‘Hell Let Loose’ review: a gritty WW2 gem for hardcore shooter fans

A challenging - but vastly enjoyable - hardcore shooter

Let’s get it out of the way: Hell Let Loose is brutal. There are certain multiplayer games that demand patience – and a hint of masochism – to really get into. Some – like League Of Legends, like Starcraft – have a near-vertical learning curve more suitable for mountaineers than gamers.

The trick to making these games work is that players must be rewarded for reaching the peak of this learning curve. Whether it’s with a physical rank to show off or the giddy feeling of successfully using a hard-learned maneuver, players need to get *something* for putting in hours of pain.

Luckily, Hell Let Loose gets this.

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I’d spent hours struggling – and dying – to get the hang of the game. I was spending significant amounts of time running to the front line, only to get shot from seemingly nowhere before reaching it.

My cover would often prove useless, as countless artillery shells – designed, seemingly, by some of World War II’s greatest scientists to ensure they reach me specifically – would hone in, quickly turning me into nothing more than a gory splash of miffed red. Even as I pushed an objective – in the midst of countless teammates – it always felt like a hidden agenda marked me out as a target for a stray bullet.

So imagine my surprise when, a couple of hours later, I realized how much fun I was having.

My squad had slowly pushed up through the muddy fields and ruined countryside of France. Our officer had just made a crack shot on the driver of an enemy transport truck, meaning our stealthy path to the objective – a fairly intact farm – was clear.

Picking off a little resistance, we planted ourselves in the complex, ready to capture it quietly. Within minutes, our carefully planned objective heist started falling apart.

One of us was shot dead by a rifleman from across the field. Second to fall would be our officer, who was killed in a brutal pistol-to-pistol skirmish. Finally, I was picked off by a vigilant tank crew that fired directly into the barn I was hiding. Our push failed, and we caused nothing but minor inconvenience – but I loved every second of our mini Saving Private Ryan, and it shows Hell Let Loose at its explosive, messy, best.

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Hell let loose tanks
Hell Let Loose. Credit: Black Matter Games

When you’ve got the basics under control and you know – roughly – what you’re doing, Hell Let Loose rewards you with one of the best WW2 experiences available in gaming.

Your overall goal is to advance the front line to your enemy’s HQ points across the map. To do so, you capture contested objectives sector-by-sector to gain control and funnel supplies to your commander. The commander then chooses how best to support the players under their command, whether that be with bombing runs, vehicle deployment and plenty more. It’s a great system that Black Matter Games has created, and I was surprised by how well the strategy and FPS elements blended.

Understandably, this adds a complex level of strategy that’s more like Company Of Heroes than any traditional FPS. Capturing an objective means a lot more than just ticking down the numbers, with players fighting tooth and nail to earn tangible support for their fight.

One caveat is that without communication, your team will almost certainly lose. This isn’t something unique to Hell Let Loose, but it does mean that sometimes winning matches simply won’t be achievable if the team doesn’t feel like speaking.

Hell let loose machine gun
Hell Let Loose. Credit: Black Matter Games

The sound design of Hell Let Loose elevates these fights to cinematic levels. You can hear the path of every flying bullet, and being suppressed by heavy fire sounds exactly as you’d expect – terrifying. The splutter of an oily plane engine quickly becomes a cue to dive for cover, while nearby explosions are so impressive they keep you in a near-constant state of “holy shit, I survived that?” (assuming you did).

Similarly, guns feel great to handle – it’s always a satisfying moment to see an enemy go down within the first bullet or two.

While the going was hard – and it still is, there are long periods of time where I feel like I’m doing nothing – Hell Let Loose is a completely different beast when you are working towards a goal. I found that I was much more successful – and in turn, having more fun – when I just focused on following people who knew what they were doing.

This leads me to something else that plays a big part of the game – the community. Hardcore shooter communities can often get a bad rap for coming across as unwelcoming or inaccessible to newer players, but I never felt that this was the case with Hell Let Loose.

Hell Let Loose gun fight
Hell Let Loose. Credit: Black Matter Games

In every match I played, the community was helpful and patient with new players. In one case where our team had no commander, one individual – who had no experience in playing the role – was gently encouraged by officers to give it a shot, all of whom said they would be happy to explain the role as they went.

In general, the community shone in every aspect. When you’re pinned in the cobbled streets of Carentan fighting alley to alley, hearing the proximity-based voice comms of your team brings the situation to life remarkably well. People get really caught up in the moment, and from these frenetic moments of chaos come genuine feelings of camaraderie.

The future for Hell Let Loose is bright – the Stalingrad and Kursk maps included in the Eastern Front launch update are just as atmospheric and absorbing as the rest – but I’d really like to see a little more done to help beginners find their footing in the game.

I stuck with hours of frustration because I have some experience in the genre and was somewhat expecting it, but not everyone will have the same patience for the initial meat grinder that is being killed from afar. Even though I was enjoying so many other things, it’s really demoralizing when your respawn timer is sometimes longer than your lifespan.

The game already delivers on so many fronts, so it’s my hope that more is done to help people understand the game a little better and show how climbing that first steep learning curve isn’t as impossible as it first seems. Perhaps a more in-depth tutorial, maybe with a community-led mentoring system? I don’t know – and hey, maybe I just suck at these games. That’s why although I’d wholeheartedly recommend Hell Let Loose in a heartbeat to fans of more complex shooters (here’s the Steam page), I’d perhaps hesitate before doing the same for casual fans.

Hell Let Loose is in Early Access on Steam now, with the full release coming on July 27. We played the 1.0 content at a pre-launch event and our score reflects all content included in the PC release. Hell Let Loose is coming to Xbox Series X|S and PlayStation 5 later this year.

The Verdict

Despite a very challenging start to the game, Hell Let Loose delivers a near-unparalleled experience as a gritty, hardcore WW2 shooter. With a deep layer of big-picture strategy and maps that perfectly capture the devastation of war, there are few games in the genre that bring so much to the blood-soaked table.

Pros

  • The maps and environment offer some of the best ever depictions of WW2
  • Sound design is great, and does a lot for immersing you in combat
  • Complex layers of strategy separate Hell Let Loose from most other shooters

Cons

  • Despite a helpful community, this game is by no means beginner-friendly
  • Lack of communication can sink a match
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