“The next big Esports game,” is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot these days, it’s been used to describe some heavy hitters like Overwatch and the ever popular PubG. Although both of these games share one common trait, they were never developed for Esports, thus Esports has been thrust upon them. Overwatch has that gargantuan push behind it with its debut of the Overwatch League (OWL) and PubG is loved by so many, that Tournament Organisers like ESL saw the opportunity and just thought fuck it. Because nothing says professional Esports like thousands of people watching one dude with a moustache as if he’s the second coming of Jesus.
Neither of these brand new entrances in Esports strike a chord with me, neither possess the key aspects of what defines a great Esports game; a high skill ceiling, simplicity and most importantly nuance. The reason why games like Quake, Starcraft and Counter Strike gave birth to the scene of Esports as we know today is that although they are rather simple and easy to pick up in their design philosophies, mastering them was something truly special. An achievement that not many gamers could attest to having the ability or even have the time to do so. So they watched others battle it out instead, watching the players use and exploit every nuance in the game engine, every flaw and the symbiotic relationship between simplicity and complexity. We’re talking Bunny Hopping and Wallbanging in Counterstrike, Stutter Stepping micro in Starcraft and Strafe Jumping in Quake. The most popular Esports game possess these kinds of nuances, such as League of Legends last hit mechanic or Orb Walking, and don’t get me started on fighting games.
But dear Journo! Why is this so important!? I thought we were here to read about Battalion 1944, the authentic WW2 shooter by UK Developer Bulkhead interactive? Not about some old Esports games!
Well Dear Reader, this is so god damn important because Battalion is the first game in almost a decade that understands you need these key ingredients of Nuance, Skill Cap and Simplicity to work as an Esport. I would need more hands to count how many times a new game comes out with the tag line “by competitive gamers, for competitive gamers” or “designed from the ground up for Esports.” Each one failing to hit the mark no matter how many expansive orgs they invite to their online events.
Battalion 1944 is self described as an Old-School Competitive FPS that aims to bring back the classic 00’s feel of competitive Call of Duty, namely the PC base surrounding around Cod 2 and Cod4 Promod. If you’re new the Esports scene or thought that Pro Call of Duty has always been primarily based on the Console, you would be mistaken. There are many, MANY tragedies in Esports industry, the abandonment by Activision of Cod 4’s PC professional scene being one of them. The scene gave birth to some of best broadcasting talent in CounterStrike today with the likes of Pansy, Vince and Machine, it bore witness to some incredible games and it grew to be game that served as one of the best alternatives to CounterStrike. However due to the lack of support from the developer; the tournaments were crowd funded, prize pools were being built with the competitors buy in fees and with no marketing, the scene quickly fizzled out as quickly as it began.
So yeah, it’s a big deal, especially for the aforementioned vets. But enough about history, how does this modernisation of the old Call of Duty formula hold up?
Well to begin with I’ll preface everything here by saying, the game isn’t pretty, but it doesn’t have to be. No one cares about how good the game looks in competitive Esports, most Counterstrike Pros play with the lowest settings on a 4:3 Resolution. First and foremost Battalion puts gameplay front and centre, a breath of fresh air in today’s FPS landscape where the character controls the player and not the other way around (a fantastic way to look at it Mr. Brammer may I add). Sure it looks weird when some one bounces around the map along walls and across tanks to then crouch jump through a window, but the nuance in its movement and the flawed yet precise skill driven mechanics in how you achieve this is all I need to see.
Movement and positioning is everything and while it looks easy to perform through the eyes of a Pro, to a bog standard average Joe, it’s far from. It fits some where in the middle between Quake’s insane B-Line strafe jumping and Counter-Strikes Bunny hopping and while not being able to chains these jumps together, the near perfect accuracy during jumping make it the most viable way to move around the map. But holding an angle is just as important to master, using you new found ability to navigate these maps to put you on to ledges, cracks and balconies to hold off angles and catch your opponents off guard. Finally, the fast paced nature of the gun play and the nuance in its movement creates some of the most satisfying PVP encounters in an FPS game ever since Halo 3 or Cod 4.
Now there are no perks, no loadouts and no pay to win mechanics, how ever yes, there are micro-transactions, but with a game that offers so much for such a small price of £12, I think selling a few cosmetics is perfectly fine, the choice to make it a loot box economy can get a few people rattled but at least you don’t have to pay for a key to open them like in CS. But much like CS they can be earned through levelling up or by buying them with real world currency, but can also be sold on the Steam Market, which may lead to the discussion of Skin Gambling all over again.
Battalion 1944 right now is sitting at a Mixed rating on Steam, but honestly this is another one of those times that I’d happily endorse not allowing Steam Reviews on an Early Access game. The game has quite a few issues with Matchmaking and Team Balance currently and as a result got review bombed heavily on its first day. If you’re looking to get in to this game right here, right now, just consider yourself warned that this is still an EARLY ACCESS game and still in development. Put down your pitchforks kids, we used to deal with MUCH worse issues back in the day.
Look I won’t go in to too much detail, I’ll wait for review time for that. But just know you don’t need me to tell you how it feels to chain kills with a Kar98 or pull off a 1v3 clutch while barging in to a bombsite with a Thompson. But Battalion 1944 is Nuanced, Simple and Possesses a huge skill cap. There will be a learning curve involved, but even becoming mildly proficient brings back feelings that I’ve been numb to in today’s modern shooters that were only given unto me playing these games in the 00’s. Both the promise of future tournaments and with a developer who actually cares, I’m looking forward to continuing coverage on Battalion 1944. But mostly, I’m looking to completely destroy the next guy who peaks me…. bitch.