Battalion 1944: a hardcore hybrid of noughties COD and Counter-Strike, with teething troubles

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“I wonder how long it will be before I get even a single kill in Battalion 1944“, I whinged at my colleagues earlier. I had plenty of time to whinge, because I was, on average, getting insta-killed within 10 seconds of starting a round, then having to wait 50 seconds before the next one started, at which point I would respawn.

The more capable players, meanwhile, spent their down and out time whingeing in Chat about how much people like me, who hadn’t instantly memorised all the maps and had the temerity to not make every single shot land in their very first match, were spoiling the show. World War II-themed multiplayer first-person shooter Battalion 1944 is not, at present, a particularly happy place to be. That’s not because of the solid and steely-eyed underlying game, but because this early access build’s long waits, disconnects and minimal player-matching mean tempers are short once people are finally in a match. Nonetheless, it’s very obviously and immediately meeting a need.

(That trailer is hilariously unrepresentative of how the experience actually feels).

Reader, I did get my kills. Not many, not yet, but enough to reflect the fact I’d begun easing into 1944’s zone, feeling its rhythms, gaining a sense of when to run and when to hide, and ancient twitch-headshot reflexes spasming back into rudimentary life. I could only become capable at this game by playing it religiously, night after night, and it is exactly the people who can and wish to do that at whom B44 is aimed.

While its official name probably makes sense in terms of scooping up search engine visitors who’ve misremembered or mistyped the name ‘Battlefield’, if they were being more honest (and more commercially suicidal) they’d have called it ‘Battalion 2004.’ The need this is meeting is that of the first post-Counter-Strike generation – I’m talking early Medal of Honors and the first two Call of Duties, as well as the more hardcore WW2 shooter Day of Defeat.

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While talk of this being an ‘old school’ shooter a) suggests origi-COD to some folk b) makes those of us who played Quake and Unreal Tournament feel mortifyingly ancient, in truth it’s closer to Counter-Strike than anything else.

I’m talking super-twitchy, often one-shot kills, a whole lot of lurking behind chokepoint corners, and modes that predominantly involve Point A, B and C. If you want to be running about spraying bullets and shrugging off a couple of hits to your back, as was to some extent the case in those noughties WW2 shooters, you’ve very much backed the wrong horse here.

The amount of crouch-jumping and speculative grenade-lobbing on show here means it can’t be placed anywhere near the ‘realistic shooter’ category, but forgiving it most certainly ain’t. Having a strong working knowledge of where an enemy is likely to arrive from, a combination of map-learning and listening to the sounds, is absolutely vital both to survival and success.

In other words, it’s a game you play because you want to excel at it, rather than because you want to go have a good time or to be showered in rewards. There is ranking, levelling and skin unlocks to be had, but – at least for this early version of the game – this stuff comes across as more of a nod to what’s expected in 2018 than anything fundamental to the experience. You play this to win, not to participate. And, the idea is, you play it every night forever in order to ensure you remain skilled enough to do that.

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I suspect there is room for this and CSGO – partly the enduring appeal of the World War II setting, partly that it’s not currently the same pinata of microtransactions and user-made oddities (which would, in any case, fit ill with the theme). It’s clearly designed, through and through, to be as much religion as it is mere game and, though it quite clearly lacks the resources of bigger names, it definitely knows what it’s doing in that regard.

Unfortunately this early access launch has been sloppy. The combat is tight and I’ve had no in-match errors, but getting into a match is pot-luck right now, and invariably takes a while. The devs have been apologetic, claiming it’s because they simply didn’t expect it to be as popular as it has been, and are beavering away on fixes.

Connection woes are currently the talk of in-game chat, with those who’ve wasted several precious minutes on the main menu and being randomly chucked out of matches before they begin feeling exasperated by anyone who holds things up further.

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Most modes are team-based, so anyone not perceived to be pulling their weight is given a tongue-lashing. The amount of post-death downtime here is prodigious, as I say, so pray you don’t by neglect or accident bring about an ally’s demise.

