With games like Verdun and Tannenburg, developer/publisher M2H has been carving out a nice niche within the first person shooter genre for itself. Now, together with BlackMill Games, they’re adding a new title to their lineup. Isonzo takes the World War I setting to the Italian front, and we played the PlayStation 5 version for this review.
I don’t remember which film director it was, but I do remember him commenting on why World War I isn’t a great scenario for a good film. How do you make something exciting when the reality is that two armies lose or gain very little ground over a long period of time? It’s probably part of why the daring operations and pushes of World War II are much more prevalent in popular culture, and why few videogames have tackled it. Battlefield 1 was an exception though, and M2H has even made a name for themselves with a trio of games: Verdun, Tannenberg and now Isonzo.
Isonzo immediately feels different, because it (to a degree) does away with the trenches and open fields that we normally associate with World War I, with an Italian frontline that has a lot more verticality to it – something that features prominently in the gameplay. M2H doesn’t stray far from what they’re familiar with on that front though – Isonzo, like its predecessors, is designed from the ground up for multiplayer battles, even though bot play is also supported.
This also means that the surrounding countryside is much more lush this time around, but you’ll have little time to enjoy it. You’ll also notice that the two sides fighting each other are the Italian and Austro-Hungarian armies – two more breaks from the norm, though in a WW I setting it seems like everyone’s fighting with the same classes and weapons, more or less. Classes have unique abilities, but Isonzo isn’t particularly newcomer-friendly in that it doesn’t explain a whole lot about them and you mostly have to learn on the go.
It’s like you’re expected to have played the developer’s previous games and pick up where you left off, and not just in terms of a dedicated tutorial that’s missing. Go online, and it’ll feel like you’re being thrown in at the deep end, at least if you’re a relative newcomer like myself. A single bullet can kill you, and reloading takes what seems like an eternity with rifles that sometimes only hold a single bullet. It’s a change of pace, and online competition clearly shows who’s more used to it than others.
There’s definitely a learning curve here, and once you get more comfortable it’s a lot of fun to call in strikes that feel especially powerful in this setting – one where cover is crucial and where the moments you leave the trenches always feel like you’re walking into certain death. The verticality found on the game’s maps helps in this regard, as having a height advantage over the enemy can make all the difference. You can seek for this on a hilltop, but you can also enter town houses and fire from there.
Although the heart of Isonzo beats online, you can play offline as well, against bots. You’ll find that the AI is rather simple-minded and not thinking much about team tactics of ambushes here, instead just rushing to the next objective – which can be to capture and hold an area or to work on bombs. It’s a nice learning environment though, although the tactic of picking them off by using their predictability doesn’t transfer well to online play. If you struggle on that front, then battles can feel long and drawn out as a result – though I suppose that’s true for many WWI scenarios.
Within the niche of WWI shooters, Isonzo feels like a niche within a niche – with a steep learning curve and unforgiving combat. It’s not going to be for everyone, but those who take to it will find a lot to enjoy. It’s also a good looking game thanks to the new setting – though it doesn’t rise to the heights that the trailers did. If you previously enjoyed some online WWI combat, you’ll want to take a look at this one.