Verdun review (Early Access)

Tyler Wilde

Alpha and Early Access reviews offer our preliminary verdicts on in-development games. We may follow up this unscored review with a final, scored review in the future. Read our full review policy for details.

Need to Know

Version reviewed: July 28th update
Reviewed on: Core i7 3.47Ghz, 12GB RAM, Radeon HD5970
Recommended: Core2 Duo 2.4Ghz, 2GB RAM, Nvidia 8600 / Radeon equivalent
Price: $19/£14
Publisher: M2H, BlackMill Games
Developer: M2H, BlackMill Games
Multiplayer: 32 players
Link: Steam store page

I feel like someone's expendable RTS unit as I dart through a muddy maze of trenches. My only goal right now is pathfinding: trudge from cover to cover on my way to the French line as they pelt the no man's land between us. Trying to pick off entrenched riflemen might help a little, but I have to get into the trench to take it. I get into the trench, and get shot in the face.

We take the trench, though (I like to think I helped a little by distracting someone with my face), and now it's our turn to defend as the French counter-attack. As heads start to pop over the horizon, we massacre them. Verdun is a squad-based World War I shooter that's a lot like Red Orchestra 2, but unlike it in some key—and for me, very disappointing—ways. The main one: no ballistics modeling. Landing a shot at any range means putting my iron sight directly over what I want to shoot, and after hours of Rising Storm, it feels like I'm cheating. My 20+ kill count by the end of a match does a good job expressing the brutality of WWI, but I quickly lose interest in shooters which lack interesting gun handling or bullet physics.

That fundamental issue aside, Verdun has good things going for it. The main mode, Frontlines, is a well-designed adaptation of trench warfare into objective-based team multiplayer. One side attacks a trench while the other defends. Succeed by filling the rathole with more soldiers than the enemy, and roles reverse. Successfully defend the counter attack, and your team gets to push forward again. It requires teamwork (so it's unfortunate there's no integrated VOIP yet), and I especially enjoy playing as NCO, using my binoculars to call in mortar strikes and clearing out trenches with my pistol so my team can spawn on me.

Verdun is still sloppy, though. When an attack is thwarted, for instance, I'm instantly instructed to withdraw without nearly enough time to return to my trench before being executed for deserting. That's frustrating. The environments look good, but the character animations—especially the high-speed gun reloads—lack any of the same authenticity. Characters slide and float as they run, and geometry that could use contextual actions—such as the sides of trenches which often need to be scaled—are handled by repeatedly jumping.

Lag is also an issue (to be fair, the same goes for RO2). Aside from stuttering, the outcome of standoffs is sometimes confusing. That “I swear I shot first” feeling might be imagined at times (just blame the netcode!), but it's hard to trust my shots when I encounter so many other glitches, such as spawning before the spawn counter is up.

Verdun is fun for a few hours, though for me to continue playing it, bullets will have to act like bullets instead of lasers. Otherwise, Verdun needs rigorous polishing before I'll recommend it, but it could have a lot of value. I'll rarely say no to a new, large-scale, team-focused shooter, especially in a setting so rarely touched by games.

Verdict

Verdun is fun as it stands, but glitchy, and hard to recommend against the much better, and very similar, Red Orchestra 2/Rising Storm. My biggest gripe is that it values the accuracy of its historical maps, but it doesn't currently value the authenticity of its weapons or the laws of physics.

Outlook

Verdun has been in Early Access since September 2013, and plans to go to full release this summer. The most recent update overhauled the character models and animations, but I don't expect any major changes before release. I do expect Verdun will continue to be updated after release, though it's hard to say what and when. Many entries on the roadmap are vague: the network optimization, for instance, “can always be better” and “more tactical” weapon handling is promised.

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