It’s not often that we get a World War I game, much less one that’s a first person shooter. That’s exactly what EA gave us last year with Battlefield 1, whom continues drip-feeding players content that should have been there from the start. Now imagine how preposterous it would be if there were two games set during World War 1 released at roughly the same time. Imagine if they were both first person shooters and focused on online multiplayer.
Prepare to have your mind blown by a German sniper from 300 meters away, because that’s exactly what happened. Developers M2H and Blackmill Games launched Verdun, a World War I online multiplayer shooter, on April 28, 2015. That’s a year and half before Battlefield 1 clambered over the top, by the way.
Where Verdun Succeeds
Verdun is just as devoted to historical accuracy as Battlefield 1, maybe even more so. The tiny studios of M2H and Blackmill Games traveled to battlefields all across France and Belgium to study the landscape to try and recreate them 1:1 in-game. They studied text and diaries from the time, as well as photographs to not only make the battlefields, weapons, and uniforms look accurate, but “feel” correct. They did everything they could to immerse themselves in World War I to create as authentic an experience as possible.
Remember, these are indie studios, they don’t have the resources of EA. To see them spending all this money and time traveling across Europe and finding out these resources is remarkable. It shows they have a level of passion for the war, and aren’t just chasing trends.
Best of all, you don’t have to wait for and buy a whole bunch of DLC to get the full game. The French army is present in the game from the start, unlike in Battlefield 1 who didn’t show up until the They Shall Not Pass DLC. Not putting the French army in the game from the start, knowing that most of the Western Front was fought in France, and that France had the fifth highest death toll in the war, is disgusting on their part. In Verdun, not only do you get to play as the French from the start, but also the Belgians, who also saw their country invaded by Germany in 1914.
Where Verdun Stumbles
The First World War doesn’t even carry the pretense of “good vs. evil,” and it’s impossible for anyone to argue otherwise outside of extremist nationalism. The conflict was one fought between dying empires, a war waged between the old ideas of monarchy and conquest, and of new ideas of democracy and globalization.
To make a game out of that is a tall task, much less a first person shooter. Verdun gets around the issues of the war but ignoring them. Is it fair to criticize a game for something it doesn’t do? Battlefield 1 stands out not for its multiplayer, but it’s surprisingly heartfelt single player campaign.
In comparison, Verdun feels a bit limp. You can still feel the passion the developers poured into the game with their efforts to make it as historically accurate as possible, but by not broaching the real horrors of the war, it feels misplaced. It’s hard, even gauche, to rank wars based on their tragedy, but World War I in particular feels like such a waste of human life. To make a shooter out of that scenario that’s all about “fun” in the traditional sense, without broaching the sheer madness and pointlessness of it all looks tacky.
Is This The Future of the War Games?
We’re seeing fewer and fewer games jumping on the hottest trend these days, with Call of Duty and Battalion 1944 opting for World War II again, and Rising Storm 2 trying out Vietnam. We’ve even got Insurgency: Sandstorm, which is a whole other can of worms. It’s good to see developers trying out new settings, not just from a history standpoint, from just a gaming standpoint in general. Hopefully now we won’t get so burned out on seeing one setting over and over again because developers will be constantly trying new settings. And from a historical standpoint, we might finally be getting to see new conflicts and new perspectives we’re not used to seeing in gaming.
Whether or not that’s true or if this is only a temporary reprieve from another onslaught of World War II shooters is something we’re just going to have to wait and see. I’ll tell you one thing though, I can’t wait for the next Call of Duty to be based on the Sino-Vietnamese War.
Cliqist is partnering with Games of History to provide a series of articles looking at history-based indie video games. Games of History is a YouTube channel run by Cliqist Executive Editor Josh Griffiths, examining the accuracy of history-based video games.