swooping in. No introduction. No attempt to set the scene or get you into character. That jars immediately. Surely the obvious way to go would be a Half Life style trip-to-work introduction? At least then there'd be some emotional attachment to the people who start falling to their death all around you and - if not that - at least some breathing space to settle into character?
If you're going to start with a jolt, though, it had better be a good one. And it should be, on paper. Sadly, the next thing that struck me was just how dull the invasion of New York was. I mean, this should have been the opening of Bioshock x1000. There should have been NOISE. Crowds of people in the streets, screaming, running away. Cars swerving wildly through the crowds to escape. Bombs raining down, devastation all around, a physics engine tearing buildings apart and throwing them down into the streets. It should have been the fucking apocalypse. Instead... its just lame.
The major problem is that New York doesn't feel like a city at all. Its more deserted than Rapture. Maybe its been evacuated and - if that is the reason its devoid of life - hopefully that will be explained in the full game. Indeed, like the snowstorm in Max Payne, its a good excuse for having a 20th Century city less busy than the first village in Assassin's Creed. However, taking the demo on face value, the only people you see are the six fellow workers who tumble to their doom, the people smothered in dust at the end and the Nazis.
Instead of an awe-inspiring depiction of complete chaos (Call of Duty 4's credit sequence, for example) that left me giddy and reeling, it was an utter bore.
For starters, there's absolutely no threat to you as a character until you run into the Nazis on the ground. You quickly realise that the bombs and jets aren't allowed to hurt you and so you can happily saunter to the bottom. Once at the bottom, the whole construction site disappears in some badly animated fireballs (do metal girders really explode like that?).
There isn't a great deal more I can criticise. The combat in the demo is basically limited to three or four very scripted encounters. It seemed uninspiring simple and, like all the rest, slightly dull. I don't understand the decision to include an iron sight function in any game where you have a very visible cross hair and firing from the hip is perfectly accurate. Like a lot of console shooters, there was simply no tangible weight to the weapons.
My problems with it go deeper than that, though. I propose that ordinary, every day folks aren't soldiers for the simple reason that they don't want to be soldiers. If we all take this assumption to be true, then, faced with an invasion of such epic proportions, why wouldn't the main character's first instinct be to leg it? And hope, desperately, that a bomb didn't fall on his face as he did so.
So what if he is the eventual saviour of the world? So what if he's 1950s Nazis version of John Connor? He should be reluctant. He should try and escape the carnage (remember, in my alternate history version of this game, there is proper carnage). Then, he should be thrown into a situation where he has to take up arms or, indeed, witness something that fills him - and you, the player - with such incandescent rage that he wants to repel the invaders with every fibre of his being.
I'm thinking Uncle Owen's farm torched by the Nazis and a secret message from the resistance movement in his unwitting possession.
In game terms, the only titles that have genuinely inspired this sense of vigilante rage are few and far between. Max Payne, perhaps, on a primal level. A deeper, more intelligent example of how to do it is Half Life 2. Enforced player impotence, suddenly, blissfully, replaced by a crowbar. These gaunt, skull-headed fascists force you - Gordon Bloody Freeman - to pick up their litter. They stop you exploring the city. They hunt you, weaponless, across rooftops. Their drones keep taking bloody pictures. You round a corner - and there are two Civil Protection Bastards beating on some innocent civilians.
You approach, crowbar raised. You want to get medieval on someone.
Anyway, the point is, Half Life 2 did this. It did taking down totalitarian regimes from inside and Turning Point should have bloody learnt something from that. Again, I worry about this. Perhaps, in the real game, there's more. There might be more before the cheap fade-in beginning. And there might be more than just picking up a gun and becoming The Punisher. But why release a demo of this particular level and leave all that out?
As it stands, there's no truth to the moment where the construction worker decides he can probably take these Nazis. Again, there's been no threat before this point. It feels natural to just slip away and get a fuck-load of counselling. Yet - after a few moments - it turns out that, yes, it was a good idea to pick up a gun because the Nazis - those damn, dastardly Nazis - are killing everything.
A few words about all that, actually: what a load of fucking rubbish.
I'm used to Nazis being reduced to B-Movie, cartoon villains. I don't think there's been a World War Two game that really addresses the idea that not everyone in the Third Reich ate babies and summoned demons. Perhaps, in the distant future, whatever empire follows the current American one will subject us all to thousands of games where every single American is a totally ruthless capitalist, murdering bastard, ironically harping on about the importance of personal liberty. Or was that Bioshock?
