Hell Let Loose Alpha Spotlight

     The FPS genre is as wide as it is deep. Reach your hand in and pull out two games at random and you can find two games eerily similar in design, or you can find yourself holding two games that are wildly different in composure, depth and focus.
From Doom to Farcry to Squad, the difference in games often boils down to the direction the developers take in their sub-genre. FPS games are no longer rated by their overall genre but by their sub-genre, whether they have a story, combat pacing and other small mechanics. We as a community simply expect the genre systems to work these days. Movement, shooting, weapons and gameplay in and of themselves no longer matter, unless of course they are subpar when compared to their competitors.
In the end, it’s not these base mechanics that make up the game, although adding new mechanics to the mix has worked to varying degrees in the past. The thing that really makes the games are their sub-genre, their focus in particular. What they are trying to achieve in their game.
And of course, the focus of that title can change everything about how you play and experience said title.
For instance, although Call of Duty and Battlefield have had many similar build traits in the past, anyone who has spent time playing both series will tell you that they have an extremely different focus and feel to the gameplay, or at least they used to.
It is these focus differences that we will be talking about today. Specifically, we will be talking about the tactical first person shooter sub genre, or TFPS. 


     Origins of the Genre-

      The origins of TFPS are simple really. For a long time, the only thing you could do if you wanted a truly tactical experience in gameplay is either build a rather expensive computer to get in on Arma 2, a rather buggy and broken simulator at the time, or be overly ambitious in games that don’t really call for it. Sure you can get the upper hand in Battlefield and Red Orchestra by communicating tactically to your squad, but these examples did not really need to be played like this. It is not required to win.
But gone are those days with the rise of the TFPS genre, seeking to incorporate intense levels of cross team communication with the designs behind the FPS genre as a whole. This is no easy feat, however.
Creating a game that allows players to be themselves in combat while still maintaining a tactical environment is difficult to say the least. It means you have to do the one taboo in gaming. You have to trust your community to actually play that way.
The reality is, you can create whatever type of tactical game modes you want in a game but if your community refuses to actually communicate and work together tactically, the entire concept falls apart.
This is why the tactical genre of games like Ghost Recon has been Co-op AI for so long. Players are much more likely to act tactical when faced with AI’s in Arma 3 rather than players in Battlefield 5 after all. But what’s interesting about the origin of this sub-genre of games is that it in fact did not originate from games like Arma. Instead, the true birth, or rather the moment the sub genre gain traction with a crowd, was the project reality mod set for Battlefield 2. This mod set was the very moment that people realised that tactical FPS gameplay was in fact possible under the correct conditions. Since then, many games have emerged from the genre that continue to gain traction with players who have no interest in the traditional FPS experience.
Project Reality, Squad, Post Scriptum, Vanguard 1944 and of course the game we are looking at today, Hell Let Loose. The concept was simply really. Simple and delicate.
Project Reality did a few things to Battlefield 2’s base format that changed how the game was played completely.
They removed squad spawns and employed two types of spawning units, Rally drops for your squad to spawn on and Garrison drops for the entire team to spawn on.
Then they broke down the walls that EA has always had in communication and allowed squad commanders to coordinate across squads through the use of the entire number pad for hotkeys, as well as intersquad coms and the ability to talk to the people around you directly, including enemies. This does mean however, that the likelihood of these types of games making their way over to console is slim at best due to the number of hotkeys needed to make the games work.
Among other things, like creating artillery squads and logistics squads to build fortifications and spawns, this format of gameplay would carry over in some way to every game that came after it in the genre.  

 

With the Origins of the game genre out of the way, let’s talk about Hell Let Loose.

So, let’s cut into this title, shall we?

