Isonzo PS5 review. With First World War first-person tactical shooters Verdun and Tannenberg under their collective belts, it turns out that the only way for developers M2H and BlackMill Games to take their next entry in WW1 Game Series was straight up and that’s exactly what they’ve done with the latest offering in the franchise, Isonzo.
Encompassing the twelve historical battles taking place between the Austro-Hungarian and Italian forces that made up the Isonzo campaign which spanned the months and years from June 1915 through to November 1917, it’s certainly fair to say that this particular theatre of battle in the Great War has been greatly underrepresented in both film and video games to say the least, with the usual mud-caked and barbed wire hellscape that is often synonymous with the Western Front conflict usually getting the lion’s share of the attention in popular media.
Isonzo PS5 Review
A Hugely Impressive, Independently Developed Tactical WW1 Shooter That Stands Head And Shoulders Above Its Predecessors
For the uninitiated, Isonzo is an online, multiplayer tactical first-person shooter where battles are fought across the Isonzo region of Italy in various historical skirmishes. Envisioned primarily as an online multiplayer shooter, Isonzo does allow players to play against an army of CPU-controlled bots, but thanks to the currently generally uneven AI that often just sees them charging your position without the effective implementation of flanking tactics, Isonzo is ostensibly a better experience when played both with and against other flesh and blood players.
Like the the previous entries in the WW1 Game Series, the main meat of Isonzo’s gameplay focuses in on momentum based offensive and defensive phases, whereby players who are attacking an enemy by capturing their territory and destroying key targets, unlock more of the map and thus advance further in the battle, create new objectives to capture and destroy as a result.
Where Isonzo differs greatly from both Verdun and Tannenberg is in its employ of the extraordinarily hilly and often mountainous terrain that you’ll often be fighting across – an authentic nod to the verticality that had to be figured into just about every conflict of the Isonzo campaign when it all kicked off back in 1915. In practical terms, this means that being on the defensive now has the advantage of the higher ground, allowing you a wider degree of oversight to shower the enemy with lead as they approach your position, whereas being on the offensive is now a much bigger challenge than ever before, as you must devise complex stratagems in order to mitigate the natural terrain advantages that the other team might have over your own. And this is where Isonzo truly shines.
It’s not enough to just keep throwing troops at a fortified enemy position hoping they’ll break, as many commanders actually did somewhat fruitlessly during the real-life twelve battles of the Isonzo campaign. Instead, savvy players can call in artillery bombardments, airstrikes, poison gas attacks (don’t forget to put on your mask if you end up on the business end of one of these) to chip away at the resolve of their enemy, while taking over enemy spawn points and using them for their own troops, sabotaging enemy hardware and on can also greatly your help your chances of victory.
Complimenting the deeply tactical nature of Isonzo’s gameplay and debuting in Isonzo is the new class system. Though its hardly a fresh feature as far as other first-person shooters go, Isonzo makes the most of this long-time genre staple, by giving each class that players can choose from a real purpose and identity to separate them from their warmongering stablemates.
Isonzo’s class selection takes in no less than six different archetypes including Sniper, Officer, Engineer, Mountaineer, Rifleman and Assault classes. Given the often multi-faceted nature of Isonzo’s conflicts (more on that in a bit), each role is not only appropriately authentic in terms of its use back in the day, but the well-rounded composition of an invading or defensive force with the right class selections is also functionally crucial to victory too.
Though the likes of Sniper, Rifleman, Assault and Officer classes are all fairly self-explanatory, it’s really the Mountaineer and Engineer classes that provide some much needed extra depth to the proceedings. The Mountaineer class for example, compliments the Officer class very nicely through binoculars that can be used to spot enemies at long range, while a draught from a handy canteen temporarily provides the player with unlimited stamina – perfect for when you want to spearhead an attack on an enemy position. The Engineer meanwhile makes the most of Isonzo’s new construction system, as they can cut through barbed wire and construct barriers and weapons twice as fast as any other class, while also gaining a speed bonus to both the planting and defusal of explosive charges.
