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Thursday, 31 March 2016

Crimes against humanity and other hobbies

For the past month I've been battling across the fields of northern Europe on the first person shooter Verdun by Blackmill games. I say fields however they're mostly mud, craters and hell. 

In terms of game play many of the mechanics will be familiar to anyone who has played a PC first person shooter. It's a squad based shooter where different squad members get different weapons choices. You expend energy when you run and have to wait for it to recover. You can stand, crouch or go prone. In many ways it shares some of the good parts of second world war based DoD (Day of Defeat). DoD herds players down a number of tight well planned routes on a fairly restricted map in order to keep the game play exciting and contact with the enemy to a maximum. Verdun give you a much more open map on a somewhat larger scale. To ensure the action stays focused the main game mode ensure that you are either defending a sector or attacking a sector. This effectively marks a large portion of the total map as no go areas. Indeed if you venture into them for too long you are shot for desertion. It's always good to know that the game deterrent functionality is staying in character. The other departure from the somewhat cheerful run and gun that is DoD is the lack of tight cross hairs, it's all aimed at using iron sights. I'm fairly certain that guns aren't made of iron but we're talking about looking the right way down the barrel of the gun. You do get a cross hair but unless you are looking down the gun it's so wide that you are as likely to hit the sky as the person standing 2 meters away. 

Verdun is a team game as well as a squad game. You need to perform as a team to achieve the goal of taking territory. Once you fail at that you are forced to work as a team to defined your territory. If you want to just show up and murder you way to heroic status on your own then this probably isn't the game for you. Mainly as I will find you and I will kill you, or at least Liam Neeson would. This leads nicely onto one feature I miss from DoD, the ability to shoot team mates. If the game mechanics can court marshal players for wondering off map I should be able to "motivate" them to actually attack during an attacking phase. Often the difference between the winning side and the losing side is the amount of snipers and machine gunners on that side. Where as in most other games a high number of these type of players meant success in Verdun it often means failure. You can get stuck on a side where you are the only person moving forward and there is no mechanic or way of getting them moving. One of the reasons of this lack of forward movement is that the game is pretty punishing to the uninitiated. The first hour of play will be a case of putting your head above the trenches to see the enemy only to watch you character slump to the ground with a bullet to the head. During defense it's often best to wait for your enemy to advance to your position however you will then learn that mortars and mustard gas are a fairly large health hazard. Gas interestingly is something you can inflict on your own team or self if you have the desire. Mortars on the other hand don't seem to effect your team but will send you skywards if you call the shots down on our location.

Gas and chemical agents are not something that have appeared much as a usable form of warfare in many games. It's interesting that people will happily sink the enemy lines in a cloud of noxious yellow without a thought. Anything to gain that advantage and end this terrible war. Except the war doesn't end, you get transported to the next hell hole and made to fight on.

All in all I enjoyed my time in these drab places. The punishing game mechanics do give you a sense of achievement when you manage to actually get some kills. After each game a number of rewards are handed out.

  • Most distance retreated
  • Most time spent crouched
  • Longest shot
  • etc

From this you gain experience and at the moment all that seems to count for is you can unlock other weapons for other characters. There are a few little problems however. Firstly I spent a lot of time getting stuck on random parts of scenery. As displayed below is that happy time when I got caught up in three shovel handles and shot in the head.

Secondly there are a few graphical anomalies. Several maps feature a random set of character parts floating ominously in the sky. Below you can see a floating machine gun.
If you happen to get your gas mask on at the right time you are granted the somewhat strange experience of your head floating off above the battle field at the end of the match.

Finally some of the models are a little wonky. Here is an example of when I was killed by [5x]Jarnac who appeared to be doing some fine Irish dancing on the trench wall. Possibly justified.


Keep calm and carry on, this war can't go on forever!

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