Reviewed On: PC
Developer: Modulaatio Games
Publisher: Modulaatio Games
I’ve been running around with my rifle for a while now. Many hours have passed as I’ve ran through the landscape, clutching my precious rifle and shooting whatever unlucky fools happens to get in my way. The problem is that despite all this running, with a rifle no less in case that somehow wasn’t clear, I’m not entirely convinced that I know what’s going on. Underneath the cartoony, and often bland, visuals there’s a surprisingly challenging game here that takes time and patient to master. It’s also incredibly frustrating at times.
The game is pretty bloody bad at introducing its own mechanics, is what I’m getting at here. It’s advisable to read through the developer’s official little online guide at least a few times, but even armed with such knowledge you’re probably going to be a little baffled at first. On the 8th of April, some time after the game came out of Early Access, a tutorial was finally added, but it’s a bit useless. It vaguely clues you into certain aspects of the game, but does far from enough. There’s nothing wrong with a game that lets you learn the depth of its mechanics through experience, but that doesn’t excuse a game that fails to communicate the very basics of the gameplay or even simple battlefield information. But if you do manage to stick with the strangely titled Running With Rifles there’s something pretty good game to be found here. So let’s cut to the chase: if you skip down the bottom of this review you’re going to find a recommended stamp sitting there, which is the closest thing I get to scoring a game since I ditched review scores a little while back. Leap headlong into the game and you’ll be dumped onto a vast battlefield, staring down from high up in the sky on a single little soldier, a nameless goon among many, all of whom are entirely disposable. Death here just means respawning as another nameless numpty and entering the fray once again intent on moving the front line forward another few inches on the screen, grabbing one small piece of land at a time. You don’t play as a one-man army or some special forces badass, instead you’re one guy in a huge army, and that means a bullet or two spells horrible, bloody death for you, your allies and the enemy. Despite it’s almost cartoon appearance, then, this is a game that demands you move forward carefully, keep an eye on the surroundings and coordinate with your team. Cover is key. That carefulness extends to other things, too: guns are more accurate if you take your time and fire only a few rounds per burst, for example, so hitting anything at range require patience. Holding down the ALT key lets you walk rather than run, perfect if you need to keep advancing but don’t want to find yourself suddenly swamped. Going crouched makes you more accurate, of course. As for dropping to a prone position it requires serious thought: it’s the most accurate position and lowers your profile massively, making you far harder to hit, but the trade-off is that you can’t turn or react quickly, letting enemies flank you easily.
Singleplayer throws you into Invasion matches, which is a case of simply charging across the map and trying to capture every point in order to claim victory. Sections of the map can be captured by simply having more troops in position, but the ultimate goal are the bases, although there are secondary targets to take out, too. Along the way you can hop into trucks and even tanks to help you along, plus you can even drag AI troops along with you to form a squad assuming you’ve got a high enough rank to command them. New guns, additional grenades and med-kits can all be gathered from corpses or by smashing up crates in true videogame fashion, and you can either equip them or chuck them in your backpack, a choice that will slow your movement down due to the extra weight. It can be worth lugging gear around, though, because you can always take it back to a friendly armory and exchange it for extra RP points(more on those later) or chuck it into your personal stash for use later on. You can even grab bottles of whiskey and teddy bears that are worth extra.
These singeplayer Invasion battles contain surprisingly robust singeplayer AI that is capable of not only flanking you but also intelligently taking cover and using the varying terrain height to dominate. It’s a shame terrain height can prove more problematic for the player, mind you. Huge hills and valleys are obvious, but there’s a lot of time where it’s hard to accurately judge elevations, and so it’s not particularly uncommon to charge forward, throw yourself on your belly, open fire and watch as your bullets hit dirt while a group of foes simply laugh at you from their elevated position before blasting your head off. That’s not the only thing, either, as you’ll come across a few other battlefield annoyances, too: sometimes you’ll inexplicably be unable to fire over cover, and gear of any kind is a pain to pick up as you have to stand at just the right spot before hitting the correct button, a death sentence in a game like this.