And God forbid if, say, one player’s four-year-old daughter bursts into his room in tears while he’s playing because she’s just broken the head off her favourite toy, thus causing him to go AFK for 90 seconds. Just a theoretical example, you understand.

Of course, these kind of attitudes have gone hand in hand with online shooters forever, and everything about B44 is about being one of the most steely-eyed examples of such things. I admire its no fuss, no mess, no mercy approach, how its simultaneously brutal and oddly sedate in these usually frenzied, unlock-hooked times, but it’s very much the school of hard knocks.

Maybe that’s not quite what I’m after these days, but it’s safe to say that this school is definitely popular enough to have a waiting list.

Battalion 1944 is available now via Steam Early Access.

26 Comments

  1. Avus says:

    This is like a Rainbow 6 Siege set in WW2 without all the destructible environment and character special.

    • Agnosticus says:

      Which is very sad indeed, because I was hoping for a true COD1+2 multiplayer experience, loved those. But this really gives me no reason to leave R6:Siege…glad that I didn’t back it, to which I was on the brink of.

  2. Razakel says:

    The music in that trailer is so unfitting. Seems to me they know their target audience though. And I’m not a part of that.

  3. fray_bentos says:

    This article precisely describes why I have not played an online MP game for more than 10 minutes over the last 15 years.

  4. cockpisspartridge says:

    I gave up after BF2. Man, those were the days (if you’re old).

    • Runty McTall says:

      Battlefield peaked at 1942 for some of us even older ones (Desert Combat mod FTW!)

      • AshkEl says:

        I’d say Battlefield peaked with BF Vietnam, rather than BF 1942. Yes, 1942 was great, but the Vietnam setting was really the sweet spot for me. Choppers, jets, but not too much in the way of guided missiles, plus the in-game soundtrack option that let you blast out Ride of the Valkeries (or classic 60s rock) from your vehicle.

        Also, playing as the VC against actual american players was consistently entertaining. They really didn’t like losing, and telling them you’re a Brit only poured fuel on the fire….

        BF has never been as much fun.

    • stryker777 says:

      I loved BF2, whether SP or MP. BF3 and later?…forget it.

  5. fearandloathing says:

    I wouldn’t mind a cod2 knock-off, the game remains the best online shooter for me. But this doesn’t even seem like a knock-off done good, especially weapons. And that trailer music, wow, so bad.

  6. LNO says:

    Come join us in day of infamy for that real old school feel.

  7. Smollik says:

    Let’s hope for a fix, this game have a huge potential

  8. Ghostwise says:

    I hope you could fix the doll.

  9. itsbenderingtime says:

    Here’s a little equation I’ve been working out. Mostly because Blizzard has such a hard time with it, but it applies here:

    (Desire/need to excel/win) + (team-based victory conditions) + (random teammates) = toxicity

    MOBAs and Overwatch have the additionaly problem of actually tying your ELO rating (which is supposed act in the service of matchmaking, but always becomes a de-facto judgement of your ability) to the actions of your teammates, ensuring you have an unhealthy interest in them playing the way you want them to, which I don’t think this game bothers with. But the concept is still the same, and toxicity is an intrinsic consequence of basing your game around those design principles. Trying to get rid of it is like fighting against the tide.

    This is why I only play single-player games any more.

  10. zombiewarrior07 says:

    Wow, I feel depressed after reading this, and some of the comments.

    Having a touch of buyers remorse after backing the game on Kickstarter, too.
    I suppose it’s early days, and I hope the Devs can make it a bit more “fun”, because it sounds like that’s what is missing from this game; fun.

    • April March says:

      I dunno. There are loads of people for whom ‘I play this game every day, I know every nook and cranny of it, and when I play I excel at it’ is fun; why take this from them?

  11. OmNomNom says:

    got my closed beta key through a while ago as this had piqued my interest, then just before i saw all the quick scope run and gun sniper videos and was put off more than even the Quake champions endless bunny hop.
    I mean, quick scope snipers and bunny hopping was so 15 years ago.

