Verdun Review – A Fantastically Grim WWI Experience

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Verdun
BlackMill Games

Last week I wrote about a World War II game, Day of Infamy, and related how I almost couldn’t believe that someone thought that it was still novel to produce yet another game based on it. I’ve always wondered why no one had created a proper World War I shooting game.

“You have played Verdun?” was what one of my gaming buddies immediately said when I complained about the lack of WWI games, for the umpteenth time this year alone.

“I’ve never heard of it,” I responded.

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“It’s the best representation of the Great War I’ve ever experienced.”

After that little exchange I just knew that I had to try Verdun. Does it really convey WWI trench warfare as my friend recounted? Well, it’s not perfect, but to a large extent it does.

Before getting into the specifics of Verdun, let me mention that this game has gone a long way in illuminating just why WWI games aren’t so popular. Unlike the cool, anti-establishment vibe that the Vietnam War exuded, or the romanticism of Good vs. Evil that the Second World War carries, complete with their exotic locations and charming scenery, there just isn’t much that is sexy about crawling around in rows of maze-like trenches.

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Having a pretty decent number of hours of Verdun beneath my belt now, I can say that it definitely is a completely different style of warfare than I have ever played. Take for instance its main mode, Frontline, where two groups of men, the Central Powers and the Entente, square off against each other over a desolate, foreboding battlefield. The first thing that struck me is just how dismal the environments were. Having seen old photos of various WWI battlefields, including Verdun, I really appreciated the amount of detail BlackMill Games put into this game. I could practically feel the slippery mud beneath my virtual boots, and barbed wire decorated the entire landscapes everywhere.

What I also noticed was how accurately the developers represent the major factions at war in Verdun. For example, the Entente are composed of various nationalities, such as the British Tommies, and the French Poilus. Each subdivision plays completely differently from one another. Meanwhile, the Central Powers are made up of a conglomeration of German divisions, such as the lightweight and highly mobile Alpenjägers, or the heavy weapon-wielding Landsers.

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The sheer amount of combinations that teams can come up with is more diverse than any I’ve ever seen in a first person shooter. The uniforms; the weapons; the insignias—BlackMill really did their homework here, as everything looks authentic and historically accurate. On the flipside, it should be mentioned that servers have a cap of 32 players, so you won’t get the more grand (and chaotic) sense of thousands of men running across vast battlefields as did happen in real life. But this isn’t a detriment to the game itself, since it allows a more focused playstyle, where smaller four-man squads can really get their tactics down pat together.

Verdun doesn’t have a persistent progression system that seems to be all the rage these days, but again, to me this is a good thing. As you gain your rewards each time you boot up Verdun, it’s easier to become more cohesive as a squad and cover each other’s weaknesses, and it also creates a more even playing field. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve played other games that have persistent mechanics at play, and have been matched up with either complete newbies, or level 60 juggernauts who are outfitted with equally deadly uber-weapons. In Verdun you really feel like you are earning achievements together with your squad-mates, as you travel to different engagements, and that goes a long way to engendering loyalty and comradery, something that seems absent in most triple A titles these days.

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As Verdun features smaller squad sizes, each team member’s role is that much more pronounced, and creates a real sense of inter-reliance. I remember one time when I was playing with some comrades and we were tasked with taking a trench from some Central Powers neighbors, who were seriously dug in and putting up a particularly vigorous defense. We formed a plan and executed it. First we had our recon man scout the objective out using his biplane resource. When we’d figured out more or less where the enemies were gathered, we got our officer to call in a round of artillery on our entrenched foes. After softening them up with some explosive shells, our machine gunner set up in order to cover our advance. Indeed, he kept the enemies heads down while we yelled and charged across the murky field. Everything went like clockwork and we succeeded in taking the trench from the enemies because of our sound tactics and planning.

Epic moments such as these happened all of the time throughout my Verdun play throughs. Whereas in the more popular CoD and Battlefield games everyone just sort of charges off and does their own thing, in Verdun that will get you killed—and killed fast. Verdun punishes the Rambo approach while rewarding careful planning and strategizing. A well thought out plan will most likely get you with “V,” unless of course your enemies are utilizing them as well.

Verdun’s visuals are also impressive, especially for an indie developer. The combatant’s uniforms and the character models that they are wrapped in, are all very detailed and easy on the eyes. The battlefields look realistically dismal and dreary, and really go a long way in conveying just how depressing WWI must have been in real life. Likewise, the sounds are also spot on, with appropriate bass for rifle fire, and blood curdling death cries and shouts from the soldiers. War has never sounded more horrific as it does in Verdun.

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As an aside, I recently checked out some footage of EA DICE’s Battlefield 1, which also takes place in WWI. It reminded me beholding a pile of tinsel. Just like tinsel, it was very flashy but that was it. Seeing combatant’s bunny hopping around and shooting at each other with fully-automatic guns, was just all kinds of wrong, and eschewing historical accuracy in the furtherance of lots of bombast and orange fireballs was pretty sad. I’d rather take the careful planning and more deliberate movement speed, along with hefty, bolt-action rifles of Verdun, anytime.

SCORE: 88%

Verdun has highly detailed graphics that are nice to look at. However, you want to have a pretty beefy gaming PC in order to play it at a decent frame rate. So, you may just want to invest in a decent gaming rig:

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