Somebody put me in charge, and I think it was around this time when we really lost the war. Seriously. I’m trapped under enemy fire, as usual, but now my squad is demanding orders. Orders? How do I give those? More importantly, what do good orders look like? Do I tell my squad to sacrifice themselves, or does that open up a hole in our line of defense? Perhaps this is a simpler role for those more war-minded folk. But for me, it’s just all kinds of confusing. But hey, I’ve got powerful binoculars now. And as I later discovered, they even call in mortars. Cool.
Perhaps a joe-blow rifleman role would suit me better. So at the beginning of the round, I switch to a new squad as a run-of-the-mill rifleman. I also take my time to rename the squad from “Alpenjäger” to “Mesters of Sweg” (which was put to a vote and ratified unanimously by my squadmates), because Verdun is funny like that: it’s all set up to be a serious game, but it can get real silly real quick. And by silly, I mean laughing as you cry into your keyboard because you so had that annoying German sniper, you so shot first.
So my second game goes much more smoothly than my first. I learned to lead moving players instead of shooting where they are–a realization I prided myself on due to the fact that nowhere in the game is there a line reading that there are semi-realistic bullet physics at play, and there are no animations to suggest that there is bullet travel time; maybe that is realistic, or maybe the designers got lazy. Hell if I know. Regardless, I had a blast (ha) storming trenches, attempting to clear a straight line but failing horribly, being esploded (no, I spelled that right) by enemy mortars and machine guns and pistols and rifles. I’m sure it sounds sarcastic, but it’s true: there’s a lot of dying in store for those of us wishing to attack the enemy lines without a tactical approach.
You’re forced to run at them, too. The main game mode (the other being a rifles-only free-for-all deathmatch) pits two teams against each other. The game is taken in rounds: at the start, one team (say, the Allies) must attack the enemy’s front trench. The Axis will spawn a short distance from the trench, and the Allies will spawn a decent distance away. The Allies have a time limit in which they must invade and capture (by having more soldiers inside the cap zone) the trench. If they do not capture it and have no men inside it at the end of the timer, they must defend their own trench against the Axis who will be tasked with attacking. If the timer ends and they have at least one man inside, then the fight continues until the trench is captured or the last Ally is “removed” from the trench. I like this system: kills mean nothing if you don’t run into the capture zone. It keeps the game from becoming a stalemate deathmatch, an issue some games face (cough, Battlefield, cough). So, yes, finally we have an FPS which is both (1) set in WWI and (2) not dependent on killing (so much as physical presence).
I harked on classes at the beginning of this review-type thing. Each 16-player team is split into four squads, each consisting of four roles, each role filled by one member. The roles affect your loadout and perks; for example, squad leaders are given, at start, a pistol, binoculars, and the power to call in mortars and to place markers on the map commanding the squad where to attack. Each role is leveled up by playing as the role, and each squad also has its own progression system–there are four set squad types per team, and even when you change the squad name the type persists along with its various, specific roles. It’s an interesting system because it allows a startlingly deep level of progression. However, it is not a fast system; avid Battlefield players will feel at home with the slow-moving progression. I can’t comment on the perk upgrades as I never got even close to an upgrade, and most every player in the game was my rank or lower; the game is very clearly still in its infancy.
Gameplay: 4.5 / 5
This is when I have to admit to something of which I am somewhat ashamed: the graphics are bad, but I don’t mind. All the 3D models (but most annoyingly, the foliage) have thin black outlines, which kind of makes everything appear cartoony. Additionally, some of the models (one of the pistols, for example) look like I accidentally opened Blender and went at it while simultaneously sipping Absinthe. The animations look I then began chugging the stuff. But like I said, it’s okay; it doesn’t matter. I get that the moving person on the other side is probably a bad guy (but I can’t be sure because both teams’ outfits are pretty similar; however, that could just be me being an idiot) and I get that the stick he’s holding with orange sparks at the end is a rifle and that I should try to avoid receiving the sparks to the face. So, Red Orchestra 2, you have not been replaced as the World War Tactical Shooter in the graphics department; at least you have decent light shafts–Verdun’s light shafts and HDR effects sent me on an hour-long recalibration-spree as I attempted to figure out exactly when and where my nice IPS monitor decided to s*** on itself (Spoiler: It was just Verdun. Crazy, right?). Also, none of it is well optimized; my Grand Theft Auto V-crushing, Crysis 3-munching system could not max this game out. It’s a shame because I can run much prettier games much better. And that is just wrong. Nothing a little tweaking can’t fix, and it’s well worth the technical troubles. Note: After reviewing some screenshots, the game appears to be pretty in some areas. Don’t let that fool you. Or do. I can only do so much, okay?
Sound design is unexceptional because while the bullets whizzing near your head certainly are terrifying, and the simulated panic is great, walking sounds (especially your own) need some serious work–on numerous occasions I found myself quickly turning on my heel to shoot my stalker, only to realize that the footsteps I heard were my own, poorly balanced in such a way that they seemed to be behind me. Also, when I walk, I hear clanging pots and pans, but when baddies walk by, the only thing I can hear are footsteps and even then they are quite nearly silent. Perhaps there will be future implementation of a food-assembly system?…Ha?
Graphics: 2.5 / 5
Sound 3.5 / 5
But the real issue here is one of gameplay, though, thankfully, it can be patched pretty easily. In a game where standing in a spot is crucial to victory, and where covering fire is the only way to get to said spot, not having autobalance is a fatal error. Verdun’s playerbase is not yet large enough to fill up every session to the maximum 32 players, and you can select which team you wish to join. Very quickly this gets out of hand, and you may find yourself one of five players attempting to rush a team of thirteen Germans. There is a system in place to discourage imbalances by adding time to the wave spawn delay for the whole team and by requesting players to switch (with a little, player-specific vote prompt at the bottom of the screen), but nothing forces the teams to stay even, and this seriously wrecks games. Verdun cannot be won by the horribly outnumbered; it just can’t.
Verdun needs an autobalance system, and a team of actual artists wouldn’t go amiss, either. Until then, BUY IT. And when they add the autobalance system, BUY IT FOR YOUR FRIENDS.
TL;DR: 4 / 5
(because math is overrated) (and hard) (and gameplay is so much more valuable in this instance)
Verdun is developed by M2H and Blackmill Games and is available here on Steam.