PLATFORM: Xbox 360, PC, PS3
PUBLISHER: Codemasters

In 1931, Winston Churchill had a violent encounter with a taxi while crossing 5th street in New York City.  He survived the collision, but walked with a cane for the rest of his life.  What if instead of surviving the collision, Churchill had unsurvived it? 

According to Turning Point: Fall of Liberty, Churchill’s death would have resulted in the Nazi domination of Europe, a “Dewey really defeats Truman this time, we swear!” election, and the Axis invasion of the eastern seaboard in 1953.
The Pitch

It’s a combination of Red Dawn, Philip K. Dick’s “The Man in the High Castle”, and Quake 4.  Fight Nazis in your own backyard, assuming your backyard is a poorly lit corridor! 

In 1945, Goodyear pulled what some consider the greatest April Fool’s prank ever.

The Play

For construction worker Dan Carson, the Nazi attack couldn’t have come at a worse time.  His wife and child have left him for a rich German rocket scientist, and since the U.S. economy is doing so poorly, he’s practically working for peanuts on jobs that are becoming rarer and rarer.   The American  military machine has all but dissolved, which is too bad for Carson, since he was trained as a super-secret assault mercenary by a sect of rogue Mexican ninja assassins following World War I. 

None of what you just read is true.  All we ever know about Turning Point’s main character is that his name is Dan Carson, and that we begin the game at a construction site high above the city.  Nazi zeppelins stage a surprise attack, and we’re immediately tasked to get Dan to safety.  When he finally makes it down to the street, he’s conscripted into the American resistance, but not before getting a chance to admire the spectacular ruins of the city.  Examining the crown of the toppled Chrysler building is a cinematic highlight, but it doesn’t get much better than that.

Playing Turning Point is a lot like drinking egg nog.  It’s appealing in theory (because who doesn’t like creamy, alcoholic goo?), but by the fourth sip, you’re ready to feed it to the dog.

One of Turning Point’s more obscene Nazi weapons:  A Tommy Gun that fires grenade launchers.

Turning Point’s biggest asset is its alternate history conceit.  World War II games are tired, lampoon-able territory, so developer Spark Unlimited’s attempt to approach the genre with a fresh new twist is appreciated. It’s surprising that more developers haven’t used alternate histories as a way to frame creative set pieces or incorporate new and unusual weapons, as most of what Spark Unlimited does right with this title points back to its concept.  Unfortunately, Turning Point is the missed opportunity to end all missed opportunities, as what should have been an engaging and thrilling experience is far too often bland, repetitive, frustrating, and just plain ugly.

Some of the game’s visuals work well, but on the whole, it’s a bland and buggy affair.  While it’s obviously an Unreal Engine 3.0 product, Turning Point is one of the worst examples of the engine I’ve seen so far, as it’s rife with clipping issues, framerate hiccups,  low-res textures, and bad lighting.  I winced as I watched a truck pass directly through a fleeing pedestrian.  Perhaps the developers had intentionally used inviso-citizens to symbolize the ghostlike and tortured existence of the American working class, but it was probably just a bug.  More than once, I witnessed a fully formed man-shadow leap from Dan Carson’s ass as he shimmied down a pipe.  Design flaw, or homoerotic overtone?  Who knew Codemasters could be so subversive. 

Bonus Exercise:  Smear a layer of month-old gravy all over your television’s screen and watch Saving Private Ryan.  This is an accurate representation of Turning Point’s color palette. 

The mostly tepid and uninspired levels don’t add much, either.  While there are fleeting moments of greatness, such as a clever White House invasion scenario or the aforementioned Chrysler ruins, most of the environments are drab, repetitive, and uninteresting.  After your fifth time fighting through a dark alley, ruined building, Nazi boiler room, or abandoned subway tunnel, you might be tempted to join the German effort just for a chance to hitch a ride out on one of their ubiquitous assault blimps. 

Red Leader, this is Zyklon-B!  I’m goin’ in!

Turning Point plays like a very standard FPS, with fire, aim, crouch, dash, and jump as available actions.  There’s also a grapple function, which allows Dan Carson to incapacitate his opponent in close quarters combat.  From the grapple, he can either instantly kill his opponent, or he can whip them around and use them as a human shield a-la Total Recall.  It’s a neat little function that adds some depth to the battles, and it’s one of the only things that differentiates Point from legions of other FPS contenders.