The fact remains that if this game was set in the 1960s and the Nazis had built a giant Swastika shaped laser on the moon which you - ordinary American astronaut - had to single-handedly destroy - it would be more plausible than this rubbish. It'd be more interesting too but only because the ramifications of a Nazi space race (which they'd win) are worth exploring.
Lets examine the alternate history for a moment.
Winston Churchill dies before World War Two. The Nazis invade Britain. This is because Winston Churchill invented the Spitfire and then went on to personally lead the RAF in the Battle of Britain. Without his record-breaking 302 (with a further 200 still under debate) kills, the British air force could not secure dominance over the English channel.
Its well known that in 1940, Rudolf Hess flew to Scotland. What's classified is that he took with him two regiments of elite SS cyborgs and Winston Churchill killed them all. With a sword.
Also, you know that picture of Winston Churchill with a tommy gun? That was taken five minutes after he parachuted into Berlin, shot his way into Hitler's bunker, killed everyone, even the fucking dogs, and then made it all look like suicide.
The fact that Churchill was removed from this timeline by a taxi - would it be cool if it was the the taxi that you - the character in the game - drove? Or would that just be bollocks? You decide - means that Hitler has grown a massive brain.
He's no longer interested in expanding a Germanic empire into the east. He can predict that, by the eighties, the Soviets will be all used up. The real enemy are the yanks. So, he launches a full land invasion of the east coast of America.
Blitzkrieg is an amazing tactic. Its not only good for small countries directly connected to your own or - potentially - small islands separated by a channel that celebrities can quite easily swim. It works across massive expanses of water, too.
What Hitler has also learnt is that military targets are just distractions. What you need to do when you invade a country is simply send some low-flying zeppelins in and shoot the fucking shit out of builders. That's the first step when it comes to invading a country.
To be fair, I think Hitler's missed a trick here. Wouldn't it be better to drop troops straight into the south of America? They could establish a whole new Reich and no-one would even notice. ZING!
Hitler has also learnt (like all good aliens) that you can take over a country much easier if you destroy all their fucking monuments. In the same way that the invasion of France in our universe began with the shattering destruction of the Eiffel Tower, in the game, the Statue of Liberty gets blown the fuck up. Fall of Liberty, see? The liberty of the people in, say, little old England being completely irrelevant.
When the Statue gets done, Roosevelt (or whoever the fuck is meant to be in charge) is probably just waiting for a secretary to bring him the Unconditional Surrender form.
I'll tell you something else that happens. Anyone who has played Red Alert 2 frowns and says, quietly, "Hang on...?"
hasn't happened! LOL!
All very familiar.
And that brings me to my last point.
Don't buy Turning Point: Liberty Falls. Its just so weary. Its like one of the old women I saw in the pub last night: so past it they can't remember what it was, still packing their frail, perma-tanned bodies into little black dresses so low cut the crinkled mess that constitutes their cleavage is basically flopped in their drink. They're used up. They're dried up. And their attempts to keep up with the younger versions of themselves, thronged all around and sneering, seems, at best, deranged and, at worst, like the death throes of a gangling, ugly bird.
Bare with me.
We've done this all before. Nazis/Soviets/Invading Aliens/Godzilla/King Kong, all treated in exactly the same way. Isn't being exactly the same, thematically, as a Nazi a bit insulting to a giant ape? This very year, World in Conflict on the PC, has had bombers over New York and tanks rolling through the American heartland.
They might tell you this isn't a World War Two game but it is. It just is. You're another American all-star, kicking Nazi butt. We've been doing this since Wolfenstein. We're experts at it. You've got to bother to make it good. Not just relabel a bunch of World War Two submachine guns and make all the Nazis wear Psychonaut goggles.
You, dear reader, do not need 9/11 with Swastikas. In fact, you might not necessarily find it that tasteful an idea. In fact, I find the whole idea that Nazi invasion is worse and more horrifying when it happens on American soil distasteful, actually. The fact they've literally had to make it worse - with big zeppelins and battleships the size of Wales - is just silly.
Silly, tired, boring and it looks horrendous. I know people like that and I avoid them like the plague. Take note.
Jachap thinks you should read Philip K Dick's The Man in the High Castle instead.