     Overall-`
First off, I want to make it very clear that these types of games are not for everyone.
They do not give instant gratification like other titles in the FPS genre.
Hell, they hardly give long term gratification. And if you are used to the high octane dopamine rush that comes with Battlefield and Call of Duty, these games may not be your cup of tea.
Every time the front lines are drawn for massive firefights between the axis and allies, it is always accompanied by long segments of set up.
This “calm before the storm” mentality can either be the most intense and meaningful sequence of combat you have ever experienced, or it can be almost keyboard smashingly annoying as you find yourself shot dead and missing the whole combat sequence.
This is easily the biggest flaw of these games, but it is a real reality of some soldiers in war. Imagine being an american soldier, trained for months to kill the enemy in combat, shipped across an ocean to lands you have never known, and when the moment finally comes to experience the very combat you were groomed to participate in, your instead gunned down in the landing craft before your boots ever touch the sands of Normandy. It’s truly a sad reality of many of the soldiers at the beaches of Normandy.
(Or perhaps it was merciful really? No one really gets over what they see and the things they had to do in the name of war.) However, when translated into the game, This sad reality just ends up being angering or disappointing in nature.
There is no fear of death in games because you know as a player you will always respawn, and the fact that you have missed the very combat that the last ten minutes of gameplay has lead up to can be very annoying.
Without a doubt, you absolutely have to have a good squad to play this game with. You need these people to pass the time not in combat with jokes, small talk or my personal favorite, role playing as world war 2 soldiers.
Otherwise, these types of games can become downright boring when combat is not going on. And as far as I am concerned, you will find yourself going to combat for more time than actually being in combat until you reach a certain skill cap in surviving said combat. But at the end of the day, that’s what this combat is about from the single soldiers perspective. Your own survival. So I can’t really fault them for that to much.

 

-German frontlines squad-

-American frontlines squad-

     Gameplay-

Survival. That is what I love about this game. They have perfectly captured the essence of single man survival in the fields of France and beyond. You can be as tactical as you want during the whole game, but one fact permeates through the gameplay once the two sides meet and draw battle lines. At the end of the day, it’s you and your rifle. Many times have I gone into combat with my squad, only to be separated and caught in the crossfire of my team and the enemy, my only choice but to sit still and pray I didn’t get hit from either side. The direct combat segments in Hell Let Loose are just about unmatched by any World War 2 games on the market right now.
The build up to combat compounded on the sheer amount of players in the server, 50 on each side, really makes the combat feel like a war. 

While pushing into enemy territory is dangerous and unpredictable, giving players the very rare feeling of vanguard combat behind enemy lines. You truly do feel cut off from your allies when the enemy takes the forward objective and traps you in enemy strong points and it is one of my favorite parts of the game. One time, I was on the enemy point when the enemy took our objective out from under us, cutting down our spawn points in the area and trapping us with no one but germans all around.
My squad decided to hold firm rather than redeploy or try to escape, and we did so successfully for a while, holding a house for about 10 minutes before the enemy finally stormed us and killed each of us one by one.
It was like a scene directly out of the end of Saving Private Ryan. I have even had the exact scenario from Fury happen to us while playing in a tank squad, as we got tracked by an Anti Tank mine while pushing into the enemy territory in our sherman with no engineer around. To make matters worse, we found ourselves set upon by two full squads of Axis troops and a Panzer soon after that. But we went down fighting, taking two of the squads with us.
It’s moments like these that these games excel at offering and these moments are the reason I love these games and this game in particular. While you can run and gun like Rambo, it will have little to no effect on the overall game around you.
Getting kills alone will not win you games at the end of the day. Kills matter much less than routing out enemy team rally points and Garrisons. In the grand scheme of open scale combat.

