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Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action
Publisher: BlackMill Games
Developer: M2H
Release Date: Aug. 30, 2016


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Xbox One Review - 'Verdun'

by Cody Medellin on Aug. 7, 2017 @ 1:45 a.m. PDT

Verdun is a squad-based, multiplayer first-person shooter set during World War I and inspired by the infamous battle of Verdun in 1916. Players are able to take part in never-before-seen WWI action.

Two years ago, M2H Game Studio and Blackmill games released Verdun on the PC. Battlefield 1 was still some months away, making this one of the few titles to deal with trench warfare in the World War I era before EA's juggernaut came around. The public embraced the idea of a game that dealt with more realism, and the game was executed so well that the audience is still present today, pushing through the warzone one trench at a time. Last year, the title made its initial console foray to the PS4, and the results were mediocre enough that the Xbox One iteration was delayed. After several months, the Xbox One version of Verdun has finally been released, but if you're looking for grand improvements over the other console version, think again.

Verdun is an online-focused title that lives and dies by the online community. Based on the current online population, the game is on life support. Of the four modes, only one ever has any players participating. The other three modes (Attrition, Rifle Deathmatch and Squad Defense) are empty, so even though the game quickly puts you into a match if you select those modes, you'll have neither teammates nor opposition.

Frontlines is where the small community resides, and compared to other multiplayer games, this is a complicated affair. The crux of the mode revolves around territory control, with trenches as your points of contention. The open areas of the battlefield leave you wide open for a shot, which a big risk since one well-placed shot can kill you. It is necessary to traverse them, since your objective is to overrun a trench and drive back the enemy forces. Conversely, you'll want to defend the invaders from your own trench and prevent them from taking over so you can attack and reverse the roles.

When played well, the mode is both exciting and tense, and those feelings are further amplified by the accurate weapons on display. As alluded to before, one shot usually means one kill, and rifles are especially good at this job from almost any distance. Their melee capabilities are much weaker, and the game doesn't use the bayonetta feature on some rifles, despite the blades being visible. When you get the trench club or shovel, you can move faster and hit much harder. Elsewhere, the pistol is effective up close but poor at decent distances, while the flamethrower is especially deadly if you can live with the pause between pulling the trigger and actual flames spewing out. No matter which weapon you choose, you'll have to deal with their quirks; slow reload times and poor aim make it much harder to kill your opponent from a distance.

Aside from the guns and melee weapons, warfare is treacherous due to a few factors. The battlefields are uneven, with loads of craters and barbed wire. Defenders have a difficult time trying to predict when incoming soldiers will rise and fall with the terrain, while those on the offensive have to worry about getting killed by cuts inflicted by the barbed wire. Artillery fire can also be called upon, but chemical warfare was popularized during this time, and clouds of gas are pretty common in this game. You have a mask to protect yourself, but the limited visibility through the masks is certainly a hindrance.

Unlike most other multiplayer games, the two sides you fight on are further divided into squads, and each squad has specific roles. No matter what other roles are available, there's always a commanding officer present who has the ability to plan orders for their squad and call for artillery. The idea of the squad is so important that you'll get bonuses for sticking with it, and you'll be at a disadvantage once you stray from its vicinity.

This is where things begin to fall apart. If you're a rifleman or any class equipped with a rifle, you're going to be fine. As mentioned earlier, rifles are some of the more powerful weapons in the game, so even if you experience the occasional gun jam, you're able to take care of yourself. If you're a commanding officer, you're pretty much hosed since you can only have a pistol, and their stopping power is poor to begin with. It also doesn't help that the aiming system for the pistol is so bad that your view is blocked by your weapon. Since hip firing is inaccurate, you're fairly useless on the field. While you can spend your time issuing orders, the fact that it takes so long and your squad doesn't follow the orders anyway means that you'll have a miserable time.

Even if you aren't the commanding officer, there are other oddities that can dampen a player's spirits. The game does a good job of letting you know which player is part of your squad, but it takes some time to register a member of a different squad that is on your side. That delay means that you'll either die because you hesitated to shoot or you'll waste bullets because you shot at someone who's unaffected by friendly fire. The upgrade system is also rather flaky. There were instances where I spent upgrade points to get a new gun, but the weapon never appeared in the subsequent match despite confirmation that it was unlocked. There's also a strange obsession with keeping teams balanced in the middle of a match. The idea of fairness comes into play, but with so few games actively encouraging players to abandon the progress they've made in one team and jump ship so the player count can be even on both sides, it feels like an odd thing to push onto players.

Should you ever want to take a break from online play, you won't find much respite in offline play. Despite it being named Offline Mode, there's only one mode to play, and that's Squad Defense, which can't be played in split-screen or with AI bots. Horde mode by yourself might seem like an interesting proposition until you realize that your opposition is dumb. Their main job is to rush at you, but they can't seem to do that correctly, as they sometimes pass by and ignore you, even if they've taken a potshot at you. Their aim is bad, and even at close range, they rarely perform a melee attack. It makes the early stages boring, and it takes a long time for the enemy to win.

Your opinion of the presentation will change depending on the area you're talking about. The audio is fine, even if it isn't anything groundbreaking. The graphics, on the other hand, need plenty of work. The environments are drab, but that's understandable since you can't pretty up trenches or a war-pocked battleground, but the detail pop-in, which includes some geometry changes, happens at such a close distance that it looks shoddy. Character models look like they came from the early Xbox 360 era of Unreal Engine 3 titles, where there was more attention paid to the skin than the actual models. There doesn't seem to be much variety in the soldiers' faces, and facial hair looks pasted on. The clunky and stiff animations are where things fall apart, and the death animations look laughable since the limbs tend to continuously squirm — even through the bodies.

If you're itching to play Verdun, then the PC version is the only way to go. A healthy online community and good performance mean that there's always a game going on with people who know what they're supposed to be doing. On the Xbox One, that's not the case. Problematic presentation aside, there aren't enough people around to keep the games interesting, and the weapons unlock system doesn't seem to function correctly all the time. It may be the more realistic title when compared to Battlefield 1, but none of that matters when other factors make this a title that you should avoid unless you're willing to put in the time to learn the ins and outs of the system, provided the community sticks around.

Score: 5.5/10

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