What makes for a great tactical shooter is that it’s got to be equal parts landscape as it is a 3D chess match. Meaning that your setting, pieces, and characters matter just as much as your tactical gameplay. A good tactical shooter captures the art of war. The canvass is in handling the enemy. The painting is in outclassing, maneuvering, and outright outwitting the opponent in executing just when the time is right. This is what Classified: France ’44 does both as a video game and as a depiction of unspoken history.
The Workprint had the privilege of attending an exclusive developer showcase hosted by Team 17 in New York City. There I had the opportunity to preview and speak with James Brooksby, CEO of Absolutely Games.
Classified: France ’44 revolves around the story of a group of allied special forces who bravely parachuted behind enemy lines in Germany. Their mission was to empower courageous resistance groups in Northern France while sabotaging the Germans, all during the decisive days leading up to D-Day and the battle of Normandy.
As the player, you control a small squad of specialists and their actions in-game, and by proxy, their conditions of victory. The decisions you make host far-reaching implications for the outcome of D-Day and the personal narratives of each of your recruited characters. The roster of which changes with every story campaign. It is by intertwining these sketched out depictions of historical events that this revisionist tale allows players to shape the course of history determined by their campaign.
Sharing his personal connection to the genre, CEO James Brooksby knew that this was going to be his next big project stating, “I nearly failed my university degree playing XCOM Terror from the Deep so much. When I founded Absolutely Games just before the pandemic, I knew I wanted to build my own tactical game – one rooted in World War II. However, the crucial decision came down to where and when and who?”
Driven by a profound love for WWII, Brooksby and his team thoroughly explored the different possibilities to create a game that would encompass Brooksby’s lifelong passion in the genre. Utilizing squall squads to keep it simple yet character focused, what the team ended up making shed light on a unified movement from within the various nations of today.
“A lot of the allies brought together a bunch of their different special forces that were just at the start of their being,” Brooksby shared enthusiastically. “It was, effectively, the early incarnation of the CIA and even the SAS. These special forces that went to the United Kingdom, where they received training from commandos in Scotland.”
The mission being referred to was called Operation Jedburgh – a remarkable moment in collaborative WWII history when allied countries from across the world covertly deployed forces behind enemy lines in France. The objective was to disrupt the German forces in the lead-up to D-Day by using sabotage and guerrilla warfare in supporting and reinforcing internal French resistance movements.
The small, armed squads served as the perfect template for Classified: France ’44. Not only did they align with the optimal squadron size for the game, but they also embodied the geopolitical climate well, showcasing the rise of resistance groups preceding Germany’s inevitable downfall.
“Our game revolves around telling the story of these small squads,” Brooksby continued. “Players must collaborate with the French resistance, build a formidable resistance force, and ensure its utmost strength. It’s a countdown to D-Day.”
Similar to other tactical shooters, Classified: France ’44 incorporates quintessential tactical shooter features, meaning positioning behind objects for cover and using overwatch to provide cover fire. There are even areas of bushes that, while providing little cover, does increase stealth invisibility. Atop of this, every execution does a zoom-in animation. There is also the critical use of action point efficacy and knife-based stealth tactics.
The game also features fluid camera movement on PC, allowing players to rotate their point of view using QE keys, while the wheel scroll enables 3D zooming. Players can also procure standard pickups throughout the map like med packs for healing. Gameplay also features heroic abilities via skill trees such as rally, though even these are subject to cooldown periods, requiring thoughtful deployment. When combined with the numerous cover and fire features, along with the new morale system, there’s a surprising amount of depth in the game and the the primary and secondary sidearms only gets better over time.
Now, each turn presents an opportunity for players to strategically utilize their limited action points by swapping weapons, reloading, aiming, firing, and committing to an overwatch stance. Survival and efficient objective completion form the essence of the game as a high performance score determines the soldiers’ post-war outcomes and ultimately affects the success or failure of D-Day.
Moreover, Classified: France ’44 introduces innovative gameplay mechanics that enhance the turn-based tactics genre. Stealth takes center stage, accompanied by a new morale system, suppression dynamics, and a revolutionary overwatch feature.
