You’ve got hell all over yourself.
Crossing through the Ardennes forest a troop of six, the only sounds are the slow crunches of twigs and soil and those are barely heard under the slow rumble of the tank. It’s a clear day save for a handful of clouds that do little more than add a picturesque quality to the devastated landscape. It’s at this moment of misplaced serenity that you hear the rocket before it lands, sounding almost like a plane going down, the missile connects directly with the tank, the impact not enough to breach the vehicle as the explosion bursts outwards. The zooming sound of a bullet flies across your speakers, and the forest bursts to life under an orchestra of gunfire.
That’s how things played out in the announcement trailer for Black Matter’s World War Two shooter, Hell Let Loose, painting it as an atmospheric and strategic shooter. The game is now out in the Early Access wilds and while it’s certainly a strategic shooter, that atmosphere and ability to snap from a tense calm to intense gunfights hasn’t quite managed to find its way into the game just yet.
It’s good then that Hell Let Loose manages to hold its own in the foundations of its game. We may have had a fill of WW2 shooters in recent years but it’s worth keeping in mind that Hell Let Loose has been in development since 2016 and while we’ve had the like of Call of Duty World War Two and Battlefield V in that time, Hell Let Loose’s gameplay more than matches those titles in its gameplay and environment.
There’s only a trio of maps available at the moment, taking us to Foy and Ardennes Forest, Normandy’s iconic setting complete with a fortified village, and the Hurtgen Forest. Each map already manages to feel fairly individual to one another, which is no simple task considering they’re all pretty sizeable; the trenches of Normandy and its tight avenues between fields work to create horribly claustrophobic zones that you’re fed into pretty naturally. Similarly, the expansive Ardennes Forest manages to switch from vast woodland that you can use for cover, making it a perfect spot for long-range combat, before breaking off into smaller zones with houses, barns, and that heaving No Man’s Land called The Scar, all of which attract the combat towards them thanks to the different advantages each spot has.
Just how good these maps look will be dependant on your PC; at its highest performance, Hell Let Loose already rivals its contemporaries with its design. Planes soar overhead at times, the trenches are seeping with dank pools of water, and a thin mist hangs in the Ardennes with a sky blotched with colour. It’s great if you’ve got the machine to handle it. If you don’t, the maps are still lovely, though a loss of fidelity mixed with having to deal with 100 players running around does take a toll on your experience with Hell Let Loose.
Gameplay is limited to a single match type at the moment, as you fight it out in 50 v 50 matches to take over enemy territory either as the United States as German forces. It’s a simple match type made complicated thanks to the weaving maps and emphasis on teamwork. Roles in the game are similar to other tactical shooters, having squads of players take up roles as commanders while nearly every other infantry or armour has some role to play in creating a harmonious squad. It’s gameplay that can make the game feel daunting to new players but once you get the hang of these extra roles, which include spotting enemies of structures with binoculars, building spawn points on the field, and working as part of a tank team, that basic teamwork becomes pretty seamless, letting you get on with all the shooty goodness you want.
Along with that teamwork, Hell Let Loose’s sprawling maps mean that strategic thought and movement are pretty key. You won’t get far from bursting ahead of your squad and into an open field – unless your objective was to get killed immediately. Instead, you’ll be checking your map every now and again, using it to judge your immediate surrounding and figuring out whether you can flank your opponents or, if you’re under fire, to see how far away any ally squads might be. This whole aspect of the game is great once you have the hang of it but initially, it can feel uncomfortably alien if you’re coming in from more forgiving shooters but knowing when, where, and how you should move in the game adds an incredibly satisfying layer to the game when it comes off.
It’s still early days for Hell Let Loose and it shows in some respects. At the moment, players are fairly erratic at times. It’s difficult to see how Hell Let Loose will be able to deliver that extra layer of atmosphere that starred in the game’s announcement trailer way back when. It’s difficult to see but not impossible. Whether Black Matter is able to deliver on that side of things or not, the foundations for Hell Let Loose are strong and it’s going to be an interesting journey to watch this game continue to develop over the next few months.