Can there be such a thing as a realistic tactical shooter? Can (and should) a videogame, something inherently artificial and digital, ever aspire to be as true to life as possible? While most players immerse themselves in fictional realms for escapist entertainment, there is a smaller, vocal subsection that loves true-to-life simulations, especially when it comes to military shooters. The ArmA series reigns supreme in that sense, but there are other competitors like the Operation Flashpoint franchise, the SWAT games, or anything with Tom Clancy branding.
A more recent multiplayer-only game, SQUAD, developed and self-published by Canadian studio Offworld Industries, snuck onto Steam’s Early Access page back in 2015 before fully releasing in 2020. “Communicate. Coordinate. Conquer” is their tagline, immediately putting an emphasis on communication. Through the use of radios, radial menus with pre-set messages, and proximity chats, staying in touch with squad leaders and fellow teammates is the best way to score a win. After all, SQUAD is not a typical small-scale shooter, but rather an ambitious fifty-versus-fifty battlefield with multiple vehicles and a variety of outposts to conquer.
The idea that “bigger is better” is seldom proven correct, and that is unfortunately one of SQUAD’s biggest issues. As intriguing as the idea of fighting alongside dozens of people may be, the actual gameplay is far less exciting. Entering a vehicle is mandatory to travel long distances in a short amount of time, making navigation a genuine chore if the player is alone on foot. The sprawling nature of the environment makes this feel less like an organic war simulator and more like a battle royale experience, where it takes minutes to get anywhere and the enemy is nearly impossible to detect before receiving a bullet to the head.
The actual gunplay and movement are smoother than something like ArmA III, but sadly there are not many scenarios where a player’s skills and accuracy can be put to the test. This is the unfortunate thing about entering a game like SQUAD a few years after its release, new players are at a complete loss as to how they should behave, while veterans wipe their feet with the corpses of newbies. The lack of an effective tutorial and novice servers (many are advertised as such but are mostly uninhabited) is a strong turnoff, leading to occasionally terrible experiences where teammates turn on each other because there is no clear feeling of growth or improvement.
Such is the fate of tactical shooters. Anyone looking for an enjoyable experience is quickly dismissed by fans and sent to play more action-packed games like Battlefield or Call of Duty. That should not be the case, as many semi-realistic war simulators can lead to fun and memorable memories of struggling in the trenches with fellow soldiers. The World War I–set Verdun, the aforementioned ArmA III, and Hell Let Loose manage to infuse enough crumbs of reality (be it quick deaths or limited accuracy) to make the gameplay challenging but always fair.
Maybe because of its current player base or maybe because of different goals, SQUAD is just not worth experiencing at this point. Serious performance issues, both in terms of hardware and network connectivity, are always a serious hindrance to entertainment. A shame, since the constant updates from the developer are commendable and the game has the groundwork laid out for immersive large-scale combat, yet it never delivers on its premise. In a way, it is better to check out its humble origins as a modification named Project Reality for 2005’s Battlefield 2, which still has some active, welcoming players.
A copy of SQUAD was received for review.