My time with Verdun on the PS4 has been one of the most surprising and gratifying online experiences I’ve had in quite some time. A squad-based multiplayer shooter from Dutch studio Blackmail games, Verdun attempts to turn the modern shooter formula on its head; opting for slow, strategic movement and shooting that sets it apart from its contemporaries. It certainly won’t be for everyone, but those willing to stick with it should find an engrossing multiplayer experience unlike anything else on the console market.
Verdun has the distinction of being the first World War I shooter I have ever played, while also boasting one of the best depictions of war in a video game. Whereas Call of Duty and Battlefield are known for their tight, full-throttle gameplay, Verdun comes with a certain clunkiness about it. Aiming down sights isn’t an instantaneous affair while throwing grenades takes a few seconds more than the average run-and-gun shooter. But the beauty of Verdun lies within how these design choices are leveraged to make the moment-to-moment gameplay as tense and satisfying as possible. Every weapon can kill in one hit. There are no health packs or healers like in Overwatch; players are fragile and will go down quickly if they’re not careful. This makes the shooting that much more satisfying when you land a hit, and that much more nerve-wracking when you miss—leaving yourself completely vulnerable when reloading..
The game wastes no time in getting players right into the action. After a brisk tutorial, players are whisked into a lobby of their choice to begin gaming. There is no single player component and only four game modes, so those looking for a Call of Duty-esque smorgasbord of gameplay experiences might be better off looking elsewhere. Even of the four modes available, two of them are standard Free-for-all and Team Deathmatch, with another being dedicated to wave-based co-op defense. While all of these are fun in their own right, the main attraction here is Verdun‘s unique “Frontlines” mode, where teams take turns attacking and defending their respective trenches, vying to get a foothold and push the enemy line back. It’s an intense and immersive affair, and is absolutely Verdun‘s main selling point.
Once inside a match, Verdun‘s audio presentation immediately shines. Little audio touches such as the heavy breathing from the inside of a gas mask, or even the screams of pain from a distant teammate, work wonders to drive home the brutality of open conflict. Even the guns themselves have a realistic pop to them. There is definitely a reason I spent most of my time with Verdun wearing headphones.
The graphics are where Verdun begins to lose a bit of its luster, however. While guns, character animations and a lot of the interiors look acceptable, once players being to venture into the wide open spaces of No Man’s Land, things begin to look a bit polygonal. Some maps cover up this better than others by adding grass and trees, but coupled with a fair amount of pop in, it’s evident that this is a $20 title. Still, I found myself noticing its graphical foibles less and less as I became more immersed in the action at hand. It should also be noted that, despite a full game of around 32 people, frame rates are entirely consistent, and lag was a non-issue. An impressive feat for any independent online title.
Which brings me to the biggest problem Verdun has right now: empty servers. While I was able to play matches across all four game modes, only Frontline was ever played with a full lobby, and even those numbers waned into single digits as the night went on. Verdun is a different kind of shooter to be sure, and I wish it a long and healthy lifespan. But at launch, it’s not looking so hot. If you’re at all interested in Verdun, I would recommend you strike while the iron is hot—with these kinds of player numbers, you won’t be able to wait for a sale to play it.
I initially went into Verdun with low expectations. I didn’t think that an independent Dutch studio I had never heard of would be able to create one of the most unique multiplayer experiences I had played all year—I was wrong. Even in the same weekend as the Battlefield 1 beta rages online, I kept finding myself drawn back to Verdun. Whatever it lacks in modes or graphical polish, it more than makes up for with its engrossing, satisfying mechanics and atmosphere. For shooter fans looking for a change of pace, you really don’t want to miss this one.