Classified: France ’44 Review

Classified: France '44 header artwork

Set during the run-up to the D-Day landings, Classified: France ’44 puts the player in control of an elite squad of soldiers immersed deep behind enemy lines. Their mission is simple but oh-so-difficult; they must unify the French Resistance, eliminate key German targets, and sabotage vital infrastructure to ensure that the approaching allied invasion is a success. That sounds like a lot of pressure to deal with, but as a turn-based tactical game, you’ve got all the time in the world to plan out your moves.

Classified: France ’44 is a turn-based stealth action game. The problem is – controversial opinion alert – that stealth games are usually kind of boring. Crouching like an out-of-work yoga instructor and hiding in the dark behind a box while very stupid guards wander around does not a fun game make. Doing all that and also waiting fifty turns until the appropriate time to move finally emerges… well, that just doubles down on the dull. So, it’s to Classified: France ’44’s credit that it allows the player to mostly ignore playing stealthily, offering numerous tactical options in the healthy pursuit of blasting Nazis.

Whether you go quietly or go loud, it won’t just be the turns that tick by during a mission, but the days before D-Day as well. Every mission you undertake, every objective you achieve or fail, will result in the passing of days on the HQ map screen. It’s a neat tension builder, as the game regularly reminds you that time is running out, building the pressure and creating a real sense of jeopardy as you frantically decide what to do with the limited days you have left.

Classified: France '44 stealth

Mostly, your choices will be dictated by which turn-based mission you choose to go on. Do you ambush an enemy officer? Sabotage a factory? Steal secret plans? Every choice has a palpable effect on your overall progress and will unlock specific rewards. Unify a region of France through successful completion of three missions and you’ll unlock a variety of boosts and perks, vital if your squad is to succeed, but there’s a risk that runs in getting this reward. Fail to recruit a certain squad member and they are gone for good, regardless of how handy their skills would have been. The tension of putting all your effort into one region and leaving the rest of France alone is expertly manipulated by developers Absolutely Games with threats constantly emerging, necessitating the hasty devising of new plans and strategies.

The missions themselves are played out from an isometric top-down perspective. Despite a cluttered UI, the game goes to great lengths to ensure you know exactly what is going on. Each potential action you select for a soldier will inform you not only of how many action points they have left, but which of their actions you’ll be able then able to choose from too. Enemy soldiers’ fields of view are constantly on screen, ensuring that there’s none of the usual frustration from stealth games of accidentally blundering into the sight of an NPC as you have no idea where they were looking. The game even tells you where a German soldier will be moving next, allowing devious plans to be concocted without fear of being suddenly spotted.

Sadly, none of this helps alleviate the boredom of a purely stealth-driven mission. Slowly sneaking through an underground facility, unable to kill anyone, is a Sisyphean trial of patience and perseverance. These restrictive missions are few and far between, with most allowing for a hybrid approach of stealth and then going in loud. Ambushes are without doubt the most enjoyable way to play the game as you sneak your small team of commandos into the perfect position and then let the bad guys have it.

Classified: France '44 combat

You’re given a multitude of historically accurate weapons to do that too; highlights include, sniper rifles, Tommy Guns, TNT, and the most diverse range of grenades I’ve ever seen in a video game. Intriguingly, the stand-out way of defeating an enemy isn’t to kill them. Indeed, some specific enemy types will never die, they’ll just be downed for a few turns before returning to the fray. Instead, suppression plays a much more vital part in Classified: France ’44’s gameplay.

Blast away at an enemy, ideally whilst flanking them, and even if you miss their morale will be whittled away. Soon enough their morale will be broken and they’ll effectively be out of the fight, allowing your squad the opportunity to reposition. It’s a neat twist on the usual X-COM formula but takes some adjusting to, once you’ve got the hang of suppression though you’ll find it’s a tool you will regularly be using, enabling you to quickly complete an objective before enemy reinforcements turn up. In short, despite the dizzying amount of turn-based tactical games out there, Classified: France ’44 does enough to stand out from the crowd.

It’s not all laughs and japes though. Despite the stellar authenticity applied to weapons and uniforms, the character designs for your squad lean too far into lazy stereotypes. An English soldier speaks in clipped RP and falls just short of bellowing ‘Tally-Ho!’ as they charge into battle. Meanwhile, a Resistance fighter is the most clichéd French person imaginable. The result is that you never connect with your squad on an emotional level. These characters are not engaging or unique in any way, they are simply generic tools to complete an objective. This suggests a missed opportunity to engender greater player investment in their squad.

Classified: France '44 characters

There are also a few technical issues to contend with. Loading times feel unusually long for a PS5 game, particularly noticeable when you try to restart a mission that’s gone horribly wrong. Pathfinding for your squad isn’t great either and they’ll often automatically opt for a route that uses up too many action points, or one that puts them in the wrong position to launch an attack. As such, there is a lot of hand-holding to be done, incrementally moving your character bit by bit, rather than relying on them automatically behaving optimally. Finally, there are a few hilariously glaring glitches to enjoy, from teleporting NPCs to your squad being able to stealth-attack foes who are nowhere near them.

Still, with forthcoming updates and expansions promised by Absolutely Games, and several patches already applied, it looks like you won’t be able to enjoy those teleporting Nazis for too long.

Classified: France ’44 does so much right; historical authentic tactical combat, tense decision-making, and a minimal amount of stealth. Naff Stereotype-driven characters and technical issues aside, this is a confident and assured debut from Absolutely Games.
  • Enjoyable turn-based hybrid of stealth and action
  • Racks up the tension with skill
  • Historical accuracy in combat and weaponry
  • Suppression tactics and morale provide an interesting twist on the turn-based tactical formula
  • Stereotyped player characters are dreary and unimaginative
  • Poor pathfinding
  • A fair few bugs and glitches