STAFF REVIEW of Isonzo (Xbox One)

Friday, September 16, 2022.
by Adam Dileva

Isonzo Box art Developers Blackmill Games and publisher M2H may not have the largest of game releases out there, but they absolutely know what they excel at and their niche target audience. It’s clear their passion lies within the WWI era, as all of their previous releases took place here as well. Verdun (2015) and Tannenberg (2017) both take place during this time period but within different Theaters of War. The latest in their WWI Game Series is Isonzo, another historical setting from the first World War that took place amongst different backdrops within northern Italy.

While there’s no shortage of World War shooters, what makes this WWI Game Series stand out is its historical accuracy and much slower paced gameplay. Don’t go in expecting to be running-and-gunning. You have to keep in mind the weapon technology at the time, so combat warfare was drastically different than it is today.

Set on the Italian front, Isonzo focuses on a handful of some of the most iconic battles between Italy and the Austro-Hungarian forces. The Italian backdrop makes for some unique battlefields, especially within the Alps or fighting for historic landmarks like the Salcano Bridge, adding much more verticality to the combat as opposed to fighting through a ruined town.

Let’s be clear, Isonzo is meant as an online multiplayer shooter. Yes you can play offline against bots, but there’s no single player campaign of any sorts, so as long as you’re intending to play online, hopefully with some friends, then Isonzo is worth looking at. These games are enjoyed by fans that want a more accurate representation of how warfare was during this time. Historically accurate and authentic, Isonzo will have you battling in numerous offensives within the Southern Front of the War. While all twelve Battles of the Isonzo aren’t included here, they are each varied and unique in its backdrop.

Isonzo doesn’t try and make things confusing by adding a bunch of different modes that may or may not be used, instead focusing on its core, and only, Offensive game mode. Somewhat of a different take on Battlefield’s Conquest, Offensive has an attacking and defending team working on two objectives simultaneously. Objective ‘A’ is where you need to capture a point, where objective ‘B’ is a point where the attackers are trying to set an explosive to destroy the point. If the attackers capture both objective ‘A’ and ‘B’, then the front of the war gets pushed forwards and opens a new portion of the battlefield further behind enemy lines.

Every map is unique, but each push with their own objective points are also all interesting as well, as you need to constantly be working on your attacking or defensive portions. Depending on the map and the section you’re currently fighting in, you might be battling in trenches, bunkers, forests, towns, open fields or even cliffs. Each section and backdrop can dramatically change battles and strategies when playing, as certain portions might be cutoff by barb wire or other barriers.

While there’s only a handful of maps currently included, I will say, these maps are massive. While you only battle in a small sector at a time based on the objectives that have or haven’t been captured and destroyed yet, starting at the beginning of a match until the very last section and you’ll start to understand how large these battlefields really can be.

While the battlefields and landscape is obviously historically accurate, so is the weaponry, air attacks and artillery, outfits, music and even mustaches as well. Cut paths through barb wire, spot enemies with your binoculars, place sandbags or periscopes, drop sniper shields, use multiple paths or tunnels to flank your enemy or storm head on, there’s plenty of different strategies to employ when you face off against other players online.

Isonzo offers six different classes for you to choose from based on historical roles. While you’ll only have access to the starting weapon and equipment, as you level up each class you’ll then unlock more weaponry and gear to further customize your soldier. Each class has its own strengths and specific role in combat, and having a healthy mix of each type will surely help your side succeed in the War.

The six classes in Isonzo might not seem like they differ too much early on, but once you’ve completed some challenges and unlocked their better gear, weapons and perks, you’ll start to notice a more distinct difference. Officers start out with only a pistol but can send directions of where to attack or place arrows on the map for everyone to see. They can also call in air support if there are flares placed, so they are the main support of your team, and only two officers per team are allowed at one time. Riflemen are your core infantry, Assault can eventually get high impact weapons, Mountaineers can spot enemies and mark them for the team to see with their binoculars, Snipers take out targets from afar and Engineers can build weapons and tools used on the battlefield.

Being historically accurate, a single shot can, and usually will, kill you. If not fatal instantly, you may get critically injured, needing to use your bandage kit or have someone else heal you to you don’t bleed out. When working as a team in squads and in tandem with a specific strategy, Isonzo goes from a run-of-the-mill WWI solo shooter to quite a tactical experience that I really couldn’t get enough of as an Officer, calling in artillery barrages or dropping of poisonous mustard gas.

The more you play and better you perform, you’ll level up your overall rank, but the class you're currently playing will also rise in level as well. This is where the specific class challenges come into play and how you unlock new weapons and gear for them. At specific levels you are given special class objectives that, when met, will give you specific rewards, like the new guns or equipment. These are catered for the specific class, like a Mountaineer spotting a specific amount of enemies or an Officer calling in a number of air supports on objectives. These aren’t terribly difficult but doing so allows you to move onto the next challenges once you reach specific levels.

Surprisingly there is crossplay between consoles, but not between console and PC as of now. With plenty of players currently, there’s no issue finding a lobby to play in, though you can setup a custom match with your friends whenever you like, or even have it open to the public. Keep in mind that when playing in custom matches you won’t earn XP progression though.

Developers have already shared their upcoming roadmap of content, including the next three free expansions that will add plenty of content such as new maps, a new faction, more challenges, more custom match options, cosmetics, prestige, new game mode and more. While the core experience may feel a little bare once you’ve gotten used to the classes and played each map dozens of times, this free content coming is a great sign of future support.

Are there bugs and glitches? Sure. Are there times I got stuck in the landscape and had to redeploy? You bet. Did any of that hamper my enjoyment? Not as much as I expected. Isonzo looks and performs leaps and bounds better than their previous two games, which I can only guess is a direct result to their further experience and the latest hardware. Animations are vastly improved from 2017’s Tannenberg, and while the visuals won’t blow you away, some of the backdrops and battlefields are a visual treat to take in, if you aren’t getting shot at from a marksman of course. Weapons sound distinct and it’s not uncommon to hear someone from either team screaming as they take their last breath after being dropped from a lethal shot.

Easily my favorite in the series, Isonzo offers class based and slow paced World War I gameplay that surely takes some getting used to, but is also a very unique experience compared to other shooters in the genre. The verticality of the level design of cliffside battles and unique classes is what keeps me coming back for one more onslaught on the battlefield, even if the map variety is a bit low and only having a single mode can be tiresome at times. While Isonzo may not have the polish and same experience of a top shelf AAA shooter, it’s quite clear to see that it’s a labor of love and passion from a smaller team that aims to bring a historically accurate representation of WWI combat that should appeal to its specific niche audience.

**Isonzo was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 7.3 / 10
Gameplay: 7.5 / 10
Visuals: 7.5 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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