My first foray into first-person shooters with a heavy focus on strategy and mechanics began with the closed beta of Hell Let Loose, a World War II-era shooter developed by Black Matter and published by Team 17. Their project focuses more on tactics and the realistic aspects of firing a gun, more similar in scope to ARMA 3 and America’s Army than to something like Call of Duty.

As someone new to this side of the genre, I can say that Black Matter needs to give the player a lot more help in a number of areas before release.

There are different types of classes you can choose from, such as the Infantryman and Rifleman. Each class has a role to play in the objective-based tasks in the two maps available in the beta. These objectives involve capturing the opposing team’s control points on a map to secure the space, and then moving on to the next area. Think of something like Battlefield’s Domination mode, but remove the player’s ability to do parkour over tanks.

There’s also the role of the commander, who does not have a presence on the battlefield, but instead marks points on the map in order to lead a team to victory. They only play via the map, and it brings a real-time strategy element to the process.

One of the locations is Hurtgen Forest, which has a lot of shredded and downed lumber for players to take cover behind, and causes limited visibility of the opposing forces. The second map is Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, which takes place in France and has wide-open areas for both long range players and tank forces to take advantage of.

While fiddling around with control sensitivity, I found that it plays slower than the more recent type of FPS that might involve parkour or frenetic movement, but HLL fails to clearly state what each player is allowed to do with the class they have. For example, I didn’t realize that the Medic can’t place markers on the map like others can, nor did I realize that only one specific class can operate tanks. Without clarity or direction on who does what, it made the experience frustrating. While there’s an option in the main menu with explanations of each class does, it’s not much help when trying to remember my role in the fight.

Hell Let Loose also lacks many features commonly found in other titles, like the fact that I can’t mark someone with a beacon (see: Apex Legends) but must instead rely on using voice chat. It seems dated in an age where I no longer want to speak to strangers on the internet, not to mention that some players who are Deaf or hard of hearing might need other options for accessibility.

There is a text chat functionality, but other players besides myself were rightfully confused on the lack of other communication options. For me, I had a hard time discerning whether or not changing voice chat between my squad and with my entire team made a difference.

Along the same lines, HLL relies on you to spot enemies without a handy visual indicator — it’s something that I don’t mind, but it lacks proper execution here since I have no instant ability to hear them chatting if they also have a microphone. Because of this, I accidentally killed two of teammates — not the game’s fault, but more options might make the experience better.

With a release window of June of this year, I’m still interested to see where Black Matter takes it, as I see a lot of promise with what they’re trying to deliver in terms of large-scale battles and less focus on run-and-gun encounters. However, more needs to be done in terms of communication with a commander, and more info needs to be displayed with regard to how certain functions work in-game. Black Matter isn’t the first developer to create a WWII shooter of this kind, but with some more work, they can really set Hell Let Loose apart from the rest of the competition.

— Michael Baginski

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