Hands-On: Beyond the Wire
If there was a “dad” version of any genre of gaming, it would absolutely be the “historically accurate FPS” side of the whole spectrum. Oftentimes, they revolve around World War I and II, though the focus tends to lean towards pivotal battles or specific battlefields that try to emulate the feel of the era they’re dropping you into.
If you were old enough to game in the early-to-mid 2000s, you’ll remember the dearth of these shooters ranging from your Medal of Honors to your early era Call of Duty titles that focused on these eras. Though there’s always been a subset of people who want the accurate war experience that they can play.
While there’s nothing wrong with that, it can be a little off-putting that someone would come in with the ambition to create a large scale multiplayer experience like Beyond the Wire. Billed as a 50-on-50 WWI FPS, having to balance such a large number of players while also staying true to the era they’re emulating is not an easy feat.
Part of the reason why this is a “hands-on” and not a full on review largely rests on a number of things that I couldn’t quite control. Yes, it’s officially a “finished product” at the time of this writing, but you’d expect a little bit more excitement from fans for making its way to final after spending a considerable amount of time in development. While it did officially make it to version 1.0 on August 31st, the game has been available for purchase on Steam in Early Access for quite a while.
Because this is an exclusively multiplayer game, I didn’t have a single player campaign to fall back on. Honestly, this whole thing was more challenging than I expected it to be.
Developed by Redstone Interactive and published by Offworld Industries, Beyond the Wire is currently available on PC and is the version played for this hands-on.
No Man’s Land
It’s one thing to be able to pop onto a free to play shooter like Halo Infinite or even something older like Team Fortress 2 or CS:GO. They’re well-known franchises that have the advantage of name recognition and gameplay to back it up. Especially with the older titles that are mainstays in eSports and are solid multiplayer experiences in their own right, you would expect to think that having Beyond the Wire out on Early Access would at least pique some sort of interest in the shooter community. Much of these games have seen support years after release and have a content structure that keeps interest up.
This isn’t what I ran into when I booted up Wire. Before the 1.0 release, I found myself struggling to even find a match with a substantial amount of players. I did not set my sights high, either. I wasn’t trying to find servers chock to the brim with 100 people as advertised. Nope, I was struggling to find servers that even had ten players in them. It was a legitimate challenge in itself, and not something I found myself having to worry about even with older titles that had been largely abandoned for the new entry. Sometimes you lucked out and ended up in a playable match that you could play to completion.
With that backdrop, imagine my confusion when I fired this up in the prerelease period and saw this game be as dry as a desert in terms of players. Finding even a sparsely populated server was actually kind of frustrating, and I often found myself popping in and out throughout a given day trying to give this game a shot. Honestly, if I had to guess, it’s due to a number of factors that are working against the game.
For one, the asking price for this game is $34.99. We live in a world where gamers can pop into a robust free to play experience (with microtransactions, of course) and just focus on match after match. If we’re talking about a paid shooter, there’s usually a single player campaign to go with it. Since this is multiplayer focused, the only thing you’re going to find yourself doing is training in single player. It really does feel like this game might benefit from adopting a free to play format, because it feels like a big ask to drop that kind of money and get any value out of it in the deserted state that it’s in.
Though when I was able to throw down in a match (mostly after release), it didn’t quite strike me as anything phenomenal. The combat often leans into certain health-related elements done in a COD style, though you do have the chance to patch yourself up strategically if you can manage it. Throughout each match, I often found myself trying to do just that and getting rocked in the process. Mind you, I tried to do this in seemingly safe spaces and getting popped out of nowhere.
Some of this can be attributed to poor skill on my part, and my lack of skill often gets in the way of even remotely realistic shooters. Because of this, that does limit my ability to critique. While I’ve played a COD campaign or two in the past, that skill goes completely out the window in multiplayer mode. This ended up transferring over to here as a result, and I found myself frustrated with that aspect.
That said, the gameplay is competent enough. Regardless of mode, it’s an objective based skirmish between two opposing armies. Because of the WWI setting, this is done on a vast map with the usual trenches and on-hand weaponry you’d expect from the era. Long bolt action rifles, era-appropriate machine guns, and handguns are available depending on the combatant you choose.
Gaining XP lets you spend it for different variations, sure. But early gameplay will often have you experimenting with various classes to see what works. There is heavy artillery on the battlefield that you can use, but the focus leans to on-foot combat. This doesn’t really bother me, as it feels like vehicles could disrupt the balance.
What honestly bothers me the most is that while it does feel like a decently constructed shooter, nothing about it really stood out to me at all. Maybe it just feels like every other “real is brown” shooter I’ve found myself playing, maybe it’s the fact that I wasn’t able to gel with the gameplay as well as other shooter fans have. But with the difficulties I ran into, it did not feel right to critique with my own limitations dragging that part down.
Really, this felt like the perfect storm of extenuating circumstances that really didn’t do this game any favors. Switching formats (or a slightly lower asking price) could help fill the servers, because these maps are just begging to have 100 players in them. The amount of breathing room Redstone provides makes sense in the context of having full servers, but my experience largely fell into something decidedly less than ideal. While there isn’t always the option of waiting for ideal conditions, I was really hoping for way more interest with it already being available to purchase. That interest seems to have evaporated already, and that’s the biggest takeaway for me.
War Is Never Pretty
Even in 2022, the “real is brown” joke can still be lobbed around for a handful of modern shooters. Though it’s especially relevant for WWI shooters in particular, as the nature of most of the combat centered around the trademark muddy trenches and war-torn areas that one would expect. However, I was kind of expecting a little bit more fine detail in a few aspects. The battlefields themselves definitely look the part, and are anything but empty. To an extent, they do get occasionally bland, but there’s enough work here to see some real effort shine through.
Character models are a little weird for me, though. While they do look like WWI soldiers, something about them feels a little bit weird. Faces can appear doughy, the animations are occasionally stiff, and visual effects often hit unevenly at times. My PC is modern enough to run games at 1440p, yet I found myself playing with the settings to get a stable framerate at all. Which is weird because this game often does not step to the level of some indie games, let alone modern graphical powerhouses.
Thankfully, the audio isn’t something that rises to the occasion of “so bad it’s meme material.” It sounds like war and the sound design backs that up. Armies are often shouting in their respective languages, and the delivery isn’t awful from that regard either. Music oftentimes just feels like exciting-sounding filler, but it at least fits the tone. It’s nothing to write home about, but at least it’s not as awful as some things on Steam.
Remap The Battle Plan
While Beyond the Wire bears the mark of a “final” release, I often found myself feeling like it’s anything but. In between the nonexistent interest and the fact that I didn’t gel with the gameplay the way I should, it doesn’t feel like I could give this the proper due it needs.
I’m really hoping that it does find an audience, because there is a niche to fill with a game with such lofty player support. Unfortunately, I wasn’t even able to find myself in such a situation under the best circumstances. Because of that, I don’t feel comfortable assigning a score to this at all.
Perhaps with more updates and a possible change in direction, this could end up being a glow up story in the vein of No Man’s Sky. With the way it currently stands, it feels like there’s a long way to go before the people who care about large scale shooters with a realistic lean. Here’s to things going up from here.
Game provided by Offworld Industries for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer. Featured image courtesy of Offworld Industries.