Tactical FPS Isonzo successfully streamlines the Battlefield formula

By Lee Brady,

Isonzo plays like a streamlined, linear, no-frills version of EA’s Battlefield series, and it’s all the better for it. Here are our impressions of developer M2H and publisher Blackmill Games' latest PS5 World War I shooter.

Isonzo on PS5 feels very much like a game from an earlier time and place dressed in the graphical standards of today's modern consoles, and in doing so, it breathes new life into the stale tactical FPS genre. Eschewing the bloat of the latest Battlefield entries, Isonzo instead brings more linear game design back to tactical first-person shooters, making it an easy recommendation for those who have the aptitude.

IsonzoIsonzo gamifies the tactical FPS once more.

Isonzo impressions — a retro-inspired WW1 sim that gives no quarter

Before we get any further into my Isonzo impressions, please accept this confession: I have never been any good at classic tactical FPS games. I have tried time and time again to get into the genre, but there's no getting around the truth — I simply lack the patience for it. I have played umpteen Battlefield games, having fond memories of messing around in the classic 1942, the unsurpassable BF2, the charming 1943, and the gargantuan BF3 — only to inevitably move away from each title as I realised it wasn't good enough to simply run around, shoot things, and more often get shot by things.

My speed has always been in favour of faster games — kill-die-rinse-repeat is the motto of most Call of Duty games beyond the original Modern Warfare — and that flavour has always suited my attention span well. I fell in love with the transparency of games like Overwatch and the spongy levity of Uncharted 2's multiplayer; these are games where the verb 'to wait' only applied to several-second-long stretches, and never upwards of five.

isonzoOfficers, who call most of the shots, are the hardest class to get into — and the most demanding to play. So... that's about right.

Games like Isonzo thrive on coordination, not unlike Overwatch, and impulse control, which is very unlike Overwatch. A friend of mine regales me weekly of his adventures in tactical WW2 FPS Hell Let Loose, and I can only watch his gameplay clips in envy as he holds his position and waits for opportune moments to strike. So, when I had the chance to play Isonzo this week, I unsurprisingly was made to feel my own lack of patience, and as per usual I spent a lot more time dying than fighting on the battlefield.

I confess all this to you now, reader, because despite my utter ineptitude with the genre, you can certainly still enjoy something you are terrible at. I can say quite definitively that I was terrible at Isonzo — the vast majority of Italian or Austro-Hungarian soldiers I commandeered lived futile, meaningless lives and contributed only footprints to the Slovenian valley they fought upon. Yet unlike my latest experience playing a Battlefield game — the generally historically contemporaneous Battlefield 1, as it happens — I was far from bored playing Isonzo.

isonzoNever a dull moment in the mists.

Isonzo strips back the bloat of modern Battlefield games
This is because unlike the bloated mass of the Battlefield series, Isonzo strips the tactical FPS right down to its barest and brightest essentials. Battles are a long, sometimes arduous, back-and-forth tug-o-war where a losing side on one segment of a map might find the terrain favours them on the next segment and ramp up the pressure into a series of crushing victories.

Players fight on generally restrictive planes, marching down or defending any one of, at most, three channels of combat. Traps and obstacles set by the enemy team's engineers force you to weigh up whether you should expend your life cutting barbed wire, after which you and your teammates will be able to move forward more freely — until they're inevitably gunned down by a turret or blown up by descending bombs.

isonzo"FAREWELL, ARMS!"

This more linear, old-school take on tactical FPS is unquestionably one of Isonzo's strengths. The format eliminates downtime — you are always making decisions, most of which are impactful. Should you have more patience than I do, you might even be able to live long enough to see a few of your intricately planned schemes through. Rather than have the map act like some sort of sprawling graveyard filled with individual skirmishes and scarce encounters, Isonzo lays flat all the vertical complexity of a Sonic the Hedgehog level, and challenges you with overcoming an enemy that is absolutely coming for you.

In contrast, in my time with Battlefield 1, I remember banding up with a group of players in a tank and roaming the desert uneventfully for what felt like hours. After long stretches of nothing happening, we would eventually roll up to a nearby objective, clear out a few soldiers, take it, get back in the tank and roll on to the next objective. Walking to objectives instead of driving would take twice as long and be twice as uneventful, and when you were twice as likely to win the fight with a tank — especially since the opponent would likely have their own tank to take down — there really was no incentive to not just stay bored out of your skull in a tank.

isonzoI... don't think I got far enough to unlock this class of steampunk pirates?

Isonzo instead presents players with a terrain that even if the real campaign had involved ground vehicles, it would have been intolerable to drive them in-game. Thus, players march on foot from camp to camp, and this helps to keep the action more immediate, but also more even. Your greatest shortcomings will simply be geographical — if you are marching up a mountainside overseen by enemy bunkers, you can expect a great deal of troops not to make it all the way up on a single push. Those that do might not last long, but if they can unseat a few enemy soldiers, or sabotage a bunkered machine gun, then next time you can expect a lot more troops to make it at least that far.

In this sense, Isonzo feels closer to an esport like Overwatch than you might expect, as there are often genuine strategies at play. Even if half your teammates are brainless meatbags like me, hurling themselves openly and repeatedly at enemy gunfire, all it takes is a few players coordinated enough to call in well-placed airstrikes, layer the occasional zone with mustard gas, and otherwise take their time in scouting out the enemy camp, and a match can still be won.

isonzoBased on a genuine, terrible, bloody tragedy. Yes, that feathered headdress really happened.

When it comes to variety in approach, differentiation of classes, and general feel of gunplay, the hand still goes to the modern Battlefield game. When it comes to nitty-gritty simulation, deep strategy, and complexity, tactical FPS players will likely favour your ARMA IIIs and your Hell Let Looses. However, for those looking for a game that rides that line between no-frills strategic wargaming and snappy, involving FPS action — Isonzo has carved out a groove in the gaming landscape that might be exactly what you're looking for. So long as you have the patience to master it, at any rate.

Isonzo first impressions summary
Isonzo feels like a response to the modern tactical FPS — a reclamation of the genre's glory days on the PC. Its design recalls a time in which developers were not only simply looking to create bigger, more realistic-feeling battle simulators, but were also attempting to inject rules and challenges into their games in the hopes of engaging and entertaining players. Isonzo once more gamifies the realism of the tactical FPS, and in doing so gives even its slower, more strategic moments an esports-like intensity that feels wholly unique, and in many ways more engaging, than the vast majority of its peers.

Lee played Izonzo fearfully for 6 hours while trying not to slip on blood and mud. He collected 0 out of the 45 Isonzo trophies available at that time, which is truly embarrassing and he wishes he could just leave this part out. TrueTrophies received a code for this game via Blackmill Games.

Please note that, at time of writing, four trophies in this game have been flagged as unobtainable. Players will not be able to obtain its platinum trophy Can I Go Home Now? until the game is patched.
Lee Brady
Written by Lee Brady
Staff Writer Lee keeps one eye on the future (Astro Bot), one eye on the past (PS1, PS2, and PS3 games), and his secret third eye on junk he really likes (Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts, Sonic). A PlayStation fan for over 25 years, he loves replaying classic games via PS Plus.
Hide ads
View discussion...
Hide ads