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Hell Let Loose - title

In a Nutshell

WHAT I LIKE

  • Requires coordinated squad tactics
  • All roles are necessary and useful
  • Discourages running-and-gunning
  • Suppression fire
  • Other players are generally patient & supportive of n00bs!
  • Multi-platform cross-play
  • No micro-transactions or pay-to-win

WHAT I DISLIKE

  • No tutorial or practice mode
  • Hard to spot or recognize enemies
  • Getting stuck on environmental geometry
  • Having to play against PC players who have a mouse

Overall Impression : B for overall design /
D- for teaching how to play
Un-welcoming to beginners, but rewarding if you stick with it

Hell Let Loose - cover

Developer:
Black Matter Party

Publisher:
Team 17

Platforms:
PC (via Steam),
PlayStation 5 < (via retail disc or PSN digital download),
XBox Series X | S (via retail disc or XBox Live digital download).
(< indicates platform I played for review)

MSRP: $40 USD

Original release date:
27 July 2021

Genre:
historic first person online shooter

Player(s):
up to 100-players online

Play time:
2+ hours

ESRB Rating: M (for Mature 17+) for:
Blood and Gore, Violence
MegaBearsFan Parental Rating:
mature audiences only because of:
playing as Nazis

Official site:
www.hellletloose.com

Hell Let Loose is one of the most un-welcoming games for new players that I have ever played -- at least in the modern era of video games since in-game tutorials became common place in the early 2000's. There is no tutorial or practice mode of any kind. For a standard, run-of-the-mill online shooter, that might not be a huge problem. But Hell Let Loose is not your standard, run-of-the-mill online shooter. It's a slower-paced online shooter based heavily around squad tactics, in which death comes quickly from out of nowhere -- especially for players who get isolated from the support of their squad. It requires much greater communication and coordination from players, and it has a complicated role system in which each character class has very specific duties on the field, all of which are required for an army to be successful.

There are various roles, all of which are necessary for victory.

As such, the complete inability to ever be able to learn those roles and how they work is a huge problem! There is a "Field Manual", which explains, in text, the basics of the game and each role. But it's an information overload, and a new player can't really be expected to absorb it all.

There is no tutorial or boot camp,
like in other similar games.

Straight to the front

The developers, Black Matter Party, is a small team, and I know that creating a guided, playable tutorial to explain such a complicated game would not be easy and would require a lot of budget and person-hours to create. Being an exclusively online, multiplayer shooter with no single-player campaign, means that creating A.I. bots for practice is well beyond the scope of the game. But if I could just practice by myself, and be able to freely switch to any role at any time, it would go a long way towards helping to learn the game.

At the very least, the ability to drop myself into an empty offline arena n order to run around, practice each weapon, practice the equipment of each role, and learn the map itself, would be very helpful. That shouldn't be too hard, since a basic offline sandbox mode doesn't require any additional assets, scripting, or A.I. programming. It also probably wouldn't be too hard to drop in some target practice dummies scattered around the arena for me to shoot at, and maybe also some friendly dummies for a medic to practice reviving. I don't see any reason why that wouldn't be doable, even for a small team.

The unfriendliness towards new players likely scares a lot of people away from this game, and its reputation as being un-welcoming to n00bs probably limits the number of players who are willing to even give it a chance, despite the fact that it seems to have garnered mostly favorable critical reviews. This creates a cyclical problem. The low player count means there aren't enough active players to support and maintain beginner servers. Heck, this game is lucky to have more than 2 matches open at any given time. Matches are, thus, dominated by skilled, experienced players, who are able to spot and snipe the less-experienced players from a mile away, before the poor victim has any clue what is going on, or that he or she is even in danger. This makes the game even harder, further pushing away new players, keeping the player-counts small, and further widening the gap between the few dedicated players and the scrubs like me.

Much of my play experience consists of running across fields or forests, and then promptly dying.

Most of my play experience in the first few weeks of play consisted of me running across a field, or through a forest, or into a village, only to be instantly killed by an off-screen opponent. Or if that opponent is on-screen, it's probably just 2 gray pixels off in the gray distance. There's no kill-cam or anything either, so I have no idea who killed me, or where they were. I have no idea what weapon they were using, or whether I was even killed by gunfire or by a grenade Or maybe I stepped on a landmine, or was hit by artillery bombardment or a mortar, or was strafed by a fighter plane. Are those things even in the game? I don't know -- or at least, I didn't know during those early play sessions. If I do get shot, I have no idea what gun my killer was using, whether he was standing, squatting, or prone. Was he was behind cover? Was he was looking down the sights or shooting from the hip? I don't know anything about what killed me.

