People often hanker for the nostalgia-laden days of gaming past, and the last few years have seen developers and publishers almost going out of their way to cater to a loud and vocal group of die hard fans. Between Sony and Activision, the nostalgia trip of the last twelve months has seen the Shadow of the Colossus remake, Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy and a return to World War 2 for the Call of Duty series.
Let’s stick with WW2 and COD though, because it’s this setting and the early days of this franchise that is a key inspiration for Bulkhead Interactive and Battalion 1944. Releasing into Early Access last week, after journeying through Kickstarter and finding the backing of the Square Enix Collective, it’s a great story of a game being made by fans and for fans.
This is fast paced, it’s twitchy as anything, and you can die at the drop of a hat. Depending on your particular first person shooting tipple, that can be quite difficult to return to, as a game with a low, low time to kill, twitchy shooting, leaning around corners and more. Of course, it’s made twitchier still, if coming from a console gamer’s perspective, by the fact that you’re playing with mouse and keyboard.
It’s stark how pared back and minimalist Battalion 1944 is in comparison to most modern shooters. There’s no real loadouts, no character perks, only a minimal number of cosmetic customisations – you have different skins for your guns – and that’s about it. In the heart of the action, it boils down to tight and precise gameplay with few bells and whistles, there’s just 5v5 infantry battling and little to distract from that.
There’s a good selection and variety to the maps already in the game, from war torn coastal towns for urban warfare to dense forests and tight and twisting trench networks. They all offer different things, whether it’s long corridors for sniping, tons of cover to hide behind and dart between, or corners and walls to pop out behind.
A good selection of classically styled maps come together with your classic game modes like Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag and Domination in the Arcade, but that doesn’t mean that the game doesn’t have a few new and refreshing ideas. In the Unranked playlist – a version of the upcoming Ranked playlist, but without the ranking pressure – Wartide takes the Search & Destroy template, with a single life per round as you try to plant or prevent a bomb from being planted, but then gives each team a limited supply of weapons.
It’s an idea and a mode that’s clearly been geared toward competitive play, and could potentially make you think about your team’s composition from one round to the next. Across 13 rounds, you have just six sniper rifles, six trench guns, MP44s, and so on to draw upon, but can replenish your supplies by felling enemies and grabbing the medallions that they drop. There’s a reward for performing well, in other words, but you there’s also risks later on in the match if you perform badly while running through your supply of weapons.
Of course, I’m kind of terrible at it and my kill:death ratio is pretty poor. My PC shooter reflexes have never been particularly great, and dulled by years of leaning toward console shooters and those with a longer time to kill. Here I could die in a single shot to the same ludicrously good player time and time again – which I did – get caught by players leaping out from behind cover, or spectate my teammates and see the kinds of corner peeking that I’d never really consider doing.
I really can’t begrudge these players for being better than me though. This is intended to be a minimalist and pared back shooter, and while it updates that in a modern Unreal Engine and spruces up the graphics, it’s a refreshing change of style. It’s almost jarring to see that there’s loot crates in the form of War Chests, but their impact is as minimal as changing the skin on your gun.
Its old school stylings means it’s a style of game that clearly has its fans though, and Bulkhead have been overwhelmed by the number of players diving in to sample the Early Access release. Right now they’re still working to shore up the servers, work around some matchmaking issues and bugs with filling empty slots on servers, but this is entirely what Early Access is intended for. To their credit, Bulkhead have been very open about this, worked through the nights to get the servers working, and kept people updated on fixes that they’re implementing.
The Battalion website is dominated by a roadmap of what’s to come. Up until the summer, the focus will be on stability, but it won’t be long before they add new maps, more weapons, bring in features like local LAN play and the Clanwars system.
An unashamedly old school shooter, there’s good reason why Battalion 1944 has garnered a lot of interest, even with – and perhaps slightly because of – Call of Duty WWII’s own return to this era.