Battalion 1944—CoD: WWII killer or shoddy WWII shooter?

Hands-on with Bulkhead Interactive’s intended CoD killer reaps some divisive results.

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Battalion 1944—CoD: WWII killer or shoddy WWII shooter?

The short answer to the question posed in the title is: not right now. The slightly longer answer is: Battalion 1944 gets some stuff right, some stuff wrong, but it has the potential to be something special. For the even longer answer, read on for the full exploration of my recent hands-on time with Battalion 1944, which recently entered Early Access on Steam.

When Call of Duty was fully obsessed with its futuristic thrust, there was plenty of room in the shooter-space for an old-school World War II-themed shooter. DICE proved that winding the clock back even further could work with Battlefield 1’s World War I setting, even if the recent patch hasn’t been playing as intended for me (and others I’ve spoken to).

Battalion 1944 was one of those earlier indie shooters that was gunning for the World War II space. This particular indie World War II shooter was announced before it was revealed that Call of Duty would be returning to boots-on-the-ground action (to borrow the oft-used marketing phrase). The trick is, Battalion 1944 didn’t release in 2017 before CoD: WWII stormed the familiar Normandy beaches. A further complication is that Battalion 1944 isn’t just competing with juggernaut IPs like Call of Duty, there are other smaller titles fighting for the same era on Steam.

Day of Infamy is more Day of Defeat than Call of Duty, so despite occupying a similar space, it isn’t a direct competitor with Battalion 1944 beyond setting and genre. Days of War, though, looked like it could be competing with Battalion 1944 and released a full year before, albeit without making much of an impact. What I played of Days of War was erroneously identified as fast-paced, and despite what the game description said, it felt like another Day of Defeat clone rather than an original Call of Duty copy. If you read the Steam user reviews for Days of War today, you’ll see that the community is pretty much dead.

Maybe developers Bulkhead Interactive were aware of the reception to Days of War and held off on releasing until 2018. Whatever the reason for the delay, after a divisive closed beta, Battalion 1944 has hit Early Access on Steam… and a similarly divisive reception. It is Early Access, so I’ve set my expectations accordingly, but it’s tricky to get some past of the basic problems of the game, at least initially. The server browser is broken. While it does eventually reap results for servers, they all register as having zero latency, which means you have to scan server names in the hopes of finding a local server.

Without filter options—or even the choice of standard tabbed filtering based on name, players, or latency (at least not at this stage)—the server browser is rendered effectively useless. It’s not game-destroying, though, because there is matchmaking that, at least from my tests, does a great job of putting you in a local server (nice to see Aussie servers, too), albeit not one that necessarily takes into account skill or party sizes. That may be because it’s not yet integrated into the matchmaking algorithm, or it may be because there weren’t enough players for it to come into effect.

Still, it doesn’t excuse the ordering of matchmaking options on the Play screen. Unranked is the first choice, then Arcade, then Ranked (locked at the time of writing), followed by the currently useless server browser. Based on this ordering, I figured Unranked was the place Bulkhead was recommending I start: it being first and all. If your first online experience in Unranked with Battalion 1944 is the same as mine, this is the worst place to start.

Unranked is the training grounds for Ranked and champions the objective-based Warzone mode. This mode is immediately familiar. Warzone tasks one team with attacking two objectives that the other team is defending. Attackers have a single bomb that has to be carried by one player and collected by others if the carrying player dies. So, yeah, World War II Counter-Strike.

What sets it apart from being a straight mode rip-off is a limited number of weapon tokens, which impact the availability of loadouts across rounds. You can grab a dropped token from a dead friendly or enemy player to replenish your ranks, but if you’re being stomped (like my team was), you’ll be relegated to the default class. Despite having a semi-auto rifle, it feels like a neutered primary weapon that can’t compete against long-range sniper rifles, struggles at the mid-range because it requires multiple chest hits to kill a foe, and leaves you effectively defenceless in close-quarters against an SMG or shotgun-wielding foe who knows how to aim.

The other problem is Warzone mode is the worst way to learn any map. Defenders are better off separating and defending both points, except with five-person teams and no in-game VOIP (this is, admittedly, a planned feature) this means more troops at one site than the other. It didn’t really matter in my rounds, playing against a clan trio that were clearly experienced, in a communicating party, and proficient shooters. The bolt-action rifles all seem to kill with one shot to the torso or above, and while I don’t have a problem with this idea on paper, in execution it has issues in Battalion 1944.

This stems from the reality that Battalion 1944 embraces some of the most divisive tactics in the shooter genre. I like to call them the Unholy Trinity. Namely, jump-shotting with 100 percent accuracy, drop-shotting, and head-glitching. The fact you can strafe-jump or lean to exploit the peeker’s advantage (granted, this is part of any online shooter) means you’re deterred from staying on the ground for too long. Jumping is neutered after the first hop so you can’t bounce around the server, but it’s disheartening to see how easily exploitable these tactics are in Battalion 1944 when combined with sound map knowledge.

SMGs tear up everything at close range, and you don’t even need to ADS to score kills; the same is true for the rifles at close range, too, even while strafing. I found this out the fun way in Arcade mode with SMGs on a Team Deathmatch run of the same map I’d just been annihilated on in Unranked. I was even up against those same clan members, too. What made it even more of an excruciating experience for Warzone, though, was the lack of team balancing, both at the start of the round, and later when players on my team started leaving. Team Deathmatch is actually a lot of fun, especially if you apply run-and-gun tactics to learning the intricacies of a map.

You can use an SMG to wrap your head around the ballistics and the incredibly short time-to-kill (TTK). Despite the low TTK, I do appreciate the damage drop-off and inherent inaccuracies of trying to score SMG kills at longer ranges. You can tap fire your way to a kill, but only if the enemy doesn’t start defensive manoeuvres (or they’re on low health). I had some rewarding SMG-on-SMG shootouts at mid-range and beyond. Up close, though, an accurate burst will melt an enemy.

I like that shared kills are rewarded both with acknowledgement in the kill feed and shared points once the kill has been completed. It’s also a nice touch that there’s bullet penetration on certain surfaces, which I put to deadly effect after being on the receiving end of it. The sound design is also particularly strong, meaning you can combine the mini-map with sound cues to determine whether a friend or foe is near. Pre-fire is particularly effective in this game and using penetrable surfaces in combination with sound cues is a potent combo. This means there are easy frags to be found with the right headset.

In TDM, the bolt-action rifles have a fantastic feeling of risk/reward and are best used at range from some of the bigger chokepoints. Still, with relatively intuitive respawns that result in rotating frontlines and flanking routes, camping is ill-advised. That said, without a killcam—which would be helpful for newer players, if only to learn about the typical camping spots and in Arcade modes—and with a team holding a position, you can play Enemy at the Gates, if you so desire.

You don’t even need to earn your stripes online. There’s a handy shooting range that lets you try out all the weapons on offer in the game and find something that works best for you. Still, if you are going to be playing Warzone, you’re best bet is to have a working understanding of all the weapons. Battalion 1944 isn’t yet at the stage where it’ll likely lure Call of Duty fans away from CoD: WWII, but with some more spit and polish, improved matchmaking (plus a working server browser), and with the addition of new ways to play, Battalion 1944 has the potential to be fun for those seeking a quick FPS fix and those wanting a tournament experience that rewards tight teamplay.

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