Yeah, we've seen Saving Private Ryan too. And that Band of Brothers on the telly. And we've played 'Medal of Duty 7: Life's a Beach Landing'. And we've taken a moment out from shooting endless digital effigies of Bavarian teenagers between the eyes to ruminate upon the senseless horror, trench foot and bad food all our grandfathers endured in the name of freedom. And we've liked it all, really we have, but we've also wondered: why do all videogames set in World War II have to be gritty, 'realistic' first-person shooters? Come on, have these people not seen The Dirty Dozen? Why can't they make things a little bit less Tom Hanks and a little bit more Lee Marvin?
Happily for us, the guys at Canada's Relic Studios feel the same, and they're doing something about it by making The Outfit - a highly original squad-based, tactical-action romp for Xbox 360, with mayhem on its mind.
The game is based around a stunningly simple, unique concept Relic is calling Destruction on Demand. As you play you earn Field Unit (FU) points for killing enemies and completing your objectives, which you can spend whenever and wherever you like to call in reinforcements. Or gun emplacements. Or jeeps. Or armoured cars. Or tanks. Or
artillery bombardment. Or just about anything, in fact, that goes boom, and that helps you liberate pretty little French farmhouses (of their walls).
"The amount of choice it gives you, and the amount of variety in gameplay it affords, is the coolest aspect of the game," says The Outfit's producer Adrian Crook (who says the game is, in spirit, "Burnout meets WWII"). Having played through a few missions from the Campaign mode, we would have to agree with him, but it wasn't obvious at first. The Outfit plays so well as a straightforward third-person shooter that at first you'll find yourself patiently sniping away at an enemy position before you remember you can just order a tank to be parachuted in, jump in, and flatten it. Or maybe Sir would like to soften those stormtroopers up with an airstrike, then order his squad to lay down covering fire while he saunters up and toasts them with a flame thrower? It's entirely up to you.
Destruction on Demand isn't the only way in which The Outfit lets you play fast and loose with the rules of engagement. The dynamic, fully damaged-modelled environments mean nothing - quite literally - is set in stone, while your supporting squad of four soldiers have simple commands that add an extra tactical layer. Most importantly, there are the three very different squad commanders - The Outfit's player characters - that you can switch between. JD Tyler is a low-tech special ops commando who carries a sniper rifle; with his machine-gun and flame thrower, Tommy Mac is all about the body count; finally, cigar-chomping vet Deuce Williams' bazooka can bring down motorised opposition (and, should you so desire, churches).
Each also has distinctive squad commands that play to their strengths. Their weapon sets and abilities are balanced enough that they can all cope with any situation, but different enough that if you pick a different commander after dying, the fight will never go the same way. Add all this to Destruction on Demand and the huge headroom for cruel, funny, and stupidly destructive improvisation is obvious. Says lead designer Jeff Brown, "We're giving you a place to play; we're not telling you what the rules are."
But The Outfit's 12-mission campaign mode (with online or offline co-op) is only, and exactly, the half of it. There's also a multiplayer mode that we didn't get to see, but that Relic is really, really excited about. "I would just sit at my desk and play it all day if I could," says Brown wistfully.