When I previously previewed Bulkhead Studio’s Battalion 1944 at gamescom 2017, I couldn’t have been more eager and excited for its arrival on Steam’s Early Access. Now, finally, the time has come and Battalion is available for all. And seriously, what happened? Because either my head was filled with nostalgia of playing, or I became blindsided from the heat of the Cologne weather, because after playing the Early Access release of Battalion I can’t enjoy or recommend, at least for now.
Before we delve into the problems I have with Battalion let’s first head back to the beginning. Battalion 1944 first came to prominence back in February 2016, starting as a Kickstarter project. At the time, the yearning for a return to World War 2 was strong amongst FPS fans as the market had become oversaturated with modernised and futuristic shooters. It was a bold announcement, a new competitive shooter sharing roots of the classic Medal of Honor and Call of Duty 2. As a fan of both, it was instantly on my watch list and with the project tripling its goal of £100,000; it was clear, it was a game the people wanted.
Time passed and Battalion went through some changes, not for any troubling reasons, but more due to design choices. I had the opportunity to speak with the developers at Gamescom and they cited that the build I played, was something created from scratch and was about years worth of work. Even then, progress had come along nicely, with the developers focusing on gameplay and mechanics.
Then came the Alpha and Beta tests for backers, unfortunately, I wasn’t among them, but I did get to see some gameplay prior to Gamescom and I couldn’t contain myself. I was excited; finally, an FPS that breathes new life into the classic competitive shooter, I thought.
Now, here comes the disappointment, and not only a disappointment in the game itself, but now has made me very hesitant about considering any and all Early Access titles, at least those released on day one.
Let’s start off by saying: Battalion 1944 isn’t fundamentally broken, it’s a victim of its own success. On release, it was hit with a wave of players breaking the 16k player count barrier, this was huge, even more so for the studio to handle, with their explanation of server issues being basically: “we didn’t anticipate this” and they predicted around 3-4k players on Early Access, similarly to the concurrent players they had during their Alpha and Beta phases. So, don’t get me wrong, it happens, servers go down at launch and can be overwhelmed. Patience is a virtue after all, and like I said, I couldn’t wait for this game.
Still, this still doesn’t negate the fact, that after to trying to resolve the server issues, these problems still remain and the population has drastically has dropped as a result. But before jumping into all that, let’s talk about the positive.
One thing for sure, as the folks at Bulkhead Studios, exclaimed on their Kickstarter and up towards the release, Battalion’s heart and soul is a call back to the so-called competitive shooter genre. And for all those want a game that harks back to the days of Call of Duty 2’s multiplayer will be pleased. And all for it’s worth, Battalion nails it.
There’s no single-player experience here, so forget that, this is all out multiplayer. Placing you in the boots of either a Jerry Axis or Tommy Allied soldier. You can choose between three options of fighting the great fight, these are either Wartide, Arcade and Competitive. There is a fourth but this is for the server browser, which doesn’t quite work, but we’ll get to that.
Each mode supports 5v5, but the game is customisable, so if you do choose the server browser, you’ll find a number of servers with more than ten players, but these are usually few and far between. As for the modes themselves, Arcade is a matchmaking combination of either Team Deathmatch, Domination and Capture the Flag, while Battalion’s titular mode and focus is Wartide, which either playable in casual or competitive. The latter wasn’t available at the time of writing, but when it is, it will allow players above rank ten to play through placement matches to be matched for their skill - much in the same way as others.
As for gameplay, now this is where Battalion really hits its stride. Staying true to their word, it encapsulates the classic old-school shooter through and through. For anyone who is a fan of the gunplay of Call of Duty 2, or even the first Modern Warfare, alongside fluid consistent movement, you’ll feel right at home with the handling of the weapons in Battalion.
Being entirely focused on skill-based shooting, you won’t be crippled with debilitating weapon sway or inconsistent recoil, it's essentially quick or be dead, as death comes as fast as you can aim. Which I realise can be a complaint from some as you can be frequently one-shotted, but that’s the nature of the game.
