Things that make you say boom.
Video game warfare has become woefully serious business. Each year we see a million war games touting a million fancy features - this one claiming to perfectly emulate the kickback of a Thompson, that one pimping the consultation of some mysterious four-star general. The utmost care is given to every speck of dirt in every random foxhole as real-world environments are painfully recreated in binary. The only thing that's missing is blood literally shooting out of your console to douse your couch in gore, though I'm sure someone is working on some sort of death nozzle add-on to remedy the omission.
This obsession with authenticity has led to countless redundant war games, most of which make real monsters of Nazis instead of making fun of them. Why? Have we grown so fond of the real thing that we can no longer portray them as goosestepping lunatics, constantly screaming gibberish German at nobody while getting their dumb pointy hats stuck in umbrellas? For crying out loud, where's Mel Brooks when you need him!?
I'll let Access Hollywood answer that one, but I can at least offer gamers hope in the form of Relic and THQ's The Outfit. An Xbox 360 exclusive, this exciting new third-person squad-based shooter does much more than take the piss out of our favorite Aryan bullet bags – it injects fun back into the art of war with a compelling blend of madcap, over-the top action and surprisingly deep yet subtle gameplay mechanics. War, it seems, is gonna be fun again.
Set in an alternate 1944 featuring – you guessed it – ridiculous Nazis, the single-player campaign of The Outfit tells the tale of rogue German General Hans Von Bleck, whose crack team of stereotypes are out to do all kinds of nasty things to Normandy. Your job is to stop him from achieving his nefarious ends by blowing it all up with three uber American soldiers.
And by "uber," I mean outlandishly brutal. All three come with different weapons, stats and abilities, leading to three notably different play styles. Deuce totes a grenade launcher, making him the anti-vehicle man, while knuckleheaded Tommy Mac goes Rambo with an SMG, flamethrower and tons of health. The sniper, JD Tyler, is also the quickest, ideal for flanking and undercover work.
Each of the characters leads a squad of four grunts and can issue unique commands. In addition to basics like Attack, Suppress and Defend, Deuce's squads, for instance, can be ordered to go melee crazy and start beating down close enemies. Tyler, meanwhile, gives his squad sticky bombs, which they can sneakily attach to vehicles for surprise explosions.
Incidentally, those occur constantly in The Outfit thanks to its love affair with wanton carnage. You can destroy pretty much anything that isn't terrain, from hordes of evil grunts to trees, bunkers, buildings and vehicles. The levels are designed to absorb such punishment without breaking, meaning you can accomplish goals in numerous ways depending on your character of choice and particular thirst for destruction. Of course, pummeling every wall into a pile of rubble might not be a great idea if you need said walls for defensive purposes, turning what at first seems like a straightforward game of "blow up everything" to "blow up everything you don't need."
Where the game truly earns its keep is its fresh approach to items and vehicles. Dubbed 'Destruction on Demand', this intuitive, radial in–game menu system allows players to call in air drops of useful items by spending the game's only currency, Field Units (or FUs, for double entendre purposes), which are earned by killing enemies. Before buying anything, you'll need to secure one of three types of buildings: Radio Tower, Motor Pool and Armory. Each allows you to call in certain things, from missile-lobbing supertanks to area-flattening air strikes.
The buildings also double as spawn points, useful tools since you don't have a set number of lives. Rather, the single-player game emulates the multiplayer by allowing you to respawn endlessly until you either complete your objectives or lose all your spawn points.
The intelligent use of FUs takes this shooter into totally new, strategic directions. For instance, you might capture a Tower to gain access to air strikes, but if you just snag the building and leave, the enemy might grab it back. So you can fortify your new resource by calling in a few anti-tank guns, which are air-dropped in, ready for action. Defense is as important as offense, you know.
And in the case of The Outfit, multiplayer is easily as important as single-player. In addition to basic Deathmatch and full campaign Co-Op over Xbox Live, The Outfit will feature Destruction mode (in which anything you blow up doles out FUs) and the real meat of the package, Strategic Victory. Similar to Battlefield's Conquest mode, this challenges players to capture and defend strategic objectives to deplete the other team's Command Points.
In a nice twist, a team can actually lose all spawn points and thus lose the match even if they're ahead in the Command Point total. And in a nicer twist, the game rewards great multiplayer play by doling out medals, which in turn upgrade weapons across the board.
The gameplay might sound familiar, but it winds up feeling quite fresh thanks to the ability to call in extra units, vehicles and emplacements at the drop of a hat. Though it only supports up to 8 players at a time, hordes of AI soldiers roam the map as well, making it possible for a one on one match to feel like 20 on 20. No two games are even vaguely the same, and the fact that Relic intends on shipping with a hefty 12 maps unique to multiplayer only highlights their dedication to friendly fire.
The multiplayer is also where you'll meet the German counterparts to the American heroes – Von Bleck, Viktor Morder and Nina Diederich –all three of whom have their own unique weapons and abilities. In the build I played, both Axis and Allied sides appear pretty well-balanced.
And it all looked great. The Outfit is an Xbox 360 exclusive for more reasons than just shady backroom shenanigans at Microsoft. It's instantly clear from the crisp textures, flawless framerate and absurd amount of explosive insanity occurring onscreen that this probably wouldn't work out on a PS2.
But man, it's like water in a desert for Xbox 360 owners who have been playing the same batch of launch games for three months straight. With a wicked mix of balls-out action and subtle strategy, this Nazi killer looks to take over Xbox Live with style and substance. Now that's a war we can get behind.