It’s been a while since we covered Squad in this website. Recently, we realised that although news about the PvP milsim occasionally make it into our news feed, we never actually wrote about it. It’s time to rectify that.
Squad is a first person multiplayer shooter, launched in 2015 in Early Access where it has been pitting 80 players against each other for years. Borne in 2005 as Battlefield 2’s Project Reality mod, the “military simulation” concept emphasising communication and teamwork made a temporary jump to ArmA 2 and 3 before finally taking the plunge into a proper fully fledged standalone title in 2015.
Unlike most other competitive FPS shooters in the market, which prefer to focus on arcade and more far-flung gimmicky mechanics, Squad aims for pure realism. Soldiers and vehicles are modelled after real life references, people are downed in one or two shots, and loadouts range from barebones stripped assault rifles to three different kinds of coloured smoke grenades. It’s a unique game in the market, feeling very different from similar “hardcore” titles like Insurgency or Rising Storm.
The main USP of Squad comes from its voice chat system, which features up to three different comms channels: Local chat, which can be heard by all team members around you and fades with distance; Squad chat, which can only be heard by squad members no matter where they are in the server; and Command chat, used by Squad Leaders to communicate with each other. This level of compartmentalisation fosters cooperation and eliminates radio chatter, allowing Squad leaders to get info from each other and decide what to pass down to squad members while the rest of the team doesn’t get sidetracked by the conversations of dozens of other users.
I’m a fan of the voice comms system, but I’m less of a fan of the actual gameplay. The game suffers from the Battlefield tendency of “being instantly killed from afar without any clue of where the shot came from”, which is an intensely frustrating experience anytime you are not explicitly okay with it. In order to perform the kind of maneuvers the voice comms system encourage, you need to be able to play in the first place – a very complicated proposition when your plans are cut short 2 minutes after spawning by a random stray bullet.
The one interesting result of that unavoidable random lethality is that often matches devolve into a group of players crouched and prone in areas under fire, slowly trying to push forward and find a way through the enemy’s potshots. It feels very similar to what we expect modern open warfare to be like in Afghanistan or Iraq, but it’s hardly exciting – and the lack of progress can often feel like a waste of time if you are hoping for something a bit more adrenaline focused.
To be completely fair, that is not unique to Squad by any means – Red Orchestra, Verhun, Rising Storm, and any kind of “hardcore” shooter that applies that super short time-to-kill suffers from the same problem. Some see it as a plus, and I admit balancing player experience with high lethality gameplay is a very hard conundrum to solve in PvP multiplayer – but if you like those kinds of games, Squad will get you hooked.
Like all those other games, Squad really benefits from a proper team to shine. Get a good group of soldiers under you – or a squad leader, if you’re not commander material – and the game jumps from an FPS to a soldier simulator. Proper coordination allows you to push through stalemate situations via maneuvering and coordinated fire, and while it does not remove the game’s tendency to have experienced players headshot everyone else from unseen spots, it does increase your chance of having fun.
“What about coop?”, I hear you ask. Well, turns out that in the nearly 4 years since its Early Access release on December 2015, Squad still hasn’t gotten around to providing any PvE options. The only way to experience any sort of coop is via the use of total conversion mods, which isn’t really Squad anymore – <p>one of them is a cheap take on the Starship Troopers movie, taking place in huge desolate maps with almost zero visibility and a very mind-numbing cycle of holding a single area against endless arachnids, while the other is an “Evolve meets Alien: Isolation” PvP mod where 8 players must team up to do a series of tasks in a spaceship before a monster controlled by one player kills them all. Their presentation and gameplay aren’t exactly one of the most exciting ordeals, but that’s the closest Squad comes to catering to the huge PvE coop playerbase out there that made games like Left 4 Dead, Vermintide, and The Division famous.
Lack of coop aside, Squad is a surprisingly well polished game. The graphics and sound design are top notch, and while it lacks basic functionality like loadout customisation, it is steadily churning along – most recently, the game received a big update that added helicopters (including the Mi-24 and the famous UH-60 Black Hawk) to what was so far a ground-only title. The birds are surprisingly smooth to control, fun to use, and feature functionalities like a landing camera and flight panel zoom, but I could find no way to turn my head around the cockpit – an extremely important aspect of any air endeavour.
I look forward to see where Squad will go, and I hope Offworld Industries find the time to add a coop option to this interesting military shooter. Until then, if you are the kind of person who likes games like Battlefield and wish they were more realistic, or likes Red Orchestra but wants a more modern setting, Squad is the (PvP-only) game for you.
About Marcello Perricone
Passionate, handsome, and just a tiny bit cocky, our resident Time Lord loves history, science, and all things that fall from the sky.