You might be thinking, “Verdun, why does that name seem familiar…” Well, if you know your world war history, you’ll know that one of the most infamous battles of World War 1 took place at Verdun in 1916. Based on that battle, Verdun: 1914-1918 is a multiplayer first-person shooter set in the First World War. Meant to offer a realistic WWI setting and immersive, realistic trench warfare, it looked promising. Having already released on PC and PS4 in April and August of last year, Verdun has finally made its way to the Xbox One. Was it worth the wait? Even though it does give you a sense of what trench warfare was like, a host of control, visual, design and performance issues, as well as a lack of a player base, prevent this from being a good multiplayer shooter.
Verdun offers 4 game types: Frontlines, Attrition, Rifle Deathmatch and Squad Defence. When starting the game for the first time, you’re introduced to Frontlines mode. Frontlines involves the attacking team running across No Man’s Land to try and capture the defending team's trench. The more players that can make it across, the easier it will be. If the attackers are successful in taking the trench, they must then prevent the other team from taking it back, holding out long enough for the timer to tick down, at which point they become the attackers again and move onto the next trench. If they’re unsuccessful, they then have a small window to run back to their previous trench and defend it. It goes back and forth like this for the entire match, and more often than not ends in a tie. This is the main draw of the game, and where you’ll likely spend most of your time.
Attrition is a six-player Free-for-All mode, Rifle Deathmatch is twelve-player Team Deathmatch, and Squad Defence is a wave-defence mode, where you are teamed up with three other players, dropped into a map, and must survive for as long as possible. You can also play Squad Defence offline, though by yourself with no local co-op.
Squads are a major feature of Frontlines mode, in a similar vein to Battlefield, but mostly different. Squads are made up of four players, with each player assigned to a different role, with different weapons available for each. The leaders of the squads, or non-commissioned officers (NCOs), also have abilities available to them, where they can either call for artillery support, a recon plane, or gas grenades to cover an area, depending on the type of squad they head. Additionally, NCOs have small areas around them on the mini-map, and if you stay in these you gain XP bonuses when you kill an enemy or take a trench.
As you continually play with the same squad (assuming you’re playing with friends or the other members don’t leave), your squad levels up and more abilities become available as well as better weapons and cooler looking uniforms. It is great when you get placed in a squad with players who play their assigned roles, as it makes the games that much easier. At one point during a match I ordered my squad to defend a particular spot on a trench, and we managed to take out more than half of the enemy team as they charged across No Man’s Land, which ended in our team successfully defending the trench and winning the match. Unfortunately, this is where the good parts of the game end and the problems start to rear their heads.
Verdun is a game where you are constantly wrestling with the controls. Even though it uses a pretty standard controller layout, immediately recognisable to anyone who plays shooters, trying to get it to do what you want it to do becomes frustrating. For example, sprinting is achieved by pressing in on the left stick, a pretty common scheme. However, the game doesn’t tell you that in order to stop sprinting you need to press the stick in again, even if you’ve already stopped moving. More than a few times I’ve gone charging up to a trench entrance and crouched at the side, ready to peek around the corner to take out any unaware enemies, only then to start sprinting around the corner right into an enemy squad after only slightly nudging the left stick. Sometimes you can’t sprint at all, even with a full stamina bar, no matter how many times you press the stick in.
Trying to crouch or go prone is difficult as well. Quite often I’d be quickly running across No Man’s Land, often towards a crater for cover, and when the bullets started flying I’d just keep running straight into the fire, as opposed to ducking down behind said cover, even though I was pressing or holding the crouch button. On the other hand, when crouching or lying down I was often unable to get back up and start attacking the next trench regardless of how many times I pressed the button. Also, a button press during a reload animation will cancel the reload and make you start all over. This becomes more frustrating when you couple it with the fact that reload animations are already pretty lengthy as the developers have opted for realistic reload times with their period-appropriate weapons.
Visually, the game is a bit bland. The guns and uniforms you unlock do look like their real-world counterparts, but the guns have a weird shiny quality to them which makes them look off. It would have been a nice touch to have them pick up a bit of dirt or mud as you play, seeing as you spend a lot of time lying down in it. But this isn’t what you’ll spend most of your time looking at. The maps are quite empty, with a lot of assets reused multiple times in the same map. On more than one occasion, I went around the corner of a trench, only to see the exact same corner a little bit further down. There’s occasionally a lone, crashed plane or destroyed tank in the fields, but that’s about it for variety. The visuals would be more suited to the previous generation of consoles, with lots of big textures and low detail on everything from the walls of the trenches to the grass or foliage. This would not be an issue if the gameplay was up to scratch but, unfortunately, it isn’t.
The developers made some interesting design choices for Verdun. In the games' store description, they boast about the games realistic and authentic sounds. However, when fired the M1903 Springfield rifle, one of the most iconic rifles of that era, sounds like someone banging on a snare drum. The audio sounds very off - grenades exploding are uncharacteristically quiet, and bullets hitting wooden barriers sound like someone actually knocking on wood. There’s also a distinct lack of music in the game. The only times I ever heard music playing was when a new round started, and that was just a 5-second soundbite.
Aiming in the game is not reliable. On many occasions I had my sights pointed in the middle of an enemy’s chest or head, only for my shot to miss. This becomes quite frustrating as it only takes one shot to kill someone with a rifle and two to three with a pistol. Grenades also have an abnormally large range – they can be thrown in excess of 300 metres, which is typically the distance between trenches. Quite often I’d die within seconds of starting a round from a randomly thrown grenade.
You will die a lot in this game, but that wouldn’t be much of an issue if the respawn timer wasn’t so random. The timer can range anywhere from 3 to 30 seconds, more often the latter. If you’ve been killed attacking or defending a trench, you can’t get back to help your teammates until you have waited 25 seconds. As for where you’ll respawn, it's anybody’s guess. You could spawn on a teammate or right back at the beginning of the map.
The game also suffers from a few performance issues. It crashes to the home screen regularly; the frame rate constantly drops, which is especially jarring in first-person shooters; and the load times are often unbearable – it takes 30 seconds to get from the title screen to the main menu. There’s also an annoying bug that causes player’s silhouettes to turn neon pink, resulting in teams of soldier-shaped pink blobs running around. It makes it quite easy to spot the enemy team, but also the reverse, resulting in a lot more deaths.
Because of a lack of players, I was unable to even try the Attrition and Rifle Deathmatch modes. The most people I ever saw online was 40 worldwide, average of about 20, and they only played Frontlines. I tried my hand at Squad Defence offline, but random difficulty spikes made it almost impossible to progress past the second wave. The first round consists of about 5-6 enemy soldiers in groups of three, which is pretty easy. However, the second wave consists of 20 or more soldiers as well as constant artillery fire bombarding every part of the map. I don’t think besting it could be possible even with a full squad.
All in all, Verdun: 1914-1918 is a game that promised to be a realistic, authentic WWI experience, but falls well short of the line. Although the Frontlines mode and the squads mechanic can be enjoyable, issues with the controls, design, performance issues and a lack of players lead to an overly frustrating experience that holds this game back from being what should be a good shooter. I only recommend this to WWI enthusiasts who want to know what trench warfare would have been like.