SturmFront - The Mutant War

words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by Andrade Games for PC, originally released in 2015.
SturmFront - The Mutant War is a top-down run-and-gun shooter where you take on the role of a SturmFront cyborg battle unit named Siegfried von Hammerstein in a war against mutants. Siegfried begins his mission in Stadt der Verdammnis (City of Damnation), left by a dropship that flies off into the foreground as the stage begins. From here, Siegfried must destroy every living thing that he sees.

SturmFront is inspired by classic top-down arcade shooters like Commando, Mercs, Outzone, and Shock Troopers. The game borrows from the conventions established in those titles and adds in a dash of bullet hell, something that was not common in the genre previously, but which has grown more popular thanks to the popularity of the run-and-gun’s nearest genre neighbor, the shmup.

Siegfried comes armed with an 8-way machine gun which may be aimed independently of movement. This weapon has a long range, and picking up “P” icons increases its damage output to three additional levels. The first upgrade turns Siegfried’s small projectiles into large ones. The second retains the larger forward-firing projectiles and adds smaller ones that fire out at angles. The third and final upgrade is a wide 3-way shot with large projectiles.

Grabbing three “P” icons also adds a single exploding shield to the player’s inventory, even if the player's weapon is already at full strength. Shields are represented “S” icons in the lower left of the screen, and the player starts each level with one shield. Shields may not be used manually; rather, they are triggered automatically when the player comes in contact with an enemy or projectile, borrowing from the bomb convention found in shmups (in fact the shields were originally referred to as bombs in the game's initial release).

When a shield is activated, a large blue explosion is triggered (separating it from the typical orange and red explosions from destroying enemies), which kills any nearby enemies and absorbs projectiles within the blast radius. This essentially acts as a 1UP, allowing the player to take a single hit of damage without being killed. If Siegfried is hit without a shield in his inventory, he explodes and must return to the start of the level.

In addition to his machine gun and shield, Siegfried has a secondary weapon in the form of a flamethrower. This weapon has a short range, but it is more powerful than the machine gun. This weapon is useful for taking out swarming enemies and dealing up-close damage to bosses. In addition, this is the only weapon capable of destroying spawners, which otherwise spit out an endless supply of fast-moving bug-like enemies.

While Siegfried’s weapons have infinite ammo, Siegfried himself only has a limited battery life, as indicated by a meter in the lower right corner. This meter continuously depletes, regardless of the player’s actions, essentially acting as a countdown timer that requires the player to maintain a steady forward pace. Energy pickups, represented by “E” icons, appear regularly, and aggressive players should have no trouble reaching the next icon before time runs out… for most of the game, at any rate.

By the time the player reaches the fifth and final level, he may occasionally encounter a warning message stating:

Failing to grab an energy pickup before the meter depletes will cause Siegfried to detonate on the spot, just like in real life.

Most enemy types are introduced in the first level, with tentacled spawners sending crawling enemies toward you, big-headed Giger-esque soldiers that spit large projectiles, and segmented purple aliens that rise out of the ground and fire pairs of small projectiles at you. The players must be particularly careful when destroying spawners, as the flames are left behind will kill him instantly (or use a shield) when stepped on.

Later levels introduce some new swarming enemies that can fire 3-way sprays of projectiles, in addition to increasing the bullet output of the marching mutant soldiers. Other new foes include some powerful stationary enemies, like muscular humanoids covered in spikes and tentacles, and bullet-spewing eyeball creatures that require your flamethrower to destroy. Also, some large worm-like enemies move across the screen quickly and can absorb a lot of hits… but destroying them causes a large explosion that absorbs nearby projectiles, allowing the player to use them as something of a shield, which is also the case when destroying spawners.

There are a great deal of destructible objects in many of the early levels, as the player traverses cityscapes and finds cars, walls, and exploding red barrels. Later levels become more organic and alien and offer fewer destructibles. Most levels are substantially wider than the screen, allowing for a bit of exploration – keeping in mind Siegfried's ever-depleting energy supply – allowing enterprising players to discover additional “P” icons.

Each of the five levels consists of a lengthy section where the player shoots his way through hordes of enemies until he reaches a skull icon at the end of the level. Touching this icon transports Siegfried to the boss area. Boss areas have a small number of enemies, as well as some “P” icons to ensure that the player doesn’t have to face the boss with the weakest possible weapon. Siegfried’s energy is replenished at the beginning of each level, and another “E” icon is typically placed just before the boss.

Since Siegfried can move and aim independently, players will need to sharpen their circle-strafing skills to defeat most boss creatures. Bosses tend to sit in the center of the room and spew bullets in all directions, with a large number of slow-moving bullets intermixed with a smaller barrage of fast-firing bullets. Players need to watch for the fast-firing bullets while weaving in and out of the others in typical bullet hell fashion while also keeping the business end of their machine gun fixed on the boss.

Unlike the run-and-gun games of old, Stumfront offers the player infinite lives, with the punishment for death being a respawn at the start of the level. Since boss areas are separated from the levels themselves, getting killed during a boss fight only requires that the player fight his way through a short section of enemies before returning to the boss once again. That said, the game is still quite difficult. It is meant to be completed in a single sitting, but players will need to persevere to learn enemy placements and find the best strategies for completing levels and taking down bosses.

Visually, the game has detailed sprite work and makes liberal use of explosions and sprays of blood, with occasional bits of over-the-top gore, like a scientist found dismembered on the floor of his lab. The game takes things a bit further than the traditional entries in the genre with its gore, as well as some minor nudity and phallic imagery in the bosses, while still capturing the exuberance that the genre is known for.

Throughout the adventure, Seigfried’s face can be seen in the lower left of the screen, like B.J. Blazkowicz from DOOM, grimacing as he fires his weapon, bleeding when he is injured, and occasionally spouting German exclamations when taking damage. To add a bit of extra flavor, players are greeted with unique interstitial artwork between each level, showing the game’s hero facing off against enemies and striking powerful poses.

SturmFront - The Mutant War was developed by Sebastian de Andrade under the Andrade Games label, and he is based in Heidelberg, Germany. This is the developer’s first release, which was made available for free, or as a pay-what-you-want title.

Following SturmFront, the developer went on to create 1917 - The Alien Invasion, an alien-blasting shmup taking place in an alternate World War I. After aliens invade Earth, Axis and Allied powers unite, and a German scientist outfits a triplane with alien technology to turn the tide of the invasion, eventually fighting her way back to the alien home world.