First seeing the light of day on PC back in April 2015, and then PS4 in October 2016, it’s finally the turn of the Xbox One to receive Verdun – “the first multiplayer FPS set in a realistic First World War setting”, as M2H and Blackmill Games would have it. For the purposes of this review, I’m not going to take exception to that phrase, and I’ll be pretending that whole Battlefield 1 game never happened. So, let’s sally forth, go over the top, and see if the game has been worth the wait. Tally Ho!
Upon firing the game up, the Tutorial, such as it is, is played out on your screen. From these seven text based pages, the basics of Verdun are explained. There are four classes to get familiar with, and the tutorial also shows how to play the flagship mode of Verdun, Frontlines. As progression is made, better uniforms and equipment can be unlocked, which might give you more of a chance of surviving. It also explains that the enemy might be deploying gas, in which case you need to put on your gas mask. The tutorial doesn’t mention how to do this (up on the D-pad for those wondering), but I’m sure we’ll be fine. With 12 different squads to join, ranging from the lightweight Chausseurs Alpins, via the U.S. Doughboys to the Germen Schutzen troops, each with four members and three levels of equipment to unlock, there is certainly not a lack of content or choice of play style. In a nice touch, each unit has its own language for the class names, and also unique weapons.
So far, so good.
Alongside the Frontlines mode, there are three other game types to play. These are Rifle Deathmatch, a free for all mode where everyone is armed with rifles, Attrition, a team based deathmatch with access to all the classes and weapons, and finally Squad Defence, which is the de rigueur Horde mode that can be played either Online with friends and randoms, or offline on your own. There is no local multiplayer in this game, which is an odd choice as Horde mode in offline mode would seem to be crying out for it, but never mind.
Frontline mode is actually an interesting concept, which strongly reminds me of Rush mode in the Battlefield series of games that I’m not going to mention. You are tasked with either attacking a point and occupying it, or defending it and driving the attackers back. If the attackers can hold a point for a length of time (shades of Conquest mode here), and can hold the line against a defender counter attack, then the defenders are forced to fall back to the next line of defense and the process begins again. If the attackers can do this three times, they win, and if the defenders can hold them off then they win. In practice, there is a lot of to-ing and fro-ing over the lines, but if a side can get dug in and bring their snipers into play, then the game can turn into a meat grinder, with not much chance to overturn the flow of the battle. Add to this the progression of your squad as the game goes on, and the team that plays together might very well stay together. This seems to be the most popular mode, with the worldwide playing numbers being consistently higher for this game type.
The two Deathmatch based modes, Rifle Deathmatch and Attrition, are pretty much by the numbers deathmatch modes. Each has you and the enemy confined to a relatively small area of the trenches, and just left to then kill anything that either isn’t you, or isn’t on your team. The Rifle Deathmatch mode allows you to earn points to unlock new rifles and also attachments for said rifles, such as bayonets and new scopes. It also features smaller maps that are unique to this mode. Attrition meanwhile also has unique maps, and also is the only mode that allows your character to carry a secondary weapon in addition to the primary. Indeed, it demands that you do, and the weapons can be unlocked by spending your squad points that have been amassed elsewhere. Horde Mode, sorry, I mean Squad Defense mode, plays out on the same maps as Frontline, and in a similar style, where if you are pushed back by the AI bots three times, you lose the battle.
After choosing your mode and your squad, the last decision comes into play. This is the choice of character that you want to play as, and there are four to choose from. These are The NCO, the leader of the squad, able to give orders and call in support for you team, The Bomber, the heavy of the group and the only member to issued with grenades, The Gunner is largely the only member of the squad to have access to automatic weaponry, whilst The Rifleman, is the long-range sniper of the group. NCOs are only issued with a pistol, making it tricky to carry out long range engagements, and the Rifleman is the opposite, suffering up close as he only has a rifle. The Gunner struggles everywhere, in practice, as the machine guns are so inaccurate that any attempt at full auto, rock and roll style gunplay sees the sights bouncing around like an excited puppy, ensuring much hilarity sets foot among the enemies as you draw lines around the bad guys with bullets. The Bomber is the best for mid range, flinging grenades hither and yon, which given the muddy setting are very hard to see. As mentioned above, each distinct squad in the game has different names and equipment for the their members, but the categories I’ve outlined are largely the roles that are available.
So those are the modes that can be played, but how are they to actually play?
Well, not that good actually, and this is in large part down to a weird graphical glitch that occurred for a large amount of the time I was playing. But let me explain.
The developers at Blackmill Games and M2H have clearly put a large amount of time and effort into making the landscapes and maps look like an accurate representation of the WW1 trenches, and the different maps have widely different styles of trenches. The uniforms, when you look at them in the squad selection screen, look the part and are accurate to the smallest detail too – at least that is according to the game’s official website. So, in that case, with all the work that they have done, why, in the name of all that’s holy, do the character models very often appear with no colours on and are either bright white or flourescent pink? If there’s a colour that is worse at blending with the, let’s be frank, brown landscapes, than white or pink, I’ve yet to find them. This kills any attempt at stealth, flanking manoeuvres, hiding, or anything apart from cowering in the bottom of a trench. There’s no point crawling through a trench and peeping over the top if your head is pink and a sniper takes it off the instant it appears. This is a game breaking issue, and just makes Verdun almost impossible to play. At the very least, it certainly kills any immersion that the setting has managed to build up.
