"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.
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.
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.
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.