As I sat in a virtual foxhole, my heart was racing. Enemy artillery had been pounding my squad’s position for the past ten minutes, I’d just witnessed half my team get wiped out by an enemy helicopter, I was running low on ammo and I really had to pee. I knew that as soon as we got the order to attack the nearby enemy base, I’d immediately get domed by some 11-year-old who took the sniper class and then that I’d have to spend 5 minutes running back to this position from our spawn. But that didn’t matter; what mattered was that I was going to make a difference, that I was going to save some virtual lives. Just as that thought entered my mind, though, someone shouted a terribly accented “rush B” over the radio, and my squad all leapt out of our trench. We sprinted to the enemy’s front line, gunning down the Canadian team’s stragglers with quotes from Team America: World Police coming from our mouths after each bullet fired. Then a nearby friendly tank mistook my squad for people who weren’t wearing sandals, shot its cannon at us, and like that, my virtual war was over. Squad is hell.
Well, actually, Squad is a first-person shooter that’s much in the same vein as Arma. In Squad, you don the army boots (or tactical sandals) of a modern-military soldier (or insurgent) in a near-future conflict set in either not-Russia or not-Afghanistan. You’re given a hyper-realistic handling gun, a health pool that will let you survive exactly zero well-placed shots to your chest and are told by another player to go do military stuff in this multiplayer-only game. Unlike Call of Duty or Battlefield, Squad isn’t about getting the most kills or capturing the most points for your team, it’s about trying to survive what is probably the most realistic depiction of modern conflict this side of an Arma 3 unit.
Across the game’s 20-odd huge maps, of which the game’s community chooses to play exactly three, you engage in stupidly intense mechanised warfare against an enemy team that’s exclusively made up of enemy players. Everyone from the guy who’s running supplies to the enemy commander that’s issuing orders is another player in the game that can be found and killed if your team has the skill. This applies to your team, too, so if you don’t want to get killed, the most important skill you need to master in Squad is communication.
Although there are plenty of games that benefit from having the ability to talk to other people, in Squad, it’s almost a requirement. You can’t win a match just by running off to the nearest objective point and killing everyone there, so in order to survive in the game, you need to communicate with your team both over a digital radio or with local voice chat. Occasionally this presents a frustrating situation wherein you join a server full of people who don’t speak your native tongue or aren’t willing to talk. The vast majority of the time, though, the community is more than willing to have a conversation with you or to issue you orders if you’re willing to follow them. The game’s heavy reliance on talking also frequently leads to situations that are crude but still hilarious, which when combined with the rest of the game’s attitude to conflict, simply can’t be found in any other game.
These situations also happen because of Squad’s phenomenally realistic gunplay. At times it’s frustrating to have to contend with what seems like the most recoil-heavy guns in any video game ever, but what makes this tolerable is that it’s realistic. Regardless of what Insurgency may lead you to think, guns in real life are a massive pain to deal with, and Squad’s depiction of about fifty various small arms capture that feeling perfectly. What makes this so appealing, though, is that it means that every single kill in the game genuinely feels earned. When you charge a building and take out an enemy garrison, you’ll know that it’s because you’re legitimately more skilled than the other team and not because you’re using whatever the latest overpowered gun is.
It’s also worth noting that the pulse-pounding engagements you’ll often find yourself in are only really effective because of how much downtime there is in the game. Presumably just like in real combat, the majority of your time in Squad is spent getting from one objective point to another. It only takes about five minutes from spawning in to get into combat, and you can normally acquire vehicles that’ll make the trip faster, but this is still something that can be annoying for anyone who’s not okay with sitting around in between combat missions.
However, it’s being aware of the fact that you can’t simply respawn that makes combat in Squad so thrilling. Knowing that you can get killed at any time and that you’ll have to wait a few minutes before you can get back into the fray means that you can’t just throw your life away on a whim. When combined with the game’s aforementioned voice chat, realistic-handling weapons and the presence of player-driven vehicles, getting into a fight in Squad is a treat to say the least. It frequently leads to situations like the one that started off this review, and will allow you to take stories away from the game that are a lot more interesting than talking about your chopper gunner in Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War.
This is all made even more enjoyable, though, because of how great the game looks. While you’re moving to objectives, you’ll encounter some downright photo-realistic vistas, and once combat starts, it’s a visual feast. Explosions are downright orgasmic to look at, your rifle kicks up just enough sand to make it satisfying and gun models are generally impressive to look at while running around. The game sounds great, too, with expectedly realistic gunshots that’ll make your in-game character deaf in the middle of a heated gun battle and surprisingly consistent voice quality regardless of what server you play on.
Taken as a whole, then, Squad has some quirks, but if you’re willing to deal with them, it’s an experience to behold. Waiting for a few minutes in between gunfights and all but needing a microphone to play are small prices to pay for what you get in return. Whether you’re leading a suicide charge while listening to a realistically deafening cacophony of gunfire, launching an artillery attack and viewing the fantastic explosions from afar or even just running supplies up to the front lines while chatting with a friend, there’s no other game that offers situations like these with the level of quality that Squad does.
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