Hello, reader. Reader, here’s Wargame Showcase. Wargame Showcase, here’s my favourite reader. What kind of cryptic concoction is this? Well, my dearest, Wargame Showcase is a new feature by yours truly. Expertly crafted- afters years of study- to showcase games that might interest you, focusing on a couple of very specific parameters such as Historical Authenticity, Mechanical Depth and treatment of the Subject Matter. Wargame Showcase will run alongside it’s twin brother “Strategical Showcase” where “Strategy” games, in a more traditional sense, will get the same treatment.
Here’s a riddle for you: what do you get when a World War 2 buff finally gets to play a tactical shooter after spending his last couple years moving counters around? Well, all Hell (is) Let loose!
I got around to playing games on the computer when I was only but a petit boy, at the ripe age of 10, old enough to push carts of coal in the 19th century but not old enough to be a functional human in the early 2000’s. It all began with Age of Empires II and Red Alert 2 but it soon escalated to one of my all time favourites – Medal of Honor: Allied Assault. Fast forward ten years and your dearest content outputter is now smuggly pushing counters and ordering pixel troopers around a map. Like a digital military career of sorts, going from the frontlines of World War II to the higher echelons of virtual military commandeering. And that’s all fine and dandy but sometimes it’s nice to leave the top-down, isometric view of maps and the statistics pages and go back into first person mode to see how troops are doing in the ground.
I’ve always been a great proponent of using videogames to teach history and historical conundrums. Some games do that to an amazing extent, others fail flat, some thread a precarious middle ground of being just engaging enough to invite further research on it’s theme, while sacrificing some of its historical fidelity. Hell Let Loose fits as well in that category as any other realistic shooter such as Red Orchestra, ArmA, Squad, Rising Storm and Project Reality. A wargame in its own right.
Hell Let Loose is a fantastic tool to experience the difficulties of fighting a hedgerow hell kind of war, where limited lines of sight eventually led to close quarters fighting, desesperate stalemates, shooting at moving bushes and silhouettes in the horizon. The difference a tank can make in turning an engagement and how communication and leadership are key to achieve victory.
Dabbing with this World War 2 version of Squad is an absolute joy. Join the top tier servers and waste an afternoon away clearing the bocage surrounded roads of enemy tanks (be them Germans or Americans), engaging in half an hour long firefights, getting lost in the confusing and ending up fighting alongside 2 or 3 strangers behind enemy lines using only voice communication behind enemy lines, diving for the nearest ditch anytime you hear the crack of a bullet, and maybe getting obliterated by artillery out of nowhere.
Getting stranded behind enemy lines with a mate from another squad was exactly what happened to me the other day and it’s one of those gaming memories I’ll cherish forever. It was our squad’s task to reinforce the ones fighting for the Chapel at the center of the Utah Map and, on the way there, artillery strikes and an enemy Sherman tank sent everyone scattering to the nearby bocage. Lacking anti-tank support and amidst the confusion, everybody by passed the armoured vehicle instead of engaging it. Alone and camping a corner with my faithful Sturmgeher 44, I managed to pick off 3 american GIs by hiding near an opening on a bocage overlooking a road and an open field.
It was along the road towards the Chapel that met my new brothers in arms. Using the game in-voice (imagine real life voice), we fought and overcame an enemy squad holding an intersection moving on to flank the enemies attacking the Chapel, shooting instinctively at silhouette on the horizon and then falling back to reinforce the squads facing the American onslaught, winning the round, now ammo depleted, dirty, blood soaked clothes, tired and desesperate for a break. A textbook example of teamplay and communication between 3 complete strangers can lead to a memorable adventure. It’s all so organic and off the rails, there’s no hand holding, no invisible battlelines, no minimaps and no objective arrows. Players need to estimate enemy locations, relaying informations based on grid and compass (even though a tag system exists- and I’m not really a fan- but it helps people who have difficulty explaining their surroundings or lack the necessary vocabulary to do so).
Another match, same map, a fierce fight for the first strip of land after landing in Utah’s beach. Us, the Americans, stood between the crashing waves of La Manche and German infantry, supported by a Panther advancing on our position to counter-attack. Me, acting as a BAR gunner (yes, automatic rifleman is my role), our squad leader and machine gunner were letting loose all hell on the advancing Germans, with our SL adjusting the machine gun fire by voice. After an initial pounding we broke and overwhelm the German defenses, winning the game nearly an hour later.