I think this is part of the design philosophy of the game. The developers want death in this game to come swiftly and feel brutal and indifferent to the player. They don't want to give away enemy sniper positions or other tactical information by showing a dead player where the shot came from. That's fair enough, I guess. But it also means that, in addition to not having a tutorial to learn from, new players aren't even able to learn from our failures. What did that other player do that allowed them to spot and shoot me before I could see him? I have no idea because I know nothing about where he was or how he killed me.

Prepare to spend a lot of time staring at the sky as you lay dying on the battlefield.

Worse yet, the U.I. of Hell Let Loose isn't particularly helpful either. The map (and other U.I. elements) are also really small and hard to read in general. I assume most of the developers were working on PC, sitting a foot from the screen, and not paying any attention to how hard it is to read the screen from across the room. This means that when I'm trying to choose a spawn point, I have no idea where the rest of my squad is, or what spawn point they are spawning in at (unless someone tells us over the chat), or where I otherwise might most be needed. In-game, there's no on-screen indicator for which direction enemy fire is coming from, unless the shot hits me and wounds me, at which point, I can't do anything about it because all I can do is lie there and hope a medic revives me before I bleed out, or I can just die and respawn. Even with a surround sound system, I still can't really hear which direction shots come from. I just have no clue where the threats are until it's already too late and I'm dead.

For a small team, releasing their first major game, scaring away new players like this is not likely to help your game be successful.

Support from other players

It isn't all hopeless though. I was actually surprised to find that the player base for Hell Let Loose is thankfully quite supportive and patient of new players. Or at least, that is the case when you're actually in-game. If you go to forums or Reddit to ask for help or complain about the game being too hard, you'll get a lot of responses amounting to "that's the point. It's supposed to be hard." and other such elitist non-help. You know, the same type of "git gud" mentality that dominated the early days of the Dark Souls community and turned some players away from that game (most notably, Yahtzee Crawshaw of Zero Punctuation fame), before exhaustive wikis existed to get new players up to speed.

New players should use the chat to ask for advice
and get support from squadmates.

But once you're actually in a match, you might be surprised to find that the other players on your team will be much more helpful and supportive than they appear to be in online forums. This is probably a benefit of being a slower-paced, more thoughtful war game compared to the likes of Activision's Call of Duty or EA's Battlefield -- let alone something like Halo --, all of which appeal largely to the "frat bro" gamer crowd. Hell Let Loose takes itself more seriously, and so the players, in turn, take it more seriously as well. The player base is in it to win it, but the expectation that they need to work together means that they are much more likely to work with the struggling players to help teach them the game and elevate their play, which elevates the effectiveness of the entire army.

This is in stark contrast to a game like, Ace Combat 7, in which I was kicked from multi-player match lobbies before the matches even began, simply because I was a level-1 player with starter planes.

My first night with Hell Let Loose, I accidentally entered the game as a squad officer, not knowing that is what I had done, and having no clue how to actually command a squad or use any of the officer's abilities. I crashed and burned in that match with a 2 to 26 kill-to-death ratio. I tried going back into another PS5-only game, now past midnight on the west coast, in the hopes that nobody else would join, and I could just run around, learn the map, and practice the various weapons and tools.

I could only hope that I would be by myself, since I can't find any way on the PS5 version to pick what server I want, chose what map I prefer, or to set up my own game. Does the PC version have any of this functionality?

Early matches saw abysmal kill-to-death ratios along the lines of 2 : 26.

Well, other players did join, and since I was the first player in the match, I was the default squad officer again. But this time, the handful of people who joined my squad went to great pains over the voice chat to try to walk me through how to play the game, and my specific responsibilities and abilities as a squad officer. They never got angry with me, or ran off on their own. We stuck together, and they explained the thought processes and strategies behind what they were doing. My kill-to-death ratio didn't improve much (2 to 18), but I learned a lot and we actually did end up winning the match against the few players on the other side. And I walked out of that match with a better understand of how capturing strategic locations works, and how supplies, garrisons, and spawn points work.

