Over the last couple of decades or so, tactical shooters have generally gone from being tactical to what I call “tac lite.” It’s hard to believe that the original Rainbow Six game came out twenty years ago, spawned from the popularity of Tom Clancy’s long-running series of the same name. By many, it was considered one of the first bonafide tactical shooters, and became what many games tried to emulate for many years after its debut.
Although its expansions and sequels were pretty up to snuff, things began to change after 2003’s excellent Raven Shield. Rainbow Six: Vegas debuted in 2006, and it was a pretty extreme departure from previous iterations of the R6 brand. Although it featured fun gameplay and a great cover system, it felt much more arcade-y. From there, things became even more oriented towards the fast-twitch tween set, until it reached the cheesy, hyper-politically correct do-do mess that Rainbow Six: Siege represents. A similar fate happened to the entire Ghost Recon franchise as well.
Gamers like me who hungered for the more slow-paced, thinking man’s tactical shooters from the days of yore have pretty much been ignored by gaming developers, who routinely cave in to the throngs of pre-teen youngsters who favor bunny-hopping around on tiny maps while worrying about kill counts.
Indie developers Blackfoot Studios must have felt our collective angst because they’ve been working on a title that is a direct throwback to that classic Rainbow Six experience. Unfortunately, since they are a very small team and probably have a minuscule marketing/publishing budget, I didn’t even hear about their new game, Ground Branch, until a friend of mine mentioned it a couple of weeks ago.
In fact, Blackfoot Studios attempted a Kickstarter campaign for Ground Branch a while back but were unsuccessful in reaching their financial goal. Therefore, they’ve had to pretty much rely on their own funds in order to fuel the game’s development. It seems that word-of-mouth, more than anything else, has likewise fueled its publicity.
In Ground Branch, “you will play as the elite paramilitary arm of the CIA’s Special Activities Division/Special Operations Group (SAD/SOG) and lead other special operations forces through challenging deniable ops all over the globe. With deliberate, calculated and unforgiving gameplay, GROUND BRANCH aims to be the true rebirth of the tactical realism genre of the late ’90s and early 2000s.” –from the game’s Steam profile.
Ground Branch is very Early Access so it only comes with four maps for now. But there are some features that set the groundwork (no pun intended) for an exceptional game down the line. For example, Ground Branch features an in-game ready room that lets players banter with each other, outfit themselves at their personalized lockers, and practice with their guns at the local firing range.
It’s nice to see this touch of immersion, instead of forcing players to stare at a list of servers. It’s nice to see this trend happening in a macros sense as well, since hot games like Escape from Tarkov will be getting the ready room treatment in an upcoming update at some point.
What’s really impressive about Ground Branch so far is the level of customization that you can take your character through. Although not as extensive as the aforementioned EFT (at least as far as the number of weapon attachments), you can still choose many sorts of attachments for your chosen firearms, as well as different kinds of grenades, and all manner of outfits to wear. You can also choose where on your weapons or body you’d like to attach items, which you can’t do in EFT.
When you’re all “tacted out” and ready for action, all you have to do is mosey on over to the operations room and choose one of the four maps. Each player has to click on one of two points of entry on a map, and then a countdown will begin. This means that you can feasibly go in with two separate teams.
Once in-game, you’ll see that your natural movement speed is pretty tactical (i.e. slower-paced), and that sprinting should only be used in certain situations. That’s because if one of the enemies during a terrorist hunt mission sees you, you can be dead just like that. Ground Branch is (thankfully) a very unforgiving game that will quickly make short work of gung-ho Call of Duty spaz-out types.
Communication is one way to mitigate the extreme level of A.I. lethality. In-game VOIP is included in the game so utilizing it to set up angles of attack, fire zones, and other tactical goodies become part and parcel of any solid team. Indeed, the more I played with my particular group of eight players (the community is super-friendly), the more cohesive we became as a unit. This is one game where you can actually see and feel your team’s tactical awareness improve after each and every match.
Besides terrorist hunt, there is also a PvP mode. PvP is a great way to test your skills against other highly tactical thinkers, so it can be a real challenge. In a game where one bullet usually means death, planning, communication, and proper execution are all of utmost importance if you want to have a decent chance of surviving a PvP match.
In all, Ground Branch has an enormous amount of potential to be the next big thing as far as tactical shooters are concerned. It’s eschewment of run-and-gun, arcade-y silliness, and an adherence to slow-paced, tension-filled gunplay can really get your heart pumping. Try it out for yourself.
Ground Branch features great graphics that make its hardcore tactical gameplay truly shine. However, you want to have a pretty beefy gaming PC or gaming laptop in order to play it at a decent framerate. So, you may just want to invest in a decent gaming rig:
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