Battle Cry of Freedom Review
War is strange
I’m not quite sure what I expected when I booted up Battle Cry of Freedom for the first time, but what I experienced definitely wasn’t it. After spending a strangely long amount of time creating my character, I loaded into the game’s one active server and spawned alongside about 150 other players dressed in Confederate uniforms. Before I got my bearings, though, some dude in a fancy hat told us to charge towards the enemy team while the internet’s finest scholars started to debate the Russo-Ukrainian War. As I ran, my teammates shouted racial epithets, played disco music through their microphones and tried to organise our attack. Then, as we reached a Union encampment, someone told me to fire my gun. I aimed down my musket’s terrible iron sights, pulled the trigger, and before I could see if I hit anyone, an enemy insulted my mom and cut me in half with a sword.
Battle Cry of Freedom is a strange game. From a gameplay perspective, it's a serious multiplayer-only American Civil War battle simulator. If you’ve played Mount and Blade: Warband - Napoleonic Wars (which developer Flying Squirrel Entertainment also made), you’ll know what to expect with this game. Each round, you load into a massive map as either a Confederate or a Union soldier, and with your team, try to take objectives from the enemy or defend your own. To do that, each time you spawn, you’ll move to be about fifty metres away from your enemies, fire your single blackpowder gun’s shot, and then charge into an all-out melee until you’re killed. If you somehow survive, you’ll spend twenty seconds reloading your gun before you repeat the process, and if you die, you’ll simply respawn and rejoin your team.
Just like in Mount and Blade’s 2012 DLC (or the more recent Holdfast: Nations at War) this gameplay loop isn’t for everyone, nor is the actual quality of the game. Battle Cry of Freedom doesn’t play like a game released in 2022; the shooting isn’t particularly satisfying, the animations aren’t great, the graphics leave a bit to be desired and there’s an unsurprising amount of downtime each round. All these things mean that fans of Call of Duty, or even Squad, likely won’t have a good time with this title.
But, if you’re willing to put up with the aforementioned gameplay loop and some janky combat, the overall experience of Battle Cry of Freedom is genuinely remarkable because it makes you feel like you’re actually in an 1800’s battle. There aren’t words to describe just how cool it is to fight alongside a couple of hundred other human players in a public multiplayer match against a similar number of enemies. Every match of Battle Cry of Freedom is almost surreal because everyone you’re playing with is a live human being. When you hear cannons fire overhead or a distant gunshot, you’ll know that it's coming from a virtual gun fired by a real person, and this ensures that the individual firefights you’ll often experience feel about as real as games can get.
This is amplified, too, by the developer’s genius inclusion of proximity voice chat. Unlike in other games, you can hear both your enemies and your friends talking in real time through the game, which adds to immersion in ways that shouldn’t be possible. When the enemy team decides to charge, for example, you’re able to hear their battle cries in the same way that you’ll listen to your own team preparing to be attacked. This leads to an almost constant stream of moments that are only possible in Battle Cry of Freedom (or the other limited pool of titles that lets you communicate with your enemies over voice chat).
It’s worth noting that what makes this such a great feature, and what makes Battle Cry of Freedom a strange game, is that these moments aren’t always serious. In a game that’s focused on showcasing the brutality of pre-modern combat, their community is surprisingly relaxed and open to joking around. While there is, admittedly, a fair amount of racism because of the game’s setting, most of the people you'll talk and play with are genuinely great. In the middle of a battle, for example, a player may try to surrender to you, or you yourself may be welcomed with open arms into the enemy’s band provided you arrange the unofficial arrangement over voice chat.
Moments like these, when combined with large scale battles, make Battle Cry of Freedom a unique experience, and this is only amplified by the game’s insane attention to detail. For reasons unknown, the game has an absurd amount of character customisation. There are over 100 different weapons in the title, as well as scores of clothing options ranging from undershirts to backpacks. While it’s not possible to make your character look overtly unrealistic, it’s hard to get bored in the game when you can always change out your virtual shoes, or more importantly, enjoy the game’s plethora of available maps.
But for as interesting and fun as all of this is, Battle Cry of Freedom has one major problem that needs to be addressed: its player count. For everything that the title does right, it has an average of 206.6 players over the past 30 days, according to SteamCharts. In our experience, this means that there’s about one 200-player server active at any given time, and while you can join one of the game’s clans that holds massive organised battles regularly, you still may find it difficult to find a server if you aren’t an American or EU player.
However, assuming you can, Battle Cry of Freedom is a unique and enjoyable experience. While its gameplay is a bit janky and its animations aren’t great, the title’s multi-hundred player battles with proximity voice chat are surreal to play. The game offers so many strange but fun moments, so much character customisation and has such an attention to detail that it’s hard not to recommend the title as long as you’re willing to deal with difficulties finding a match.
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