The introduction of the morale system in Classified: France ’44 adds an intriguing layer to the gameplay. Whether a shot hits its mark or not, bullet fire against that enemy deals morale damage, affecting those involved. When the morale gauge reaches 50 percent or lower, enemies become suppressed, resulting in reduced action points and accuracy. Simultaneously, enemies inflict less morale damage on the player’s forces.
Notably, when morale hits 0, enemies skip their turn entirely. When flanking suppressed or broken units, all shots guarantee critical damage against them. Though keep in mind, all of these mechanics work for the enemy as well, so players will need to be mindful of their morale as missions progress.
To utilize flanking better, players can break windows and open adjacent doors to gain a strategic advantage and find a better line of sight for accuracy. Atop of this, gunfire towards an area is affected by spray and shoot, meaning your bullets may miss and land in what’s essentially a manifested cone of fire. Occasionally this affects persons within its path, meaning friendly fire shots on your ally if you’re not careful, but also, if lucky with a shotgun, a better close-range spread of bullet damage.
Additionally, the psychological impact of the war, specifically post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), seems to affect the player’s own soldiers. Factors such as the frequency of missions and the soldiers’ morale—especially if a soldier was recently injured in battle—play a significant role. Consequently, players must strive to optimize their soldiers’ well-being and morale while still pursuing victory conditions. This approach ensures that success is measured not only in terms of mission completion but also in the preservation of its soldiers.
In line with the game’s tactical elements, these added features influence not only the outcome of battles but also the variety of endings attainable, each contingent upon the soldiers’ hope or despair by Normandy Day and their success in fulfilling their mission. The pursuit of perfection and the exploration of the game’s multiple outcomes thus contribute to Classified: France ’44’s replayability.
Introducing the ambusher meter, Classified: France ’44 revolutionizes gameplay by rewarding stealth kills and utilizing an ambush mechanic. When filled, players can execute it once per battle. An ambush is a unique condition where your team then gains an extra turn. It also gives you better shot accuracy for your Allies, and surefire guaranteed critical shots if flanking enemies. Though keep in mind, firing your gun can emit sound that draws in enemy forces. So a good battle is determined not just by tactical cover strategies and sniping, but also by utilizing stealth.
In tactical shooter games, Overwatch firing conditions have been a recurring complaint among players. For those who don’t know, Overwatch is when soldiers assume a stationary position and provide cover fire against unsuspecting enemies who cross their crosshairs. In Classified: France ’44, they completely rewrite the Overwatch by adding one slight condition, empowering players to choose between shooting an immediate target that’s entered their sights or reserving their shot for an approaching enemy.
The absence of this feature hampers tactical gameplay in many existing titles. For instance, if three soldiers were assigned to provide Overwatch cover at a single doorway, with the knowledge that three enemy soldiers were about to pass through, every Overwatch shot would be wasted on the first enemy, resulting in excessive overkill. The ability to hold fire for subsequent enemies not only showcases tactical acumen but also opens doors to diversified strategies, enabling players to spread out their shots against weakened enemy forces. This approach minimizes overkill while maximizing overall damage inflicted upon the enemy squadron.
Despite sharing a common enemy, the various French resistance forces harbored differences and rivalries, a fact that the game skillfully incorporates into the gameplay. In Classified: France ’44, the chosen rebel forces profoundly impact not only the weaponry and supplies available but also the ultimate outcome of the war.
Players embark on missions throughout France, sabotaging German infrastructure while strengthening the French Resistance. The completion of missions progressively increases the resistance strength allocated to players’ units, which can then be strategically deployed to support different French resistance territories.
The game’s map encompasses ten regions in France, each featuring three distinct mission segments. Assault missions emphasize direct combat against the enemy, while ambush missions integrate stealth and exploit the aforementioned ambush meter. Finally, stealth missions allow unlimited stealth opportunities but exclude the use of the ambush meter.
Classified: France ’44 is a turn-based tactics game scheduled to launch on PC, Xbox Series X|S and Playstation 5 in 2023. From what we’ve seen, I think Absolutely Games has got a winner here and I look forward to seeing the finished product.