When it comes to the weapons, you’ve got your mix and mash variety of Second World War weaponry. From the Thompson and MP40 SMGs to the bolt-rifle power of the Kar98 and Springfield sniper rifle. All the weapons have enough impact and force behind them to satisfy any players playstyle. Although a downside and something unlike Call of Duty, the weapons are tied to the team your playing. So if you’re Axis, you use German weapons and Allied, American weapons. There are none from the British and Russians, which is a shame. However, it is an Early Access and perhaps within time, these additional countries will be included. Although, no doubt would be map specific.
As for the maps, they are not exactly memorable and most of the time I found myself on the same map over and over, especially in a Wartide game. Each map has multiple points of attack, flank and annoyingly plenty of corners and spaces for camping. Fortunately, from my experience, most players push towards the objective and kept on moving. There were only a few times where I was put down from a corner camper.
While I enjoy the gameplay and had hoped it’ll be more like Call of Duty’s Search and Destroy mode, or even Pro-Mod from the old modding days, but alas Wartide is more akin to Counter-Strike. Rounds can last up to 20 rounds, with a halfway point, side-switch after 10. Each match begins with a choice of weapons, each selected weapon uses a team card and there are a finite amount of grenades and smoke. These are all shared amongst the team so, even from the start, you have to be quick to select your weapon. Dying and killing drops a card and can be collected to replenish the team’s collection. I actually rather liked this, but it does have its gripes. If you’re skilled with your chosen weapon you can keep it for the next round, but if you’re killed and the card isn’t picked up by a teammate, you’ve lost a card for the whole team, eventually leading to no cards at all and you and your team will be stuck with the default weapon. This is vice versa for the opposition and it can be frustrating when you’re on the losing side. Still, it’s not a bad idea and adds an additional level skill to the mode.
Now, here comes the issues. After playing since its arrival on Early Access, I have had a number issues, which not only frustrated but completely put me off from playing most of the time. These problems began from the very launch of the game. When launching you’re greeted to Easy Anti-cheat and option to choose a server location, pretty good setup, but many times this would crash, forcing me to close it in Task Manager, if it does work and launches the game, there was then multiple times where Unreal Engine 4, the engine powering Battalion, would also crash. This frustratingly leaves me to have to validate the files, which resets all my graphics settings and retry.
As for matchmaking, even after patches, the matchmaking still doesn’t work right. The number of times I found myself on a server waiting for additional players, or a full team with no opposition. Essentially you find yourself waiting 15-20 mins to join a game, only to have to wait just as long for others to start the match. Not really fun at all. The server browser didn’t help either, frequently you’d join a server, even if shows space, it’ll hang and return you to the menu or you’ll get disconnected midway through a match. Servers also don’t show any pings either, so you can even tell if you’re joining one with a decent ping or not. Even now, after re-installing to see the state for this preview, I encountered crashing and long matchmaking times. Furthermore, if you finish a match the game doesn’t start another but instead leaves you to quit to the menu and start matchmaking again.
Battalion 1944 then, as I said from the beginning, I can’t recommend this game, at least for now. As much as I had a nostalgia high from playing at Gamescom and times when it worked, I enjoy it. But its problems outweigh the positive, but at least it isn’t a full release, it is Early Access and these problems can be resolved and Battalion may stand a chance of being the old school shooter it’s trying to draw players in to be. The biggest issue though is the dwindling player base, don’t get me wrong, there will be a dedicated bunch, but I highly doubt we’ll see the return of the launch numbers.
My takeaway, it’s one to watch and see if Bulkhead Studios and keep spirits high with this one. It has a lot of potential and we’re overdue a competitive successor to Day of Defeat, which previously had one team try at with Days of War and failed. For now, if you’re looking for your World War 2 multiplayer fix, I can only once again, recommend checking out Day of Infamy from New World Interactive.