Turning Point uses a progressive health system, which means you’ll be diving in and out of cover to regenerate health.  Sadly, it seems that Turning Point wasn’t developed with a progressive health system in mind, as the vanilla crouch function doesn’t provide as much protection as the more sophisticated cover systems found in titles like Gears of War or Mass Effect.  What’s baffling is that Point’s enemy AI can hug walls and blind-fire down alleys, but Dan Carson can’t.  It’s not a serious complaint, though, since the enemies are all rather dumb and can usually be dispatched with a shot or two.

What’s most irritating about Turning Point, however, is the checkpoint-only save system.  It’s supremely frustrating to clear out a subway tunnel full of Nazi soldiers for thirty minutes, only to get sniped in the head and be forced to retread through the same tunnel because you hadn’t reached the next checkpoint.  Turning Point isn’t difficult or long, but it’s filled to the brim with “Nazi closets,” so you can expect to die numerous times as Germans leap out at you from dark corridors or snipe you from a hidden locations.  Apparently, Spark Unlimited didn’t figure out what Valve, 2K, and various other developers have known for years:  Manual save systems should come standard, since replay for the sake of replay just isn’t fun.   An argument can be made that checkpoint-only save systems can manufacture dramatic tension in a game, but since Turning Point’s checkpoints are so sparsely parceled, it’s just a giant pain in the ass.

Turning Point’s backstory hints at a promising narrative, but in the end, it’s another letdown.  We know and care so little about the characters that it’s difficult to get worked up about the story- it’s just manufactured pap that moves Dan from dark alley 12 to ruined building 18 as quickly as possible.  Also, for a game about defending American soil from a Nazi invasion, it’s too bad that almost a third of it takes place in London.

If anything about Turning Point needs to be singled out for recognition, it’s the stellar sound design and score.  Michael Giacchino’s masterful orchestral music adds a much needed layer of dramatic texture to the game, and the voice work and sound effects are top notch.  I’m left wondering if they blew their whole budget on sound, as Point’s audio seems like it belongs in a much better game.  The weapons library is inventive, and the gun play is decent.  There are a few creative “what if” weapons based on post-war Nazi technology, like the groovy enemy-illuminating sniper rifle or the powerful Karbine long range machine gun, but they’re not a big enough draw to sustain any kind of long-term interest.

Ed’s worst fear had come true, and only minutes before the big Henderson account
meeting.  He had accidentally dropped his Nazi into an unflushed toilet.

The Replay

There’s a multiplayer mode, but it feels like a tacit addition.  There’s no reason to bother with it, as your friends will probably be playing Call of Duty 4 or Unreal Tournament III.

Point’s single player campaign is short, and there isn’t much replayability there.  There’s a stat calculator after every act, so if you’re an achievement hound, you might be able to squeeze some desperate fun out of that.

The Verdict

Let me qualify my vitrol a little bit:  Turning Point isn’t a terrible game.  There are a handful of fun moments, and even one or two very good ones.  It may sound like I’m coming down hard on a relatively innocuous game, but in a marketplace alongside innovative FPS entries like Orange Box, Gears of War, or BioShock, something like Turning Point doesn’t stand a chance.  What little goodwill it offers is squandered on bland level design and shoddy execution, so how could it possibly be worth the same as its far superior competitors?  In an IGN interview regarding the vast amounts of negative press Turning Point received upon release, Hudson Soft’s John Master Lee said: 

“Quite frankly, I come to accept that the hardcore gaming media tends to score casual games lower.” 

I’m not buying that.

There are engaging games, and then there are the rest.  In the past few weeks, casual games like Snakeball and N+ have all received near universal acclaim; I’d argue that their accolades are a result of, not despite, their simplicity.  Masters’ comments seem like petty, anti-reviewer flailing, and it underscores why Turning Point did indeed deserve the mild thrashing it got in late February.

The bottom line?  A basic level of competence is no longer enough to justify a $60 price tag.  If you’re not going to put the effort into making something innovative and you plan to market your buggy product as a “lite and casual” experience, drop your price tag to reflect this.  Charging the same amount as Orange Box for your far inferior game is an insult to the consumer.

5.7 out of 10

Actually, this is an unrelated photo of the White House taken several weeks ago.
Just thought you should know.