Ever since its inception on Kickstarter, I’ve been eagerly watchful of Battalion 1944, from Turing Test developers, Bulkhead Studios. After that successfully came to a close, raising more than £300,000 and blowing past its original £100,000 goal, it was clear, from the time of its reveal, players want to return to the Second World War.
Two years have now passed and gaming has somewhat changed with the FPS genre, in particular, becoming stagnant with sci-fi shooters and modern warfare. AAA publishers listened and brought us Battlefield 1 from DICE and EA and Call of Duty: WW2 from Activision and Sledgehammer Games.
Yes, they were successful, but let’s not think of them, put those aside and look at the smaller studios and their due diligence to bring back not just a classic genre, but a reinvention and re-popularisation of the competitive glory days of PC gaming circa 2005 with none other than Call of Duty 2.
While it’s not really anything to do with Call of Duty 2, it’s game so fondly remembered by the developers, that it’s the fire they relit and inspired the team to create Battalion 1944. Back then, shooters weren’t fluffed up, encouraging grinding and, of course, the false sense of reward. Don’t get me wrong, many shooters still provided rewarding gameplay; especially with the boom in hero-shooters. However, it’s the classics that are more fondly remembered for being pure, standing strong on gameplay alone.
In one of the largest halls at gamescom 2017 and amongst the other indie stages run by Square Enix’s publishing division, stood the Battalion 1944 booth. Alongside 10 other eager players, I had the opportunity to play 5-6 rounds, as well as had a chat with the studio’s creative producer, Howard Philpott.
Jumping straight in, at the time of playing, the game was still in its pre-alpha stage and had only one map and one mode: team deathmatch. The map itself had low-quality textures and some placeholders, so while the aesthetics will either change or improve. The current build does give an idea of the overall size and design, which is said to be focusing on being fluid and balanced. The map was called Manor and was set in a small close-quarter French farm town, consisting of a few well placed flanking spots, trenches, the main house as well as a barn. It felt no larger than your classic close-quarter sized Call of Duty map.
Split between the Axis and Allies, you have much of the iconic Second World War weaponry, from machine guns: the MP40 and Thompson to bolt-rifles: the Kar98k and its sniper variant, as well as the iconic ammo-clip *ping* of the M1 Garand.
As I dived in, playing at a locked 144 fps, synced with the monitors refresh rate, the gameplay was smooth like silk in its current state. The first choice of weapon, to me, was a no-brainer: the Kar98k. Unfortunately, everyone else's idea was selecting either the MP40 or the Thompson, but there were few with sniper-rifles - which I’d imagine were to try and show off their “quick scoping” skills.
Using my time as a challenge and a test of my skills, which I admit has been dampened in these days of modern shooters, I found myself in nostalgic bliss. There was something so compelling about the gameplay, I couldn’t help but smile, and I knew even in this early stage of development, they nailed it. After a warm-up match, a couple of tweaks to my sensitivity and controls, I charged onwards for a few more rounds.
The simplest way to describe Battalion 1944’s gameplay is one word: unhindered.
Primarily, because the gameplay is focused on ensuring that the animations and movement are smooth and the aiming and recoil are precise, it all boils down to your skill. Although, it’s not brutal in the sense that it demands you to “git gud”, it’s more be quick or be dead.
Every weapon felt more than capable and I didn’t experience any issues with hitmarkers, damage or precision. One thing I will say about recoil: it’s not a game for firing from the hip.
As I manoeuvred through the map, I felt the urgency to never stay in one place; it’s not a game you can just camp in. Although, this was still an occurrence as is with any multiplayer shooter. Fortunately, as long as you’re quicker on the trigger and know where to look, you can always get the upper hand. Still, a majority of combat came from head-on confrontations during my warpath towards victory.
After my game sessions, I went and chatted with Howard to learn more about the future of Battalion 1944, and while he couldn’t talk about everything, as it was early stages and of course it could all change, he did give some insight.
As expected and reaffirmed, Battalion 1944 will have dedicated servers and is currently PC exclusive, as the target audience is PC gamers looking for that competitive fix - although a console release is coming as part of their Kickstarter goals.
When it came to future modes, Howard talked of a potential mix-up mode featuring weapon cards, which can change the flow of the game. Not as pickups and such, but selectable burner cards, which provides additional firepower - somewhat vague I know but shows the team exploring ideas.
One thing is for sure, the classic search and destroy mode will be the most popular among players, although I wouldn’t say no to a bolt-rifles only mode.
Other things talked about included the player count. As it stands, it’s five versus five, and they don’t plan on changing it. The team is also bringing in mod support, one example Howard made was how Squad handles its mods - so we could see a lot of fan-made maps.
Now for the visuals, not much to talk about here. The game is built on Epic’s Unreal Engine 4, although in its current state it is rather dull looking. However, Howard did explain that since they’ve essentially scrapped everything previously built, the current build was around a year-old and during that time, the focus was all on developing the pure gameplay.
After finally playing, I can say Battalion 1944 is coming along precisely as I had hoped. I eagerly anticipate what further developments the team at Bulkhead Studios has in store.
In January, the team will reveal the latest gameplay trailer and potentially the unveiling of the Steam Early Access launch, so stayed tuned for more, because I know I am.