The Battle of Verdun remains one of the most turbulent battles of WW1. One of the longest of its time, and with deaths reaching around 700,000, its ten month trench warfare raged with unrelenting force. It’s a shame then, that this consistency isn’t felt in its video game experience, Verdun.
The multiplayer first person shooter relies heavily on its Frontlines Mode in which two teams of sixteen players push and pull in a bloody version of tug-of-war across No Man’s Land to take their opponents’ trench. This is, understandably, no mean feat. Taking said trench requires constant methodical survival tactics as you stumble through the sludge that separates the warring factions. Do this long enough to make it to the other side, and then successfully take and occupy enemy lines, and you’ve succeeded in your mission. Be wary, however, as once your time ends, you must race the clock to retreat to your home trench before the other team starts their offensive.
Straight off the bat, I was impressed with the squad based multiplayer dynamics. Until you work out how to work with your team efficiently and effectively, you’re gonna have a bad time. Configuring and maximizing everyone’s specific roles within your squad will see you on the road to success in what can initially be a brutally difficult endeavor. Completing battles in this squad will be infinitely more engaging, simple, and can boost your experience points leading you to new weapon power tiers.
What lets this experience down slightly is its graphics. It’s such a 21st century qualm, but the aesthetics of Verdun are rudimentary and come across muddied and blurred. Though you do have to remember we’re used to seeing the crisp light and color feats of triple-As, and this is a small developer working with a dappled blanked of brown and grey. Trench warfare isn’t the most exciting color palette, but I felt Verdun could have been clearer in its aesthetics.
For all of the Battle of Verdun’s historical glory, we often remember the ferocious “Over the top, lads!” moments of gunfire and terror and forget the hours of boredom spent squatting in sodden trenches. Unfortunately, devs BlackMill Games did not. This makes for possibly the most realistic, yet thoroughly un-enjoyable sections of the game – the waiting. Credit where it’s due, there’s a certain sense of immersion as you navigate the enclosed world of the trench and wait for your call to head out into No Man’s Land. But it feels like a slightly unwarranted aspect of play considering the time you spend out on the field is heavily measured and precise, as well as those incredibly long respawn times.
You’ll be respawning a lot, by the way. Unfortunately this isn’t down to the challenge of complex game maps or tactical skill branches on each side, it’s down to the constant mishaps in gameplay. With frequent lag, and bullets that sometimes don’t seem to cause any damage despite your perfect targeting, it is easy to become concerned that landing a decent shot is impossible. While this has improved with recent patches, and is nowhere to be seen in the PC version of the game, it’s likely that this is an issue with the porting of the dual shock 4 controller. It’s difficult to justify these mishaps in a game so focused on precision and methodical movement.
In fact when things are going well for a while, the no man’s land gameplay becomes intriguingly intricate. Following the command of your officer, the pace is slow and deliberate as this shooter almost becomes a tactical stealth endeavor. Your movements are heavily measured in response to the onslaught of weaponry you face on the other side, and aligning your actions with your squad and CPO make for some incredibly satisfying moments of gameplay.
That’s until you’re actually confronted by an enemy. With one hit kills and no kill cam, your campaign can be tragically cut short without you even knowing why. It’s a design flaw that breed furious frustration, especially when paired with the half a minute respawn time and often unfavorable respawn locations that see you blasted back to loading oblivion straight away. Still, each game is over thirty minutes long, so there’s plenty of time to have your shots ignored by the game, sit staring at a blank screen for minutes, and smash some buttons in a lag-related fury.
Verdun is an undeniably grassroots interpretation of one of the most ferocious battles of the the First World War. Its first person view can yield moments of pure terror and gloriously realistic emotional responses to the claustrophobia of the trenches and the vulnerability of the marshland. However it falls short in a number of design areas, with a lacking of visual detail, flaws in gameplay mechanics, and a problematic devotion to a blank respawn screen.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.
A realistic grassroots look at a piece of WW1 history that doesn't quite live up to its scale
Gameplay - 6/10
Plot - 4/10
Design - 6/10
Deservedly gritty in nature, Verdun takes a tentative step into the WW1 FPS No Man's Land. While showing some promise in its multiplayer dynamics, going over the top will leave more players struggling to understand the often problematic inner workings of this game than experiencing true trench warfare.