Bulkhead's aim with Battalion 1944, which has just launched in Early Access (opens in new tab), is to capture the feel of classic WWII multiplayer games such as Call of Duty 2, and to a certain extent they've succeeded. It's a stripped-back experience, with intimate maps and accessible yet satisfying gunplay. At the moment, there are some significant problems that need to be addressed, especially server and matchmaking issues. When the game works, however, it's obvious there is a solid base here for Bulkhead to build on.
There are currently two modes. Unranked (a ranked mode is coming) is about bomb disposal and team elimination, while arcade is a randomized playlist of three different competitive games: capture the flag, domination, and team deathmatch. Arcade is a great introduction to the game, while unranked offers a quicker, less forgiving experience for those who want to demonstrate their skills.
I died a lot earlier in unranked than I did in any of the arcade modes, as it's more about individual talent than pushing as a team. The pace is also much faster than I'm used to, with players constantly bumping into each other in tight alleyways and buildings. In one round I risked not checking around a corner and was immediately punished for it by a quick shot to the head. This didn't put me off, however, and actually highlighted how fun Battalion is to spectate. Watching the surviving member of my team as they tried to pull us back from the brink and disable the explosive the enemy had planted was nail-biting. After dusting myself off, I was eager to jump back in and take my revenge.
There is a competitive mode on the way too, but at the moment this is still locked and will be activated on February 8. That's fine by me, as many of Battalion's issues would be less forgivable in ranked competition than they are now.
Not an issue are the maps, which are excellent. They include trenches, rural villages, and a lighthouse and forest setting. Each has shortcuts and tricks to exploit once you've discovered every nook and cranny, and work across the different modes. The Coastal map, for instance, allows players to use windows to sneak around and get the jump on the other team. I used this tactic a lot, especially on capture the flag. It allowed me to break away and slip through their defense when my team were pinned down in our own area, helping to overturn a stalemate.
The weapons are also superb. This is an area that's improved significantly since I last played. In the closed beta scoped rifles dominated, but this is no longer the case. It's now harder to get off cheap shots with the rifle while moving, and this is reflected in more weapon diversity, with players using all the available loadout cards. I'm not sure whether they've made any changes in terms of damage output, but it also feels easier now to get kills with the automatic weapons, something I struggled with in the beta as I couldn’t stay alive long enough to get in enough shots when facing someone with a rifle.
The main problem right now is with the servers. When the game went live, they struggled to cope with the demand, meaning that many, like me, were locked out for a long time.
Bulkhead worked on a temporary fix throughout the night, and managed to get it working for some people, but there are still some issues getting into games. This is annoying, of course, but it's worth noting that very few independent studios have attempted what Bulkhead is trying to achieve by developing an online first-person shooter of this size. They've also been fantastic with keeping players up to date, and studio lead Joe Brammer has taken the blame for this, apologizing to players and shifting the fault away from his team.
I'm still having trouble finding games, with unranked being much harder to get into than arcade, but the team is still working on another, more permanent, fix. It is currently possible to get in and play, if you have the patience.
Match balancing is a problem, too. I've entered a few games now to find the opposing side have outnumbered my own team. Currently, there's no way to swap sides in a game or for others to join late, which means all you can do in those situations is play and hope for the best. This is one area I hope is fixed during Early Access, especially as a few of the games I spectated in unranked saw players rage quit, leading to even more uneven teams.
There are also smaller concerns like missing prompts. During my first unranked game, I ran over to plant a bomb and didn't have any idea how to do it, having never played before. I thought the game would give me a prompt, but I was just left to figure it out by myself, spamming buttons. If it wasn't for my team chat I probably would have died and cost us a win, but luckily they told me to hold the F key just in time.
Battalion 1944 is a promising game and I do recommend it. For the moment, though, that endorsement comes with caveats. It's still rough around the edges and needs more player feedback before it's ready. You may also want to hold back and wait for all the server issues to be sorted, too.
Nevertheless, Battalion caters to specific type of player who has been ignored for a long time and the developers are some of the most active and transparent I've seen in this genre.