Hell Let Loose review: an intense interpretation of WW2

It’s usually a good sign when, every time I sit down to write a review of a game, I convince myself that I need to play just a little more of it. Not a good sign for my productivity, but of how engaging the game is. Hell Let Loose is one of those games.

Hell Let Loose is a Second World War, multiplayer, first-person shooter – no wait, don’t go! This isn’t some cookie-cutter rehash of Call of Duty. It’s really a very different experience to most other games of this genre. Although having great twitch reflexes and accurate aim are definitely of benefit (I assume), Hell Let Loose rewards teamwork and co-operation above all else. War is a team sport; if you hope to be on the winning side of the 50 v 50 matches, then you all (or at least, most of you) need to be on the same page.

This is the Kickstarted debut game from developers Black Matter, and it has recently been fully released after a couple of years of Steam Early Access. Matches are set across various European battlegrounds, from the Normandy coast to Stalingrad. Each map is large, varied and highly detailed, with terrain ranging from open fields to bombed-out cities. Player-crewed tanks inspire fear in infantry, while Commanders and Officers try to bring order to the chaos of war.

You play as one of three countries, the USA, Russia or Germany (Great Britain is apparently on the subs bench), and there are currently two modes, Warfare and Offensive. Warfare sees the two teams fighting to control five “sectors”. The winner is either whichever succeeds in taking all five sectors, or whichever has the most sectors at the end of the 90 minute timer. Offensive has one team start with five sectors, with the other team needing to capture them all. The attacking team has 30 minutes to take each sector, with the timer resetting each time a sector falls.

As the above suggests, kill/death ratios are not the primary indicator of successful play in Hell Let Loose. To win, you need to be aware of the tactical situation, and work together with your teammates. Sectors have to be taken in sequence, so running deep into enemy lines on your own isn’t terribly helpful. What’s more, there are 14 quite different roles (i.e. player classes), each with their own abilities and loadouts. Picking your role and playing to its strengths is also important. If you’re a Medic, your main role is to revive the incapacitated and patch up the wounded – your K/D numbers are largely irrelevant!

As mentioned above, communication is key to victory. Each team has one player slot for a Commander, whose job it is to decide on overall strategy. They also have unique abilities, including calling in air-strikes, or spawning vehicles. Below them are Officers/Spotters/Tank Commanders, who command squads of varying roles and sizes. Below them are the other player roles, which again are restricted to certain numbers and/or squad types. Fortunately, there are a lot of ways to co-ordinate with your compatriots.

There are three voice chat channels, a Command chat for Commanders and Officers for working out strategy, Squad chat for those in a single Infantry/Recon squad or Tank crew and a local area chat for talking to any teammates in your proximity. There’s also a team-wide text chat as well as a ping system, used for placing markers indicating potential threats.

If all this sounds quite overwhelming, then you’re not wrong. There’s a lot to take on board for new players. Hell Let Loose recommends newbies start out in the Rifleman role. It’s the least specialised and easiest to get to grips with. There’s also a really great, community generated new player guide, which helps to demystify a lot of the terminology you’ll come across. If you can accept that you’ll spend a lot of your early game time being (a) ineffectual and (b) dead, then you’ll find it much easier going.

The short life-expectancy can sometimes be a bit demoralising. This is especially true when your team is losing. Areas which were safe minutes earlier can quickly become overrun – including spawn points. Although respawns don’t take more than 30-40 seconds, there are few things more frustrating than jumping back in only to be mown down a few seconds later.

In my opinion though, the light battering your pride will take is worth the investment. Hell Let Loose feels like something fundamentally fresh in a well-trodden genre. The distinct squad roles mean that players can try out different jobs and see whether they can find a niche they feel comfortable in. Also, switching to a different role gives a very different experience; being a Tank Gunner is completely different to being an Engineer, which is different again to the Sniper role.

It’s also a great-looking game. The environments are highly detailed and well designed. There is sometimes pop-in at longer distances, and I ended up turning motion blur off, although that was partly for tactical reasons as much as anything else. Also, it is a little jarring to see things like tanks passing through low walls and leaving them intact behind, given the amount of immersion otherwise. These are all minor criticisms though, and fundamentally I found the game to be a very smooth, well-polished experience.

The real triumph though is the sound design. The whistle of bullets overhead, the thud of tank fire, and the ear-buggering thunder of incoming bombing runs are really excellent. What’s more, with no kill-cams or instant replays, the audio is often the only hint you have to what ended your most recent life. The abrupt plank of a bullet passing through your helmet hints at an unseen sniper. The aborted whoosh of a Panzerschreck rocket suggests you were stood a bit too close that wall.

All-in-all, I would thoroughly recommend Hell Let Loose. It’s an engaging, well-executed title that is definitely worth the struggle through a relatively daunting first impression. There are plenty of servers to play on, most with their own Discord communities and guidelines. As with any multiplayer game, your experience will be somewhat dictated by the behaviour of other players. But when everyone is pulling in the same(ish) direction, there is a real sense that this game can offer a novel alternative to an FPS landscape still dominated by the Battle Royale formula.

Hell Let Loose was developed by Black Matter and published by Team17, and it’s available on PC.

Disclosure statement: review code for Hell Let Loose was provided by Team17. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.

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