Trenches, confusion, and the color brown: my three first impressions within the first three minutes of the World War I based Verdun. Historically, the Battle of Verdun was the longest Battle in WWI, fought over ten months and leaving more than 700,000 casualties in its wake. Based on this piece of history, Verdun is a tactical trench shooter, and it piggybacks the WWI game hype effectively; but, time and time again it fails to produce under pressure. I expected gritty, and I got gritty – but I also got unrefined, messy, and slow.
There is little to no music at all in Verdun, I assume in an attempt to add to its gritty atmosphere. Instead, it is full of sound effects that attempt to immerse you in the battle. After a rainy title screen that promises no comfort, Verdun opens with a scrappy (and obviously British) soldier writtenly guiding you through a 7-slide tutorial about “Frontlines,” the main game mode. Sounds of gunfire accompany a tutorial that is almost as confusing as the game type itself, managing to explain everything and nothing all at once with phrases like, “What would a group be without its leader? Dead meat!” and, “HQ may even reward you with one of those steel helmets!” Once completed, you can choose one of the 4 game modes: Frontlines (Squad Based Trench Warfare), Rifle Deathmatch (Free-For-All Slaughter), Attrition (Full Arsenal Team Deathmatch), or Squad Defense (Co-Operative Wave Defense).
After choosing Frontlines, I was ushered to a load screen while it searched for a game to join. The load screen itself was sincerely interesting, with facts about World War I, pictures from the same, and tips for playing the game. The background showed a dirty, derelict-looking barbed wire fence on the top of a trench, and I was genuinely excited to see what Frontlines had in store.
I joined a game surprisingly quickly, and I was immediately tossed into a sea of brown. While my first map was far more interesting than many of the others I would see, it was still simple, uninteresting, and repetitive. Graphically, Verdun is on the same level as most older-console shooters. This is unsurprising, considering the game’s small budget. The low quality is far from unplayable, but is more an indication of the game’s overall mediocrity. Little details like moustaches on NCOs and individual sandbags in trenches show promise, but take a backseat to the vast expanses of flat, uninteresting dirt that doesn’t quite look wrong or right. Ragdoll death animations are ridiculous, and melee and reload animations are unimpressively average. One of the most impressive things I saw was a dead mule on the battlefield that really looked like a dead mule. Outside of that, the trenches, characters, and weapons were completely underwhelming.
The available game types are interesting, and should be praised for the idea, but not the execution. Frontlines is a difficult concept to grasp, as the game type is and odd sort of territorial tug-of-war. Your goal is to stay with your NCO, and either attack or defend a certain area to allow your squad to advance. The more men in the area, the faster you take it, and the more likely you will be able to hold it during the opposition’s counter-attack. However, this difficult game type, combined with Verdun’s two-punch combo of instadeath and no killcam, will leave you hopelessly confused and dead more often than not. I personally played Frontlines for about an hour with not a single kill to my name, and still no idea on how to effectively follow my NCO and attack the enemy.
Gameplay is what absolutely kills the potential of Verdun. Imagine a less-refined and far slower version of Call of Duty 3 on PlayStation 2. Now, remove the charm of the campaign and make the game 100% online, with the only available map the desolate Argentan. That, combined with horrifically slow mechanics and a 20+ second respawn timer, is Verdun. There were times I became incredibly frustrated because my attempt to shoot an enemy was prevented by a full three second reload sequence. I often found myself entangled in invisible barbed wire, warned to “move away carefully,” but dying anyway after disentangling fast enough and “succumbing to wire cut injuries.” Sprinting is slow, aiming down sights is slow, and dying is very, very fast.
True to war, the enemies and friendlies of Verdun are difficult to separate. Also true to war, the trenches are muddy, the enemy is hard to see, and dying is easy. The issue is that “realistic” doesn’t always mean “better.” While these things definitely make the game gritty, they also make it impossibly difficult and frustrating. When attempts to flank or move are constantly accompanied by warnings of, “Fall back! Repulse the enemy attack or you will be executed!” it’s hard to do much of anything. I didn’t enjoy any of the time I spent playing Verdun, which is too bad, considering the great potential it had. I have hopes for the future that many of the issues can be fixed, but for now, I have no plans to go back.
A PS4 Review Code for Verdun was provided by BlackMill Games for the purpose of this review
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