  12. Lewis131 says:

    I’ve always enjoyed rps reviews before, but wow. this review is fantastically horrible. “I could only become capable at this game by playing it religiously, night after night….” is a fucking joke. I’m terrible at fps, and even I can manage to get a few kills. Yes it does harken back to the old days of fps, but that isnt necessarily a bad thing. This EXACT OPINION is what is wrong with the world today. People are way too damn sensitive. No one is going to hold your hand. No one is going to give you a ribbon for doing “your best.” Get over it, grit your teeth a bit, and try again. OR give up. No one is forcing you to play.

    • Lewis131 says:

      I went back and reread the review to try and give it a second chance. And yes, there are some connection issues. but the glaring comment that sticks out in my mind is “You play this to win, not to participate.” SERIOUSLY? who plays to lose? Thats why every game that releases has a COMPETITVE MODE where people COMPTETE to WIN. There’s only so much stupidity I can handle in a review, and this review surpassed it with flying colors.

      • hellsempty says:

        I wanted to give a sincere, well thought and articulated response to your critique Lewis, but all I got is chill your macho dick out bro.

      • edwardoka says:

        I strongly suspect that I’m not alone in this, but I don’t play games to win.

        I play games to have fun, to be entertained and to be challenged, and as such, I would far rather have a hard-fought defeat than an easy victory.

        • April March says:

          Likewise. I have, on occasion, switched from a winning team to a losing team, because I realized I’d rather try to defeat a group of players who were a bit better at the game than me than to hang behind and mop up after them.

          This EXACT OPINION is what is wrong with the world today.

          I don’t think any exact opinion is as wrong as thinking one particular opinion is so self-evident that anyone who disagrees is crazy or stupid.

          • Seafoam says:

            Ha ha! Oh yeah I’ve done the same too, but not on my own volition though.

            Back in TF2 there was the good old autobalance. Most players thought it was the worst thing imaginable, but I always took it with stride since it meant I could even out the playing field against the superior team. The sweetest challenge of all is knowing you’re part of the underdogs, and that you have the chance to make the underdogs win.
            Of course there’s the fact that you’re placed into a more dysfunctional team, but since you’re pubbing both teams are dysfunctional anyway.

          • matsey says:

            I always used to ‘even’ the teams and still do even on consoles. Just too many people these days don’t seem to have any understanding that the point is to have fun. Spawn killing a team with half the number of players isn’t fun, and doesn’t take any skill. Who wants to win a game like that? The true skill lies in switching teams and overcoming the stacked odds. Maybe it’s an older gamer thing to ensure a more level playing field but I don’t understand how can games in this day and age still cannot auto balance teams correctly… (looking at you EA)

    • Razakel says:

      “People are way too damn sensitive.”

      I hope you realize the irony in that. Games like this aren’t for everbody. And if the reviewer doesn’t like this kind of game, then that doesn’t mean the review is useless or bad. It’s just one point of view – and some people might relate to it.

    • MultiVaC says:

      I used to love games like this, I think Day of Defeat was my most played game for most of the early 2000’s. But posts like this sort of validate what the reviewer is saying. These games thrived because they were fun, and most people playing gave no shits whether they won or lost because there was no stat tracking or “competitive” modes. Even the egregious trash-talkers were trying to have some fun in their own sadistic way, it was not the same fuming rage that is so common now. Can we just get over ourselves and play some stupid fucking video games for once? For some people serious competition IS fun, but those are the ones you find enjoying themselves and behaving like decent people. This hyper-defensive “esports” nerdbro subculture is just so off-putting.

  13. Veles says:

    Interesting point about the whinge of not memorising maps. Part of the reason I don’t play many FPS games online now is the requirement to memorise the map as an entry bar to be competitive. I don’t have as much time to play these games and I don’t want to have to drop several hours of no-fun in order to learn maps for it to become a bit more fun.

    In a genre than can pride itself of being realistic, it’s horribly unrealistic for combatants to have memorised the map and know where every cubby hole is.

    What would be interesting to see is an FPS that has procedurally generated maps so that there is never an advantage for players who know the the map. It would then be a bit closer to being a test of skill.