#477: Revolutionary War shooters
Odd as it may seem, they’re out there — but are they any good?
The conventional wisdom, such as it is, when it comes to military shooters (especially the multiplayer ones) has long been that trying to make an FPS out of combat scenarios prior to the end of the first world war (though more realistically the onset of the sequel tends to be the starting point) is essentially dooming players to a relatively unfun experience, particularly the further back you go. After all, the conventional wisdom holds, making players march forward, stand in a line, fire an extremely inaccurate weapon, hope it hits somebody, then spend up to two or three minutes reloading, all while hoping someone doesn’t shoot you or a cannonball doesn’t land on you, doesn’t sound appealing to an audience fed a steady diet of Call of Duty.
And maybe they’re right, but tell that to the weirdos who play games specifically with that exact concept in mind. Yes, they’re out there, and yes, the games exist. (And, in spite of conventional wisdom, it hasn’t stopped game devs from at least trying to bring World War I to the masses with the likes of Battlefield 1 or Necrovision, but that’s neither here nor there.)
Let’s inspect the ranks, shall we?
Initial release: BG1: 2001? / BG2: 2009? / BG3: 2019
Platform: PC (Half-Life 1 mod/Half-Life 2 mod/Stand-alone Source game)
Developer: Battle Grounds Game Development Team
Half-Life modding has a long and storied history. Everyone knows of the success of Counter-Strike (and yes I did slap a Counter-Strike: Global Operations HUD on a Revolutionary War painting up there) — what was once a mod became an overnight success and was picked up by Valve for a standalone release and has seen several iterations for new generations. But it’s not the only mod; hell, it’s not even the only multiplayer mod. There’s plenty out there, from WW2-flavored Day of Defeat (which also got a retail deal) to the sci-fi Natural Selection. But Half-Life also has a small graveyard of mods that haven’t seen as much action as the success of Day of Defeat or Counter-Strike might suggest, like the Vietnam-themed Tour of Duty, the WW1-themed The Trenches, or — you guessed it — The Battle Grounds, a Revolutionary War-themed shooter.
The basic premise is simple. You have two sides, the British and the Colonials, and the goal of the game is to murder the other guys and perform objectives. In the original Half-Life 1 version of this mod there seems to be only one game mode, centering around capturing zones and holding them for as long as possible (akin to the Battlefield games.) Holding a zone (marked by a flag) earns you points; more zones means more points. Simple but effective, and the long, slow reload made for tense moments as you had to hope your fellows would cover you. You had maps ranging from simple battlefields to more complicated little towns, but in general you were expected to try to adhere to the basic principle of 18th century line-firing.
Like a lot of multiplayer Half-Life mods of the day, it saw an update for Half-Life 2, creatively titled The Battle Grounds 2. The basic gameplay remains the same here, but features the addition of a few new gameplay modes as well as an overall updated look. But BG2 was only a stepping stone to the game’s final form: The Battle Grounds III, a full-fledged, free-to-play multiplayer shooter, still in development but available on Steam. While at its core it’s still essentially a gussied-up version of BG2, it’s got a lot of new features, such as an updated HUD and slightly smarter bots. While you’re still not as likely to just be able to hop in and play any time of day — niche games have niche audiences, and small audiences means empty servers — it’s still an excellent option if you’re looking to try something a little different, and people still play the original now and then as well.
Prime & Load: 1776
Initial release: 2020
Developer: Radio Silence Entertainment
If Half-Life mod shenanigans doesn’t seem like your idea of fun, worry not, because Radio Silence Entertainment have brought an Unreal Engine 4-powered take on the concept. This one’s a bit of a weirder one in that it’s in third person by default, but you can switch cameras as you like. However, the basic concept is the same — you and the enemy stand and shoot the bejesus out of each other, slow reloading all the time.
Where Prime & Load 1776 supposedly shines is that it’s got a bot AI that ostensibly can be commanded to stand and shoot, the game essentially being a sort of mini-RTS where you direct fire where you need it. It’s a cool idea, but technical problems and a lack of development doom what might have been a worthy successor to Napoleonic Wars.
Rise of Liberty
Initial release: 2019
Developer: Sandstorm Studios
Say you like the concept of a Revolutionary War shooter, but you don’t have a lot of friends or even a beefy computer. Or maybe you just can’t be arsed to try and find an online server. Well, have I got the game for you: Rise of Liberty is a surprisingly cute little game centered around a blocky, quasi-cartoonish aesthetic and lots and lots of bots. Developed by a guy who mostly cut his teeth in the Total War community, this game is a distillation of the basic concept. Maps are simple, broad expanses of wilderness, the bot AI does its best to line up for shots, combat moves in phases (complete with cavalry charges!) and there’s even a day-night cycle that you can adjust on the fly.
The simplistic graphics are actually a boon; even a modest machine can scale things up to absurd levels, allowing for big battles. Aside from the basic team deathmatch mode, there’s also a siege mode in which you must defend four points from the enemy that comes in increasingly bigger waves.
The AI isn’t brain dead, but it does have a few quirks —for example, when combat turns to melee, units have a tendency to bunch together, which is bad form in any combat situation really. There’s also the fact that night time is extremely dark, but while you can’t see the enemy, they can see you! The game does provide a lantern for you to search your way through the dark, but the AI doesn’t use it.
The more you play, the more options open up, as racking up kills unlocks different equipment, ultimately allowing you to lead cavalry charges yourself on horseback. It’s a fun little game and, I think, if you’re not up for trying to pull together enough people a few rounds of Battle Grounds or whatever this is a pretty good option.
And last but not least, I have to bring up the 1776 American Revolution mod for Mount & Blade: Warband. I didn’t actually play this, so don’t consider this a review (I haven’t played any Mount & Blade game either) but the basic premise of it seems to be, essentially, a Revolutionary War take on the cult favorite RPG. You start by creating your character — and, similar to the second South Park RPG, a rich white dude will have an easier time — and then you have a big open world to explore, you can join up with a faction and participate in battles, the whole thing sounds fun, albeit from my understanding it’s glitchy. Here’s some gameplay footage.
So there you have it. The Revolutionary War, for all its complexities, actually makes for a decent concept for a multiplayer shooter. Who knew muskets could be so fun?