By Joseph Luster
PUBLISHER CORNERED RAT SOFTWARE • GENRE SHOOTER • SYSTEM PC • AVAILABLE SUMMER (STEAM EARLY ACCESS)
We may not think too much about the arrival of a new online shooter nowadays, but back when World War II Online first launched in 2001, the concept was still pretty novel. Making it even more unique was the fact that it was among the early massively-multiplayer outings, allowing players to battle in real time in a persistent world alongside other players that were split between the major factions of the war. Developer Cornered Rat Software rereleased the game in 2006 as World War II Online: Battleground Europe, and that’s the title we’ll be getting when it finally makes its way to Valve’s Steam service this summer.
World War II Online won’t launch in the traditional Steam storefront fashion right away. Instead, its debut will be on the Steam Early Access platform, which is mostly in an effort to make the full release go as smoothly as possible. While WWII Online has been around for a whopping 16 years, that also means it has just as many years worth of content to bring along with it to Steam, and the game itself is just one aspect of Cornered Rat Software’s ambitious content roadmap for 2017.
The team behind WWII Online is composed of nearly 50 active contributors, and that says a lot about the amount of work going into getting the Steam release right. Among the bullet points you’ll find on their extensive roadmap are plans for integrated voice communications, improved flight controls, updated legacy artwork and in-game models, and the addition of the Italian soldier to the Axis side. In the case of the latter, the faction will be introduced on a small scale. Italian soldiers will be infantrymen with two to three load-outs that are embedded within the German Army. At the time of this writing their available weapons will include the Italian M1891 Carcano Rifle, Italian Beretta 1938/42 submachine gun, Italian Beretta Model 1934 pistol, and access to Germany’s arsenal of grenades, binoculars, knives, and more.
This is just scratching the surface, so those interested in seeing everything in store will definitely want to check out the official World War II Online website for more details. The team’s main priority is the initial Steam release, with everything else rolling into place while the game is in Early Access.
For those who haven’t played the original, World War II Online is known for its massive half-scale map of Western Europe and its demanding team-based gameplay. Players can take on the role of troops, gunners, pilots, mission leaders, tank commanders, naval destroyer captains, and high commanders within their individual brigades. You can join an existing squad if you want, or create your own with a paid account. Joining a squad isn’t always as simple as just choosing to do so, though. Trying out can be a rigorous process depending on the squad in question, further boosting the intensity and stakes of the campaign. The battles that follow aren’t typical of most first-person action games. There’s a great deal of strategy involved, and taking on necessary, if not entirely glamorous, roles is greatly encouraged.
It may not be reflected in the visuals—at least not when placed side by side with some of today’s graphical powerhouses—but everything from vehicle damage to the ballistic model is heavily rooted in reality. To the best of their abilities, the folks at Cornered Rat Software have implemented and regularly updated the game’s in-game kinetic damage, with around a hundred vehicle models that sport all their essential components and take critical damage accordingly. Fuel tanks can be compromised, damaged flight surfaces can decrease overall performance, and so on. It’s about as historically detailed as can be expected from a game that first came out nearly two decades ago. Ballistic properties that are taken into account include ammunition mass, muzzle velocity, and drag coefficient properties.
The main challenge with World War II Online in 2017 is one that’s wholly unavoidable. When an online shooter has been out and running for this long, you can bet the competition within will be as stiff as can be. The developers have taken measures in the past to deal with the hefty learning curve, primarily in the form of an in-game tutorial system that was introduced back in 2008. There’s not much more that can be done to stop the combination of an already brutal game system and skilled human opponents, so the only real solution is leaping in as boldly as possible and taking a few thousand hits for the squad until you’re good enough to mount some epic online assaults of your own. World War II Online’s introduction to the Steam crowd should bring in some new blood this summer, though, so that might just be the best opportunity for a fresh start.