Verdun is a great reenactment of World War I combat, which is both its strength and a detriment. Sprinting towards the enemy trenches, slipping on a gas mask, and slowly crawling through with your pistol can be thrilling. At the same time, being shot by a sniper from hundreds of meters away and being forced to wait fifteen-plus seconds to respawn is not fun.
Verdun accurately gives you a battle from The Great War to experience as your own, along with thirty or so other players. However, it doesn’t offer much explanation for its progression or unlock system. Instead the game gives a simple text tutorial for the controls before throwing you into the field.
Playing on PlayStation 4, you don’t come across any World War I first person shooters, which helps set Verdun apart from the thousands of other FPS games on the market. In Verdun you can really see the developer’s love for the first major worldwide conflict. Each map is preceded by a detailed paragraph of text describing the location you are about to be dropped into. Everything from dates, attacks and counterattacks, and strategies used are on display.
Once on the map, you are equipped with a single weapon, maybe a grenade, a gas mask, and the ability to die after one well-placed rifle bullet. The vulnerability I felt while crawling on the ground in Verdun is way beyond major multiplayer games.
With a rifle or pistol in hand your main objective in Verdun’s main mode of play is to either attack or defend the front line of combat. This means running, or crawling, your way through a battered landscape full of dips and half dug trenches with wooden boards to provide solid footing. Your main focus is getting into the actual trenches, the deep kind that rises above your head and is protected by razor wire and sandbags. It is here that you will either throw yourself against a wall or defend against a relentless assault.
Being in the trenches as the enemy uses gas attacks or makes their way inside is thrilling. What isn’t is when you are sprinting towards the action and are sniped from someone invisible to the naked eye and have to wait fifteen-plus seconds to respawn. This dead air is sometimes a good time to check your phone, or more likely time for you to stare at the clock ticking down. While I understand death needs to have some sort of consequence here, the time buffer between my respawn and actually getting to where the fight is occurring is consequence enough.
Each time you play you will choose from a host of various squads, which don’t really serve any real overarching goal besides taking or holding a position. What it does do is allow for the squad NCO to give specific commands such as marking a specific location to attack. The game also pushes you to stick with your NCO, as he is a moving circle on the map which the game telegraphs to you.
The game itself doesn’t really explain much when it comes to progression or unlocking different ranks in your current class. Instead you have to either figure it out through trial and error or consult an online wiki. The game takes such joy in explaining parts of World War I, I was hoping it would take that same ethic to explaining itself to the player.
Some other nice touches is being able to activate voiced call-outs for enemy attacks, retreats, yes, no, and many, many more. I enjoyed spamming the “Thank you” option while playing as a German soldier since the language is localized for whichever nation you are currently representing on the battlefield. Every player is equipped with a gas mask, which is essential for when you have to get anywhere near a large green cloud. Putting one on does heavily restrict your vision, a handicap I liked having since it made gas attacks a good way to either cluster or disperse players, depending on their temperament.
Some good moments were found while in the midst of a gassed trench, not being able to make out if a moving body is friend or foe. Thankfully friendly fire is turned off so feel free to blast away at anything that moves with little repercussion. Melee attacks with a bayonet are instant death, and despite choosing a class equipped with only a shovel I was never able to make contact while using it.
Something that is very specific to this game, especially on PlayStation 4, is that not many people are playing it. Each night I could only find people playing the main mode, Frontlines. Rifle Deathmatch, Attrition, and Squad Defence were all devoid of anyone. Average player count was 25-35 players total in Frontlines. Even on PC, Steam Charts reports that the peak player count was only 629 in the previous twenty-four hours as of this writing. While its certainly a better situation than console, it still isn’t enough to fill everything available.
Despite that problem, and the overall roughness of Verdun, I still find myself enjoying it. I can’t stand to play it for more than an hour or two per night due to the default match length currently being thirty-minutes. Sometimes it can be a very boring or frustrating game — one where I die much more often than not and barely get to engage with the enemy. Other times I can pull off a long distance shot to take down an enemy or make it through the enemy trench unscathed. Those moments are great, but it doesn’t make the lack of a large player count or the lack of teaching its mechanics any easier to deal with. Verdun is at its core a good game, but one that is hard to recommend beyond a niche audience who enjoy punishing and somewhat accurate World War I shooters.