None of that is even a patch on the user interface, mind you. Nothing about the game’s menus and overlay feels natural or intuitive. As you run around the online battlefield there’s plenty of icons, but the vast majority of them are busy telling you where your team-mates are, a muddle of colored helmets floating around the edge of the screen, making it awkward to quickly locate the red crosshairs which indicates where the General reckons you should be heading next. Even the map feels hard to read in a quick glance, while moving equipment around from armory to your person and such feels badly designed. Rarely will you ever feel like you have a handle on what’s going on. Perhaps that’s a deliberate design choice to further reinforce the feeling that you’re just a lone soldier stuck in a field of chaos with little idea of the big picture, but that doesn’t stop it feeling annoying in a game that asks for teamwork. Although it’s almost easy to miss there are RPG elements bolted on to Running with Rifles. Experience is simple enough, garnered by shooting everyone not wearing your team’s colors in the face, capturing objectives and doing general soldiery stuff. Your experience determines your rank, and that in turn determines what weapons you’re allowed to wield. RP points, which I’m just assuming stands for Resource Points, are considerably more confusing because the game never actually explains how you get them, and thus while battling across the many fields of blood RP points will be earned seemingly at random, including on my own gruesome death on several occasions. But the important thing is that RP is used to purchase new gear from the armory, like a shiny sniper rifle, and even launch small airstrikes. The major catch is that being killed loses you both XP and RP, so if you’re simply having a bad night or a streak of terrible luck you can find yourself demoted rather quickly and unable to use anything more than basic weapons.
There’s quite a lot of stuff to get access to, really. With enough points you can call in airstrikes, set up mortars, get heavy machine gun emplacements and even throw down sandbags for extra cover. A coordinated team can set up defended positions, artillery barrages and quick vehicle strikes.
Multiplayer is where it’s really at. The AI, as mentioned, is damn impressive at times, but even it can’t cover up the repetition that you begin to feel in the singleplayer campaign. Online, though, is a different story, a place to do battle with up to 61 other players across the vast fields of death. It is, to put it in simplest terms, bloody good fun to just charge around and try to make a difference in a huge fight. It evokes Battlefield in a way, the sense of being one little cog in a massive machine of war, both important and yet not all at the same time. Dodgy connections can be a pain in the butt, mind you, and thus far the developers have been purely blaming ISPs for the problems, but I’m not convinced that the netcode isn’t at least to partially blame. It’s not enough to derail your fun, though. It becomes even better playing the PvE with a team willing to communicate as the game allows plenty of opportunity for teamwork through its mechanics. A team that doesn’t work together will find themselves struggling to handle the impressive enemy AI. In one memorable match my team created a frontline of heavy machine guns and began laying down a barrage of fire that held the enemy in place while other members of the team began to launch flanking raids. My own role was to happily stride up and down behind the line of machine guns delivering as rousing speech, because you know, why not?
It really does all come back to that AI. Because it’s so strong and manages to challenge you, as a good AI should, your team needs to keep it together. Spawn trucks and armory trucks need to be kept near the frontlines, machine guns and sandbags need to be placed in smart spots, snipers have to do their job, flanking moves organised and executed, and mortar positions set up. You can muddle by with a force intent on mostly doing their own thing, but this is really a game where teamwork is important. The artificial intelligence isn’t perfect, though, it does have to be said. It’s usually great, but there will be the occasional moment when half your army seems to wander off to deal with three flanking enemies, or you notice a lack of focus, or troops just seem to wander haplessly into the field of fire. These small hiccups are only so noticeable because of how proficient the AI is the rest of the time, however.
There is one odd thing about the multiplayer worth talking about, and it’s not even a gameplay mechanic. Venture into the server and you’ll be greeted with a screen which includes username and password boxes, immediately making you think that every single server is protected. That’s not actually the case; you can enter any username and password you want, and those will be used to save your progress on that specific server. The fact that this isn’t very clearly explained is a perfect example of how the developers struggle to communicate their own game to players. Furthermore if you want to host your own server be prepared to do some port forwarding. Not a massive issue, but something that could catch a few people off.
The biggest frustration to be found in the multiplayer arguably isn’t even its fault. A lot of the time when you leap into a server you find both sides locked in a stalemate, neither side able to really make any progress, be it against another human team or just the AI. I’ve now fought in numerous battles where even after two hours of solid play not progress was made. Again, though, that’s something of a testament to the AI – they are able to bring a human team to a standstill without it feeling somehow unfair or unbalanced. Human teams reaching a stalemate happens a lot, too.
The graphics are simple and kind of nice in a completely forgettable way. They are serviceable with some decent audio effects backing them up, but this is far from a visually impressive game. The tight budget origins are very visible, but it gets away with it. In some ways this clean and simple style makes it worse that the game is so bad at conveying information through its own UI, though.
While there are elements of the game, namely the clumsy user interface and inability to communicate gameplay mechanics properly, that indicate it was either too early to push the game out of Early Access or that the developers are lacking a little experience this is still a hugely worthwhile and fun shooter. Once you’ve got a handle on its mechanics and figured out how to really make a difference Running with Rifles really is a great game with both enjoyable singleplayer and a pretty awesome multiplayer. Get some friends in there too and you’ve got something special. With the developers still working on the game let’s just hope those flaws can be patched up.