So my recommendation to new players: get on the chat! Communicate with your squad mates and the other players around you. Tell them that this is your first match, and ask them to give you guidance on where to go and what to do. Worst case, they'll give you the cold-shoulder and run off without you. Best case, they'll group up around you, take point, watch your back, explain where they are going, what they are doing, what they want you to do, and tell you exactly where enemies are likely to be. It's still not a tutorial, and you'll still be under live fire. But it's better than jumping into the deep end by yourself and immediately, repeatedly drowning.

Other players explained how to use supply to place outposts and garrisons.

Slow and steady wins the war

I really hope that this game will eventually "click" with me, since it seems like the rare online shooter that I might actually be able to get into and enjoy. So much of its design deliberately discourages solo run-and-gunning and tries to promote slow, methodical, squad-based tactics.

At the individual player level, Hell Let Loose punishes excessive movement. You cannot fire from the hip while sprinting -- let alone aim down the sights. There's also noticeable frames of recovery animation after slowing from a sprint, jumping, going prone, or standing up from prone. This all prevents a player from running around, popping off quick, accurate shots, and then running back behind cover. It also discourages things like bunny-hopping, rapidly alternating between standing, crouching, and prone, and other common movement tricks that online shooter players use to make themselves harder to hit. In fact, I don't think I've ever seen anybody bunny-hopping at all in the time I've spent with the game so far. In fact, the muted colors means that standing still actually provides a considerable amount of camouflage, and running or bouncing around will make you stand out like a neon sign.

Slow and methodical advances from cover to cover will help keep you alive long enough to spot the enemy.

Yes, players do still side-step back and forth in close-quarters combat, and experienced players will still be accurate shooting from the hip while doing so. But broadly speaking, this is one of the rare online shooters that actually should be played slowly, carefully, and methodically, with the player slowly advancing with gun drawn, taking cover, and peeking around corners and over obstacles.

Even so, death can still come swiftly. There doesn't seem to be any bullet-drop in this game, so guns can fire accurately at any range. If you can see the enemy in your sights, your gun can hit him. This makes it far too easy to snipe distant players with any gun in the game, even if they are using cover well. As such, firing from behind sandbags, upstairs building windows, or from within pillboxes does not provide nearly as much protection as it should.

Machine guns can provide suppressing fire.

We band of brothers

At the broader levels of design, the game is built from the ground up for squadmates to stick together and support each other, and for each individual squad to support the other squads. There is a suppression fire mechanic, in which being shot at by multiple enemies (or by a single machine gun) will cause the player's screen to go blurry, movement to become slow and unresponsive, and the character's field of view sways, which makes it hard for the suppressed player to line up an accurate shot at the source of the suppression fire. If this happens, your best bet is to hit the ground or find cover, and wait for your squadmates to provide you with some cover fire of your own. But this suppression fire mechanic means that even players who aren't very good at lining up shots and hitting targets can still be valuable by simply firing in the general vicinity of a known enemy position, as doing so can suppress those enemies and allow your squadmates to advance on their position, or flank them, and pick them off for the kill.

Each squad is a group of up to 6 players, in which one player is the squad's officer. That officer is able to place outposts and garrisons that act as future spawn points for any friendly players. The officer is also expected to be the leader of the squad, giving order over the chat, and using binoculars to spot enemy positions and tag them for other players to attack.

The rest of the squad is divided up between the remaining player roles. In addition to the default, grunt rifleman, there is an assault role equipped with a machine gun useful for close-quarters combat. There is an automatic rifleman, equipped with an automatic rifle that is more useful at longer ranges and for providing suppressing fire. There is a machine-gunner for applying more intense suppressing fire. There are medics, which can bandage fallen teammates to prevent them from bleeding out, which saves manpower, and also spares the other player from having to respawn and run across the massive maps to get back to the front line. There is a support role that can drop supplies used for building spawn points and leaving ammo and bandages for other players. There's an engineer that can build fortifications and place mines. There's also an anti-tank role equipped with a bazooka, which is the only weapon that can destroy enemy tanks.

Medics keep teammates on the front lines, and are essential to pushing into enemy territory.

In addition to those infantry squad roles, there are also smaller dedicated armor and recon squads. The armor squad can operate tanks and other vehicles, and the recon squad consists of a sniper and the sniper's dedicated spotter whose primary weapon is a pair of binoculars.

