by Dan Lenois
reviewed on PC
The Great War
Given the longstanding popularity of World War 2 games, it is often refreshing to see a game attempt to redirect attention to the first World War, specifically the battles in and surrounding Italy, as is the case here with Isonzo, developed by M2H and BlackMill Games, and published by the latter. Isonzo aims to provide players with a sense of relatively large-scale combat, boasting a total max capacity of 48 players per match.
While this number is certainly shy of the 64 player template set by industry leaders such as Battlefield, the present allotment of 48 players nevertheless comes across as a reasonable compromise, compared to the also-common 24-player model. The addition of mortars and other environmental factors provide more than ample immersion in other areas of the gameplay.
For those with unreliable internet connections, or a preference for a more casual in-game experience, Isonzo allows for players to play with and/or against AI bots. While the AI here is prone to occasional pathfinding and spawning/despawning glitches, it remains an overall functional, adequate alternative to online play.
Isonzo's art style pops out at the player, providing a ton of much-needed colour and variety, while also simultaneously ensuring it remains faithful to the real-life source material. Each of the playable maps provide a multitude of opportunities for close-range, mid-range, and long-rage engagement. However, the combination of widespread cover within each map, along with the limited accuracy range of long-range sniper rifles and other weaponry, effectively make it impractical for skilled players to dominate the match via spawn-camping techniques.
Isonzo's greatest stumbling block, as of this current launch version, is its plethora of minor technical issues. Players will likely not have to worry about fatal crashes or other game-breaking instances, but there are many moments where one can see that perhaps a bit more internal testing might have been in order. Endlessly falling through the map is one classic bug that never fails to be amusing, but probably is best avoided where possible. While this can be fixed by swapping teams, assuming the current player balancing allows for a swap, it is not an ideal solution. Given the emphasis that Isonzo puts on player-placed objects such as sandbags and wire, it's a bit puzzling that third-person animations for such actions either haven't been added, or aren't displayed properly. It can be momentarily confusing to see an ally or enemy loitering randomly on an open field, or in the trenches, only to see a placed object appear out of nowhere seconds later.
Objectives within each match are always presented with distinct clarity. The player is never left uncertain as to what win conditions their team needs to fulfil by the end of the match. This transparency is at complete odds with the deliberately-chaotic nature of combat. While the use of voice or text communication isn't an absolute must, (although it is certainly ideal) falling in line with your team's coordinated pushes can often prove critical in capturing or obtaining any marked point of interest.
Moving across the lines
Map navigation is occasionally complicated by the overabundant use of invisible walls. If a player stays beyond the vaguely-defined map limit, in any direction, an on-screen countdown will appear, indicating that if the player does not return to the battlefield, they'll be shot immediately for desertion. While obstructions like these can be a necessary evil, here they feel overabundant.
The basic multi-lane map design approach here in Isonzo works for the most part. However, the inability to run in or out of most buildings through side doors or entrances, even when most structures present both as seemingly-viable options, does break the immersion factor slightly. On a similar note, there doesn't seem to be enough support for side flanking on most maps. The intention is likely to keep each team fight at least semi-coordinated, rather than it being every man for himself, but again, the conflict between seeming realism and gameplay rears its head again. This is also reflected in the decision not to feature vehicles, and limit the use of shelling and mounted guns. While the specific focus on infantry pushes is always fun, It'd be nice to enhance the chaos a little bit with some added flavour.
Other systems suffer from similar quality-of-life issues. Distinguishing friend from foe can occasionally range from being merely difficult to nigh impossible, as the friendly overhead dot that indicates a friendly soldier does not consistently appear over allies' heads, and neither are enemies similarly marked. While one could argue this confusion reflects the realism of war, and begets questions of relative morality and shared humanity, there does come a point where realism has to be tossed aside in favour of what makes sense strictly from a gameplay perspective.
Room for improvement
Isonzo may find itself somewhat hampered by its many technical shortcomings and modest amount of in-game content, such as the limited size of its current map pool, but with a bit of post-launch patching, and a commitment to continued content updates, Isonzo’s greatest days may hopefully lay ahead.
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Distinct visual style, Lots of attention-to-detail, Well-balanced multi-lane design
Not enough day 1 content, Tons of bugs & QoL issues, Invisible walls need to go