Why I Play: Black Matter’s shooter Hell Let Loose scratches my RTS itch


I’ve been playing multiplayer shooters since I discovered DOOM 2’s dialup modem DOS commands, and it’s a genre I find myself returning to every so often. Despite the sometimes toxic reputation of PvP shooters, there’s no denying that they’ve come a long way since the days of one-on-one deathmatch.

Most recently, I’ve stumbled upon WWII squad combat simulator Hell Let Loose and have been attempting to learn the ropes by diving into the furious 50 vs 50 action. Hell Let Loose borrows many mechanics from other squad-based combat games like Battlefield, but it aspires to showcase a more realistic representation of war. In doing so, it makes things both more interesting and more difficult to learn.

For example, whereas games like Call of Duty show grenade or enemy indicators, no such cues exist in Hell Let Loose. Players must learn to attune their eyes to the slightest pixel variation to indicate enemy infantry movement or hurled projectiles. As if that weren’t enough, friendly fire is also a thing. No more chucking a frag grenade indiscriminately lest you “accidentally” take out your own squad leader!

One of the first things to strike me about a game is the ambiance. While the human character models in Hell Let Loose are a little janky, the combination of the environmental visuals and sounds does invoke a feeling of danger on all sides when you’re doing things like charging into Normandy, taking cover in trenches, or crawling through a muddy wheat field. As a repeat viewer of the Band of Brothers WWII mini-series, I can appreciate the detail put into maps like Utah Beach and Carentan. The terror of hearing a bombing run get closer and closer (especially when you can’t tell which way it’s coming from) is unmatched. Hearing machine gun bullets whiz past and strike nearby posts and foliage will certainly inspire a player to quickly take cover, while the suppression effect of that same fire makes it difficult to do so.

Despite the inarguable shooter skills of some Hell Let Loose players, it’s challenging for a single infantryman to capture an objective solo. That’s presumably why the game is designed with a hierarchical command structure that includes built-in communication channels specific to teams and squads. Each squad consists of up to six players and is limited to a certain number of roles. For example, only one machine gunner is allowed per squad. The squad leader can communicate with members of his/her squad to organize objectives and receive intel from the field. The squad leader can also communicate laterally with all other squad leaders and with the overall field commander to share intel and receive squad orders.

The commander’s main duty is to pay attention to the map and order squads into position, while also providing support and requesting supply deliveries and construction of garrisons (large spawn points). For example, the field commander might order the Hotel and Dog squads to defend the last captured objective, while sending all other squads racing toward the next capture point. Real-time verbal information is vital for squads to be able to react to battlefield conditions, so expect teammates to be frustrated if you show up to the game without a mic.

The original conception of the Hell Let Loose was a “shooter with real-time-strategy tendencies,” and nowhere is the RTS element more apparent than when playing one of these leadership roles. Unlike other online shooters that give weight to the number of kills/deaths for a single player or group of players, here those statistics are largely irrelevant in a match of Hell Let Loose. Since the objectives are map-based, the most important job in the game is building and protecting spawn points (for your team) and finding/destroying spawn points of the opposing team. The team that controls the spawn points will eventually control the map objectives as waves of infantry will slowly overwhelm those who must run further after a re-spawn. Thus, the strategic placement and protection of these points (called outposts and garrisons) is vital to the overall success of the mission. Player kill stats are taken into account for individual XP and accolades but are largely unimportant in the completion of the overall objectives.

Several combat roles are available in Hell Let Loose, some more specialized than others. Most are focused on individual squad support instead of on large-scale map positions. Riflemen are the rank-and-file who can hit enemies at range or in close-quarters. Automatic riflemen are much the same but use automatic rifles with a higher rate of fire that are more difficult to control. Machine gunners can lay down suppressing fire for friendly troops, making it more difficult for enemies to halt an advance. Medics can revive downed allies, provided they were not headshot or blown to bits. Engineers use supplies to build nodes that allow the field commander to do important things like call in airstrikes. They can also build defensive fortifications like barbed wire fences to slow down the enemy charge. The support class is concerned with the logistics of moving supplies around the map, which are required for building the all-important spawn points as well as other engineering nodes.

All of these classes should be working together and at the direction of high command in order to organize a successful match campaign.

Besides standard infantry, there are a few specialty classes that are limited because of the overall influence they can have on a match: snipers and tank crews. I’ve played tank gunner a few times in Hell Let Loose, and it is an incredibly fun experience. Unfortunately, the tank also requires a driver, which seems much less fun considering how likely these lumbering beasts are to get stuck in the strangest places on the map terrain. As far as sniper goes, I’ve seen some nice YouTube videos of HLL snipers picking off one infantry after another, but I have never tried the class myself. I’m a little wary of monopolizing an important class slot with my legendarily bad shooting.

Overall, I’m finding Hell Let Loose an enjoyable game. It’s not the best shooter out there, but the more strategic aspects of the game are enough to keep my mind engaged. The class variation provides more gameplay variety than the common twitchy FPS experience, and the required coordination of not only squad members but entire squads results in a true 50v50 PvP experience that is somewhat unique to the genre. Throw in the realistic WWII-era battle maps, and Hell Let Loose is a game that offers a little something for everyone.

There’s an MMO born every day, and every game is someone’s favorite. Why I Play is the column in which the Massively OP staff members kick back and reminisce about all their favorite MMOs. Whether it’s the new hotness or an old fan favorite loaded with nostalgia, each title we cover here tugs at our heartstrings and keeps us coming back for more.
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