Guest Author: This article was written by guest contributor Andrew Struska
The majority of shooters on the market fail to turn my crank. Highly competitive, fast-pacing, genre-veteran player bases and persistent toxicity make the skill gap feel insurmountable and the juice not worth the squeeze when a little unwinding in front of a screen is all that’s sought. Hell Let Loose, however, seems poised to address my reservations, offering an experience approachable to shooter newcomers and unique, high-level strategy to those who’ve been around the FPS block before.
Hell Let Loose is a 50v50 shooter in Early Access pitting the Axis against Allies. With shifting frontlines and a host of wartime shoes to step into, matches let players recreate some of World War II’s most notable engagements. Available maps include storming Utah Beach or securing the commune of Sainte-Marie-du-Mont as Allied forces advanced inland, with developer Black Matter aiming to have a total of 10 maps once the game leaves Early Access, and hoping to expand beyond outside the current Western Front scenarios.
The hook that stands Hell Let Loose apart is its role system, letting players choose between 14 classes, each with their own weaknesses and strengths and having them work together on various squads. Beyond the basic infantry roles of rifleman and sniper that are expected in an online shooter, the game offers a wider mechanic variety than could be hoped for in an FPS. This includes leadership roles like the commander and the officer, responsible for managing match strategies and assessing the full battlefield at a given moment, or beastly tank crews bringing the heat.
The game seems to pull off the tightwire act of giving each role a stable and useful place in the meta, not only within a team, but also in the little tweaks of their respective counterparts on the opposing team. Subtle things like the rifleman, the advised entry-level role, on American teams equipped with grenades that have indefinite hold times, while the German M43 “potato mashers” sacrifice time for extended range and little more explosion on delivery. These little touches make the game feel more engaging both in gameplay and immersion.
And immersion is where the game excels. From game maps reconstructed from satellite imagery and archival documents, to period-accurate uniforms and arsenals (no military prototypes or gear deployed after WWII’s active conflicts between 1939-1945 allowed), the commitment to historical accuracy and establishing the setting is obvious on the devs part. Even the mechanics are in on it, with squads taking and giving relative bearings on their compass and game map to coordinate territory gains and utilizing Hell Let Loose’s other standout feature, communication.
The game does not reward teams or players that run in guns blazing. An earned victory requires knowledge of the maps lanes, routes and cover, along with the available time, and achieving those in Hell Let Loose requires communication. Solid communication between the team commander and officers, and officers and their squad, paint a picture of the enemy’s movements and can ultimately make or break securing targets across the map and push back the opposition. Additionally, good communications in the game do even more than ensure wins, they help ensure a good time. A good officer on your squad like any good leader brings out the best in a group, and like with anything in life, you roll the dice of being teamed with a prick on a powertrip.
More often than not though in Hell Let Loose, players in officer roles have a real knack for leadership and it adds a little something extra to sneaking behind enemy lines on a special assignment as you break away from the rest of the allies, just you and your squad.
Besides, orders barked down from seasoned players doesn’t shoot wide of the usual online shooter experience, but it is a less bitter pill to swallow in Hell Let Loose’s tone and setting. If anything, it’s part of the game’s charm, especially when you wind up on a squad that really gets into it, with members responding to the officer as ‘sir.’
While it does become easier the more time is spent in-game, the initial shock of how much there is to learn, from each role’s individual mechanics, to the nuances of moving about the map discreetly, can be overwhelming. Staring at the role options and team menus, with nothing deliberately spelled out to you, it’s easy to seize up before even joining a match.
The development team seems fully aware of the game’s steep learning curve and the need for some form of tutorial in a final version, while also considering options like an “offline range” for training. I can’t help but think a lot of the game’s built-in features could offer solutions as well. For example, the game’s XP system tracks a player’s time in a given role, something useful to assess a person’s relative newness. A newer player could then be assigned to squads with officers formally willing to work with newer players and introduce them to the game’s basics. A sort of official mentorship or “boot camp” program, similar to the fan-driven Adopt-a-Hunter program for Monster Hunter’s most recent main-series release.
The moving parts that make up Hell Let Loose all are up to snuff for an Early Access game. The sound quality serves its purpose when listening for enemy fire and being caught in the middle of a firefight can easily bring to mind soldier stories of just how loud they remember the war being.
Visually the settings and layouts of the game keep you in the moment, while the graphics do have room to be polished, something Black Matter seems to regularly return to as they roll out updates and patches alongside new content and quality of life fixes.
I found loading into battles was hit or miss, usually taking a while, and every so often booting me when the load screen had had enough. There was also a bit more than normal lag, that even cranking down the visual settings didn’t do much to combat.
As the game moves towards an exit from Early Access, the development team really seems committed to giving all the right touches to make the finished product shine. If enough effort is put into making this game just a little easier for people to dip their toes into, it really has achance to be something new and special.
Hell Let Loose is available now in Early Access on Steam.