-Community screenshot from gameplay-

     Mechanics-

Mechanics are extremely important to games, and this is never more true than in Hell Let Loose. This is, in my opinion, the strongest aspect that Hell Let Loose has going for it right now.
In games like Battlefield and Titanfall, you can strafe, slide, vault and jump around to avoid bullets, making yourself a harder target to hit simply because of movement.
While in games like Hell Let Loose and Post Scriptum, your better off dropping to your face to avoid enemy fire rather than running around like a chicken with its head cut off. These are rather small differences that massively change the target audience of a game. If you put Battlefield 5 on the far right and Post Scriptum on the far left, Hell Let Loose sits just about center on that spectrum. This is a beautiful place to be really, as there are systemic issues with both games on both sides that stem from their place on that spectrum. Hell Let Loose has put itself in a place where it suffers from just about none of the issues from either side. While Battlefield 5 suffers from spawning deaths and overly hectic gameplay that cannot be followed at times, Post Scriptum suffers from being so tactical that it has forgotten it is a first person shooter. This is where I believe Hell Let Loose is stronger than both titles respectively. It plays like a first person shooter, the developers having taken great care in excluding mechanics that seem tedious and pointless to the actual gameplay itself. Hell Let Loose is not realistic. Rather, it is just realistic enough to still be fun as a game. With that said, it does lean more heavily towards the side of Post Scriptum than it does Battlefield 5, and this is where it truly shines as a game.
Tedious, repetitive tasks are not something you want attached to your video game, no, not even for the sake of realism. In a type of game where you are already pushing the bounds of playability and forcing people to walk and run for a good 40% of the gameplay, why on earth would you decide to make that running tedious and annoying?! The water canteen system in Post Scriptum has literally made my outright quit playing before, as I realised when I died that there was no spawn point near and I would either have to wait 10 minutes until someone got one down or I’d have to run all the way back to combat from HQ. Instead I simply said nope, not doing that again, and alt f4’d the game.
It is annoying to consistently deal with and bores its way into your skull even further if your not having a good game and missing all the rewarding combat sections. I don’t want to play “hydrated hiker simulator” in my World War 2 game and I don’t really know who would want to. And while Post Scriptum shares many similarities with Hell Let Loose, the massive difference is that Black Matter seems to understand that it is an annoying reality of the game design, choosing not to treat the soldiers and the players like they are anemic smokers of 30 years or more for the sake of gameplay fluidity. This makes the movement across maps on foot tolerable where it is not elsewhere. The focus on gameplay over realism is a very good thing for the game as a whole, as well as who will be willing to play it. Naturally, your potential game audience is wider if you make it a less niche product.
But the absolute most important thing that Hell Let Loose has done is they have made a game that actually feels like an FPS. In Post Scriptum, I often feel as if I am fighting the game mechanics as much as the enemy itself.
From going prone to reloading to even just stopping your running animation, it all feels clunky, slow and annoying. Good luck getting any reaction shots in Post Scriptum. Because even if you are fast enough to get the shot, the game is not.
I feel as if this is intentional design as well when I play the game, as if the developers of Post Scriptum don’t want people to be able to pull off shots and gameplay that has been a normality in the FPS genre for a long time.
They want you to play tactically, so they strap weights to your arms and legs and FORCE you play tactically to compensate. And I realised after playing Hell Let Loose that this design does not work. People will play tactically in this game mode no matter how you make it. Why? Because if the enemy is playing tactically and you are not, you will lose the game. Period. All you have done is build a system that is janky and annoying to play, while attempting to force tactical play that would have happened anyway.
Hell Let Loose on the other hand can give you intensely satisfying firefights and deeply immersive tactical front lines crossfires both within the same game.
Sometimes it feels like Battlefield, other times it feels like Post Scriptum. But in reality, it is simply perfect blend of the two types of games.
The only thing that really needs to get fixed is the bipod system for heavy machine guns causing you to look through the ground sometimes and the vault mechanics need to be more fluid than they are currently.

Another thing that could help the game would be character customizations and a few weapon choices to choose from in classes.
A lot of players have expressed to me that they wish they could take a M1 Garand as squad leader rather than a Thompson because a lot of the fights are longer range than the Thompson is viable at.

     Immersion and Depth-

The gameplay of Hell Let Loose essentially boils down to communication across the board.
If you communicate with your squad, you stay alive.
If you communicate across squads, you start gaining momentum.
If you communicate across squads and tank divisions and artillery?
Well, that’s how you win games.