Each army also has a single "commander" player, who is able to use various resources such as manpower, munitions, and fuel to call in air strikes, deploy tanks, and perform other actions. Manpower is depleted whenever a teammate dies and respawns. This incentivizes players to stick together so that medics can revive fallen teammates and preserve manpower, rather than every player running off on his own and getting killed.

Furthermore, there are limits to how many of each specialized role can be in any given squad or match. The number of tanks is limited to by the resources available, so there might not even be enough tanks on the field for all the tank squads to operate. This means the battlefield isn't swarming with tanks and snipers. It also means that these elite units should be comprised of more veteran players who know what they're doing, so they don't squander their limited resources.

Tank and recon units are highly-specialized units that should be reserved for veteran players.

Within these specialized armor and recon units, squad cooperation and unity is even more important than within the standard infantry units. While a single player can technically operate a tank all by himself by switching between the driver and turret seats, doing so is exceedingly difficult and inefficient. Tanks require all three squad members in order to be effective. The commander should be spotting, identifying targets, and relaying orders to the other 2 players who are driving and operating the turret. Even driving the tank is more complicated than in most other similar online games, since the tank has multiple gears. There's 4 driving gears, a neutral gear, park, and reverse. This means that getting up to speed isn't just a simple matter of holding down the gas, and if the tank rolls into danger, reversing back out of that danger isn't just a button press away.

Even in the regular infantry squads, there are limits on the specialized roles. Each squad can only have one of each non-rifleman role in the squad. This means that the whole battlefield will not be crowded with machine guns running around. The bulk of both forces will be grunt riflemen, most of which will have bolt-action rifles that dramatically limits their firepower.

In principle, I really like this design. One of my big frustrations with games like Battlefield One was, despite the World War I setting, most players were running around shooting fully-automatic machine guns from the hip. It didn't feel like the trademark trench warfare of World War I at all. But Hell Let Loose is a World War II shooter that actually feels more like World War I than Battlefield One did because it limits most players to using bolt-action rifles and emphasizes trench-based warfare.

Most players will be riflemen, equipped with slow bolt-action rifles.

Long-term viability is a concern

Unfortunately, all these specialized units and roles leads back to the initial problem with the game: its higher-than-typical learning curve. Roles like medic, engineer, support, recon spotter, or tank crew might be promising roles for players who aren't as good at lining up shots and killing enemies, and therefore might be good for new players. But the lack of a tutorial will likely scare most new players away from using these specialized roles, and the limits to how many can be in each squad means that another player might chose your desired role before you. New players might find themselves relegated riflemen (or accidentally creating a new squad and making themselves squad officers), and get themselves repeatedly killed. This will lead to frustration, and probably cause them to give up on the game entirely.

And as I mentioned before, less new players getting into the game means smaller lobbies, which means fewer players fighting in these massive, open battlefields, which means less fun and engaging matches for everybody.

Player activity dies off late on weeknights.

Growing pains aside, I am finding myself enjoying Hell Let Loose now that I have more familiarity with it. I prefer the medic role, and as long as my combined kills and revive count meets or exceeds my deaths, I consider it a personal success. So I'm happy with numbers like 3 kills, 12 or so revives, and only 15 deaths in a match. As far as online competitive games go, I still think that Star Wars Squadrons is my current favorite. But in the sub-genre of online first-person military shooters, Hell Let Loose takes the cake for me.

It helps that the game isn't full of exploitative micro-transactions or pay-to-win mechanics of any kind. Yes, you can level up your character and each individual role, and doing so does unlock new equipment loadouts. But these new loadouts aren't necessarily more powerful -- just different options with various trade-offs. In fact, for most roles, I prefer the default loadouts anyway. Other than that, all the other player and role advancement only unlocks superficial avatar customization options, none of which has any direct impact on gameplay -- though different colors of uniforms and helmets might make you more or less visible to opponents.

If you're willing to put up with being miserable during the first few play sessions with the game, and grind through all the seemingly out-of-nowhere deaths, then Hell Let Loose is a surprisingly robust and rewarding historic military shooter. I hope this game performs well enough regarding sales, because I would absolutely play a sequel or buy paid DLC expansion, especially if it offers Pacific theater battles or a World War I setting.

The first DLC added the Soviet Union, perhaps there will be a DLC Japanese faction?

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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