The FPS is a densely packed genre, so standing out is a must if you want to gain any traction. That's exactly what M2H and Blackmill Games have done with their WW1 Game Series. Following in the footsteps of Verdun and then Tannenberg, Isonzo introduces the Italian front to the series. WW1 games are a little hard to come by, especially when compared to WW2, but there have been a few quality games, most noteworthy of course being Battlefield 1. While it doesn't have the budget or scale of DICE's juggernaut, Isonzo puts in an admirable effort.
The first thing to note is there is no single-player. While maybe somewhat disappointing, it doesn't come as any surprise. Neither Verdun nor Tannenberg had campaigns, so there was never an expectation that Isonzo would include one. This is decidedly a smaller budget, smaller scale affair. Modestly priced at $29.99, the game does in fact provide enough in the way of positives to be worth its price of entry. While there's only one game mode — structured similarly to Battlefield's Rush where you push objectives in sequence — the maps offered are sprawling and interesting. Each of the five maps in the game is split across three "offensives", or regions. You can take part in Mountain War, Strafexpedition, and the 6th Battle of the Isonzo; all locales and battles of significance to the Italian theatre of war.
While the map pool isn't large, the maps are generally dense and offer many opportunities for flanking and outmanoeuvring foes. Just be cautious of popping out of the trenches. Much like with actual conflicts of the era, exposing yourself to an open area practically guarantees death. Especially when the lobby fills at or near the capacity of 40 players. We found the smaller servers were actually a touch more fun, keeping the player count closer to 20. Things were less hectic, but spawn camping was less problematic. When the player count is higher, it won't be an uncommon occurrence to spawn and either die or take damage before even moving. It can be especially frustrating if it happens consecutively, so trying to avoid that at all costs is recommended. You can eliminate this altogether by playing an offline mode featuring all bots, if you prefer.
However, there are benefits to a bigger lobby too. The squad-based systems come more into play and are ultimately one of the game's strongest assets. Coordinating with teammates and using them as spawn buoys are old hat for anyone that's played a Battlefield title, but Isonzo — and the WW1 Game Series in general — includes a few fun wrinkles that up the intrigue.
While there are six classes in the game, all but one have a limit on the number of people that can be playing them at any given time. For instance, the Officer is capped at two, and a good player can make or break the match for their team. If you have an Officer failing to effectively call in airstrikes or mustard gas, things can get out of hand very quickly. This can create huge fluctuations in match times, too. We played matches where cascading momentum finished the match in just a handful of minutes, yet some matches exceeded an hour, especially ones with multiple phases. This fluctuation made things really exciting, as the momentum of a team forcing the other into retreat has real stakes that go beyond the basic tug-of-war you'd expect in most shooters of this kind.
Furthering the significance of momentum is how much harder it is to run and gun. You can't jump around corners spraying machine gun fire like it's Call of Duty. Oh no. Everything is much more methodical, and outside of the occasional — and usually mounted — automatic weapon, everything is drawn out and much slower. There are many mad scrambles running through trenches where you and an enemy combatant will see one another, miss your opening shot, and then panic trying to chamber your next round. It makes things frantic, and rather terrifying. Leaning further into that is the use of mustard gas. Historical significance aside, mustard gas is a well-implemented and generally horrific experience during a match. Seeing that yellow cloud start to expand while hurriedly trying to jam your gas mask on offers a dynamic gameplay element that really elevates the title. The fact that you can't see anyone inside the cloud further adds to the atmosphere.
A further boon for the game is its weapon selection, which includes 16 primaries and nine sidearms, a rather robust roster considering the size of the game. The downside is that many of the bolt-action rifles are more or less indistinguishable from each other. No matter the weapon though, the gunplay feels really good. All of the weapons have a certain heft to them, that makes everything feel slow, but in such a way that it enhances the experience. The controls themselves don't feel awkward so much as the actual weapons being emulated.
Ultimately, the title delivers a solid, if unspectacular experience in most areas, save for one: performance. The game doesn't run particularly well, with screen tear being a very common, near persistent presence no matter which graphics mode you choose. There are many collision problems where you start clipping through walls or objects, and you have to hope someone shoots you or the problem fixes itself. It happened once per match without fail. There are other less important problems, like textures not loading, or not rendering at distance, but generally, the title looks nice. One of the mountainous maps, Dolomiti, is particularly stunning.
Isonzo is a decent game. Solid in many areas, but never one to show off, the title delivers a good gameplay core, and offers it up at a reasonable price. Performance problems aside, good gunplay and interesting maps are enough to make the experience worth it, at least in the short term. A campaign or a large pool of maps could certainly enhance the value of the title, but even without it, you have a lean, satisfying experience that will be especially appealing to anyone with an interest in the First World War.