The most beautiful thing about this type of game is that in each division and each position, you get to experience the game from completely different angles all together. Infantry is it’s own experience, Armor is it’s own experience, artillery is it’s own experience and even the commander position is it’s own experience. Infantry is a nail biting brutal experience that is a class all its own. It brings forth both difficult combat survival environments in firefights, tactical advancing a retreating and the true brutality of war.
The sight of your allies and enemies being literally shredded by artillery and tank fire is so brutal. The ragdoll and tearing mechanics of bodies from grenades, artillery and tank fire is really what brings this feeling to life in the end.

Tank division gameplay is so damn good. It actually FEELS like you are inside a tank in this game, although there are still things they could add that would strengthen this feeling. But the tanks do feel like tanks in Hell Let Loose, slow tank turret movement often means that it is far more effective to work together with the driver to align shots. The manual shifting of driving makes driving a bit more interesting than most games, but you will still find yourself fighting over the gunner seat with your squad from time to time as the gunner seat is the most exciting position. Meanwhile the tank commander is the only person in the tank that has a full 360 view, making him pivotal in spotting and calling out enemies because everyone else in the tank has a rather limited field of view.
You can truly work together as a squad in a tank to devastate the enemies. The stronger your squad coherence is, the stronger your tank is and you can feel this. It feels like the most real tank crew combat since Steel Battalion Heavy Armor, which curated it’s tank warfare as a single player RPG experience

But while it is solid, the tanks definitely need more added. 

– Commander should be able to open the top of the tank and use his machine gun at close range to kill ground troops. 

– There should be a tank breach loader seat that should double as the tank class engineer for repairs in the field, even if they can only repair track damage.

– There should be more types of ammunition than AP and HE. Smoke canister shots, Flare or tracer rounds to light up specific locations to the other tanks.

– Players should be able to climb up and ride on the side of the tanks in a truly cinematic fashion.

– The opponents should be able climb utop the tank and drop a grenade inside if they kill the commander while the tank top is open.

– Tank shells and AT rockets should have a small chance to penetrate the sides of the tanks to hit crew members and kill them individually at close range, adding to the terror of tank to tank warfare, like this death in one of my favorite movies ever-

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eOzYfyc3pVU[/embedyt]

“Fury”, The death of Grady Travis
October 15, 2014, Director- David Ayer
(One of the best movies ever made)

And on that note, all you really need to invoke in tank warfare is this scene right here. If you can get anywhere close to this scene, you will have done something great.
And while sometimes the game gets close, it’s just not quite as impactful when you finally win a tank fight as it probably should be.

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L8vFGQ0uJQc[/embedyt]

“Fury”, The sherman division versus the Tiger 2
October 15, 2014, Director- David Ayer
(Seriously, if you haven’t seen this movie, go buy it. Shame on you.)

     In conclusion-
Hell Let Loose is a gritty, realistic game that still fancies itself as a game rather than a simulator. And while it has its current issues with gameplay, a few bugs and a game flow that is definitely not for everyone, it is just about the closest feeling you can get to being on the ground in france in 1944 without risking your life. And well… Inventing a time machine, of course.

With that said, the future of this game is as unknown as it is bright. This is not the first time someone has tried at the idea of an mmo world war 2 shooter and others, like traction wars, have either completely failed in their design or rebranded into an entirely different concept. It is obvious that people do want a Planetside 2 style WW2 game, but in my eyes we just aren’t there quite yet. I personally don’t think any Indie company could truly pull it off, it would have to be someone like EA, Activision, Microsoft or Sony backing the project to make it happen. It would need extremely solid servers, enough players to fill the warfront, and it would be extraordinarily expensive to pull off to boot. It is still very possible that the game could become something great with time, but for now if you are looking for a mmo style world war 2 shooter, Hell Let Loose is just about the closest thing you can get right now and for the foreseeable future. And at 30$ USD it’s definitely worth a purchase. In my opinion, Hell Let Loose offers the perfect amount of tactical realism and FPS shooter gameplay to keep you hooked for months on end.