Verdun is a timely homage to those who fought in the First World War, it's that good.
Verdun. A word that encapsulates the horrors of the First World War. For it was at Verdun where the belligerents to the fighting had to endure some of the most appalling living and fighting conditions during the course of the war on the Western Front. The incessant shelling had turned the once pristine land into a wasteland. The constant disturbance of the clay at Verdun and the driving rain caused the formation of deep craters filled with oozing liquid that could drown men if they were so unfortunate as to fall into the hell hole. The battle was so ferocious a man is said to have been killed every minute of every day for 9 months. A death toll of some 800,000 men. One infantry man wrote 'If you have not seen Verdun, you haven't seen anything of war'.
Verdun the Game
Verdun is not primarily focused on the 9-month battle of Verdun of 1916, but rather encompasses 6 intensively researched maps, each portraying a different sector along the Western front, in which the Entente and Central Powers fought so ferociously over between 1914-1918.
Why Verdun Succeeds
I don't think it is premature to state that the developers of Verdun, have made a tour de force in the form of Verdun. It is rare to find a game, that catapults you into an era in history with such an eye for detail, that you'll find yourself swearing that you are there. The immersion level in Verdun is what has kept me coming back to Verdun time and time again (286 hours on record).
The game runs on Unity 5, perhaps the most popular Graphics engine currently around. Having had the game for 10 months or so, I have witnessed the transformation of Verdun's art direction first hand. It is only in the past 6 months, where the visuals have elevated the production values of the game to stratospheric heights. Notable visual details include:
-On ultra, the deformation of No Man’s Land is a feast for the eyes. However, even on low the game looks good.
-The character models have been researched to a very high degree, with excellent texturing.
-Artillery shells impact the ground as you would expect. Showering men with debris and sending intense plumes of smoke high into the air.
- Water logged craters, reflect the environment and character models.
-Those trees not victim to shelling, look accurate.
- The mud, especially on the map 'Artois' and 'Flanders' look photo-realistic.
-Gas obscures your vision as it should, and the way it slowly creeps through the trench systems is impressive looking.
From the whistling of bullets over your head, to the dull thud of shells in the distance, Verdun shines in depicting the sounds of the Great War. Rifles from the Entente and Central Powers make distinctive 'cracks', whilst the man suffocating from a gas attack near you, gasps in desperation. Other ambient highlights include:
-Voice commands by fellow players which can be entered using the X key. There are over 20 instructions/emotions you can use. The most commonly used is 'Take Cover' and 'Retreat'!
- Mud squelches beneath your feet, when running in poorly irrigated battlefields such as Flanders.
-Officers (NCO's) can use their whistle to direct where their squad should position themselves.
-Reconnaissance aircraft can be heard (and seen) meandering their way above the frontlines.
Progression in Verdun is unlike anything you’ve seen before in an FPS. Verdun relies heavily on the use of squads. A squad comprises of 4 men each and there are 4 squads in each team. Each squad brings a unique role, uniform and weaponry to the battlefield. If you are in a match with certain players often and they are in your squad, the game will automatically track and save your progress (xp) with those people. Overtime, building enough experience with these players will elevate your squad rank which in turn unlocks a plethora of new abilities. These new abilities include the use of mustard gas and artillery barrages!
Verdun of course also tracks your own personal growth within the game. There are over 40+ unique roles to unlock during the course of the game. Reaching the rank of level 100 is a bruising yet satisfying experience.
There are battle modes in Verdun. Frontlines and Deathmatch.
This mode tries to depict and simulate the mainly futile efforts of soldiers to try and take trenches on the Western front during WW1. It is almost flawless in design. A frontlines battle usually lasts 25- 45 minutes depending upon which map you’re playing on. When a game begins you’re either authorised by the game to ‘attack’ or ‘defend’. Once the initial attack timer is over (usually 5 minutes long) and provided the enemy have not achieved a foothold (whereby extra time is afforded to the attackers if they are able to place men in the enemy trench before and after the initial attack timer has needed) then it is tasked with the defenders to attack. This counter-attack and defend system really forces squad collaboration. It is imperative that squads cover the entire length of a trench system, if they are to avoid being overrun and their trench taken. However, once the first line of a trench is taken the defeated team ‘fall back’ to their prepared 2nd defensive trench line. Thus, even if you lose a trench, you can always take it back. There can be as many as 3 trench lines on a map. Some 32 players (16 vs 16) can fight it out in total on any map.
Death Match Mode
This is by far the least popular of the 2 battle modes. This mode sees you enter into a rifle death match to kill as many players as possible. There are no teams in this one, which forces players to rely on their marksman skills. The maps in this mode, whilst identical to those of Frontline mode, are far smaller.
The level of optimisation for PC and Laptops has improved vastly during Early Access. The developers have spent a considerable time optimising the game. It now runs at almost 60fps on ultra for me, where before it would run at a mere 12fps.
Whilst Verdun is being released tomorrow (27/04/2015), the developers have expressed their desire to keep supporting the game post-release. They have hinted at possible new squads such as the Americans and the German pioneer squads. New maps have already been made and shall soon be ‘updated’ in the game. A developer has personally hinted to me that there will be a hard core mode in the near future, which will focus on even greater depth of immersion.
Verdun caters towards an audience who appreciates a squad-based World War experience . From the person who wants that feeling of cooperation with their teammates to the player who wishes to be immersed in a WW1 FPS, you can’t go amiss with this title. The visual fidelity is impressive and when accompanied with the ambient sounds, Verdun surpasses most FPS shooters based in war time. The Frontlines mode whilst simply executed is genius. Never before has defence or counter-attack been as exhilarating as this. As a young man, who lost both his great great uncles to the First World War on the Western Front, Verdun for me bears testament to the sacrifices made by all the men, from every nation involved in the ‘war to end all wars’. M2H and Blackmill Games have brought WW1 to life, like never before and for that I am eternally grateful.
I score the game 9.7 out of 10. My only criticism is that I don't ever play the deathmatch mode.
Thanks for reading this.
Note: Since this review the developers have confirmed in their 'Road map' for Verdun that many more squads, maps and realism modes will be included to the game in the coming months. A new gore system is to be added, complete with shredded limbs. The 'Road map' demonstrates the developers true loyalty to their fan base.