Weirdly, this also happens in the offline mode, with the AI bots scurrying over No Mans Land looking like a selection of ice creams. In addition, the animation is also somewhat lacking, with enemies and allies alike seeming able to ice skate around the place, sliding with minimal leg movements. Similarly, going prone and moving sometimes triggers an animation of your characters arms moving as he crawls, but quite often it doesn’t, so it appears that you are gliding through the mud. The gun models that you hold are also somewhat large and take up a huge amount of the screen, and in Aim Down Sights (ADS) mode seem to stop you from seeing large parts of the level. I can’t be too harsh with this however, as this game was based on a war that took place more than 100 years ago, so the guns could well have been that large.
Gameplay is very unforgiving, being grounded firmly on the realistic end of the spectrum. Here in this game, as in real life, if you are hit by a bullet it is a major inconvenience to your day, and by and large it’s one shot, one kill (or death). Reloads take a long time, and in some cases the rifles cannot be reloaded until all bullets in the current clip have been spent. Given that some of these rifles only hold three bullets, choosing the right moment to fire is paramount.
Another annoyance is that if you start to reload, and then have to duck or run, when you next go to fire, the reload animation begins again. This lead to a lot of deaths and pad chewing for me, as when you are in a firefight and the gun starts to auto reload, quite often ducking for cover is the only thing that keeps you alive. You then pop out ready to lay the smack down, only to have a gun that starts to reload when you try to fire and you’re left looking at your crumpled pink corpse on the floor.
Achievement wise and the list for Verdun certainly makes for interesting reading. The developers clearly think that the players of their game are going to be in it for the long haul, with achievements in place for reaching level 100, and also for playing with the same people up to 500 times. In all honesty, I don’t want to play this game 500 times in total as things stand at the minute, so having 500 games with the same person would seem to be a little bit of a stretch. Still, I guess it doesn’t hurt to be ambitious, does it?
In conclusion then, with the graphical glitches that are in place, I can’t with a good conscience recommend Verdun. If things were fixed, the pacing and style of gameplay would suit the more tactical, considered player and I can see that the Horde Mode could be fun with a few like minded friends. The Frontlines mode is a good idea, and well executed (when you have a real uniform on, at least), and can be genuinely exciting to play. However, the pink and white character models sit in the mix like a wasps nest at a picnic: You can ignore it to some degree, but it’s always there, rather annoying, and will ruin the experience.
Overall, Verdun feels like a missed opportunity, and Battlefield 1 is more worthy of your money and time.
Note from Editor: We’ve recently been contacted by the developers of Verdun to see if we could possibly re-review the game now a hefty patch has ironed out some issues. We still stand by out first review and won’t change any score to reflect changes made in a patch, but the edit you find below comes about after the latest patch has hit homeEdit – In the light of the recent patch to Verdun (all 2.2Gbs of it!) it seems only right that we should revisit the game and see if it has made a difference. Proudly stating “No more pink and white graphics” in the game hub on the Xbox One Store is a bold move, so I downloaded the patch, fired up the game and prepared to go over the top once again.First off, their boast about the pink and white graphics is true, there were none to be seen. Sadly, there weren’t many players to be found either. Following the advice of the loading screen, I swapped regions to try and find online players. There were 4 people playing in Europe, 13 in America and so on. It looks at this point like the players who did play Verdun have given up and moved on to, to be frank, better games, like Super Paint Drying Simulator 3000…So, I loaded into the American region, and found all 13 players in a single game of Frontlines. Starting the game, I joined the attacking side, and then proceeded to try and make some progress. Now the difficulty appears to be not that the bad guys are pink and white, but that it’s almost impossible to tell the difference between them and your team. Members of your squad have a green name above their head, so are easy to spot, but players on your side but not in your squad? They have a white name that is impossible to make out against the sky, which is an issue when you are in the bottom of a trench looking upwards. Bad guys have no names, but their uniforms blend so well into the shadows that the only time you know someone is there is when a bullet has made a hole in you. So half the time I was left shooting at my own side, and the other half I was being blown away by invisible enemies. Even my wife, who is to FPS games what I am to Olympic swimming, was asking how I knew who to shoot, and where the baddies were? I could only snarl by this time, as the frustration was building and the urge to power off and uninstall was very strong.In conclusion, the comedy graphics may have gone, but the comedy animation hasn’t – teammates gliding around on one knee being the least of it. The gameplay is now, without the distraction of blancmange soldiers, brought to the fore, and sadly it is found wanting. This is not a fun game to play, and as such my previous recommendation to avoid is still in force.