Now on the boots of the goose stepping Wehrmacht again, the Battle of the Bulge took an unexpected time traveling turn when the American defenses fell harder than a house of cards built within a Belgian tavern filled with drunk Germans. The versatility of the Sturmgewehr racked me an astonishing 19 kills (you’re only able to see this after the match is over).
As with everything good, Hell Let Loose has its downfalls, some of which can weigh heavily on your decision to either buy or play the game. Matches are a hour long affair riddle with constant moments of tension with little happening, rarely punctuated by extreme moments of relief where everything goes from 0 to 100 faster than you can cycle a Kar98. Unfortunately, enjoyment of HLL will rely heavily on the leadership skills of your commanders, their ability to communicate and the will of your squad mates to cooperate. This is a game that is at its best when everyone is perfectly in sync, and while one can enjoy HLL alone, it’s just not what it was designed for. If you dabbled with Squad, you’ll already know what to expect performance wise. Even with my RTX2080 the game can struggle to maintain 60 frames per second during the most visual demanding moments. It’s not game breaking, but it’s there. The pacing might not be the most attractive and those of you- more impulsive and individualistic ones- might have a hard time realizing that not every shot is worth taking, not every kill is worth the trouble and not every action deserves reaction.
Hell Let Loose pulls no punches when assaulting your senses. Guns are loud, bullets whizz, crack and shatter. Panzerfausts and bazooka rounds swoosh by screeching scarily on their deadly way. Explosions are powerful with multiple layers of sound effects. This overwhelming cacophony of sound effects do a great job of selling you the fantasy of being there. Unfortunately, human barks after being shot feel weirdly displaced, almost cartoony. Pair that with some questionable ragdoll physics and for a brief moment you’re remove from the moment by a shouting GI somersaulting over trenches like a WWE Superstar. While I haven’t played Squad for quite awhile now, HLL sound department does it better.
I love the phrase “a thinking man’s shooter”, but other than ArmA and Squad, Hell let loose is the only one whose pacing can qualify for such a coveted distinction. Anyway: let’s wrap this one up.
Subject Matter: HLL is laser focused on bringing the ultimate World War 2 Squad-Based FPS, of that there’s no doubt and other than ArmA, no other game can hold a candle to Hell Let Loose in terms of engaging gameplay, graphical fidelity, sound design, maps and content, not even it’s more direct competitor, Post Scriptum (who seems to be struggling with its player count if SteamCharts is to be relied on.
Historical Authenticity: Hell Let Loose does a better job of replicating the brutal and complex nature of frontline combat in the Second World War without overwhelming players with overly complicated controls and convoluted mechanics. This also means that some elementary things such as true-to-life squad composition and equipment is left by the wayside in favour of gameplay variety.
Mechanical Depth: No two games of Hell Let Loose will ever play the same, due to the amount of different moving parts in every session, so tactical possibilities are only limited to the players tactical ability and physical limitations imposed by the game. Guns feel, for the most part, as you would expect, but I would akin them more to the something like Red Orchestra 2 rather than Squad or ArmA, they’re really discreet and simple to use, there are no extended mags, no rails and no lasers, just point it in the general direction of the virtual human being you wish to remove from existence and click. Rather than a game focused on mechanical prowess as most shooters are, HLL follows in the vein of Squad, Project Reality and ArmA, opting for a more team-focused approach, with Squads only being able to communicate within each other and Squad Leaders talking between themselves to organize troop movement. It works, as the other games have proven before but be ready for a world of frustration if you don’t have a team to mates to play with or fail to find a communicative enough squad to engage.
Hell Let Loose is a fun, semi-realistic romp through the battlefields of the western front* with a rich Roadmap ahead, promising a lot of new content that will keep World War 2 aficionados engage all across 2021 and 2022. A solid entry in the Squad Based First Person Shooter genre and the uncontested king in it’s timetable of the late 1940’s. It needs work on the technical department but other than that, a solid recommendation if the genre tickles your fancy.
Hell Let Loose is available for 39,99€ or your regional equivalent.
*It appears that, at the time of wrapping up this article, Hell Let Loose left Early Access, updating the game with a new Eastern Front theatre.