Even with all of these tools, tactics and classes at your disposal, battles in Isonzo still feel like they’re won in painstaking fashion. Every bit of the battlefield must be bled over and fought for, and with progress coming in inches rather than in any greater measurement of distance or movement, Isonzo’s perilous and gritty theatres of combat, where a single shot can kill you or cause you to bleed out if the wound isn’t bandaged quickly enough, commendably pays respect to the real-life peril of the Isonzo campaign where more than a million soldiers lost their lives.
Continuing to carry the torch of authenticity that was ignited with the first game in the WW1 Game Series, Verdun, Isonzo once again places a premium on making its soldiers, battles and locations all feel palpably genuine. From the painstaking re-creation of the various Italian and Austro-Hungarian uniforms, all the way through to the precise modelling of pistol firearms such as the Austro-Hungarian Roth-Steyr M1907 and longer range rifles such as the classic Italian Carcano M1891, every single aspect of Isonzo’s diligently crafted aesthetic feels like a love letter to one of the key (and often overlooked) conflicts of The Great War.
This pursuit of realism also extends to the various maps and locales in which the various battles of Isonzo unfurl. Much more than just a series of sterile environments created to vaguely mimic the sorts of battlegrounds that existed during that conflict, each of the maps that Isonzo boasts have been thoroughly researched, with everything from the debris strewn streets of the numerous towns on the Isonzo front to the destroyed beauty of the Isonzo vineyards and the various mountainside trenches and fortresses all looking palpably like the real thing.
Audiovisually, it must be said that Isonzo is leaps and bounds above the previous games in the WW1 Game Series. Unlike Verdun and Tannenberg before it which benefitted from only slight improvements to display resolution and an uncapped framerate on PS5 but still felt very much like early gen PS4 titles, Isonzo instead makes much better use of Sony’s current-gen PlayStation console hardware. Boasting a sizable uptick in character model detail and environmental complexity, not to mention a much greater variety of building interiors that extend far beyond the boxy huts that were seen in the previous series entry, Tannenberg, Isonzo is easily the most visually impressive game in the series.
That said, it’s also still worth remembering that Isonzo is very much an indie title when it comes to production values. So while the third entry in the WW1 Game Series is arguably the most technically accomplished to date, there are still a number of smaller visual issues such as occasionally uneven performance during busy battles and some awkward looking animations that betray the relatively (to bigger AAA titles, at least) budget that serves as the bedrock for Isonzo’s presentation.
Equally the sound has also seen a sizable and welcome upgrade too. Not only do the various rifles, pistols, mounted machine guns and cannons all have a real meaty snap to them, but it’s the environmental sound effects work that has seen the biggest leap. With the sound of earth falling down all around your ears after a mortar attack proving especially palpable as just one example, while the sounds of ricocheting bullets and thudding mortar shells ring all around you as another, the much improved sound work in Isonzo simply makes each battle feel much more chaotic than they ever did in Verdun and Tannenberg.
It’s also worth mentioning that Isonzo has a staggeringly deep progression system, too. Not only can experience gained from kills, completing objectives, healing allies and building structures be used to level up each of the classes in the game, providing specialised perks that allow you to precisely calibrate each class to your own playing style, but there’s also new weapons and gear to unlock for each class as well – providing players with ample incentive to try each of Isonzo’s six classes as a result.
Finally, players can also tweak the cosmetics of their chosen Austro-Hungarian or Italian troops in Isonzo’s Barracks. A hub of sorts which permits players to tweak everything from their uniforms to the facial hair of their chosen soldier, it’s not exactly life-shattering stuff, but when taken in tandem with Isonzo’s in-depth class progression system, it’s clear that the latest entry in the WW1 Game Series has a lot to offer players that want to make Isonzo their primary online multiplayer fix.
Shifting the action from both the muddy trenches of the Western Front and the snow-dappled rural expanses of the Eastern Front to the blood-soaked peaks of The Great War’s arguably most sophisticated theatre of conflict, developers BlackMill Games and M2H have excelled themselves with Isonzo. A thoroughly thoughtful and visceral first-person shooter where tactics and strategy are valued equally to a quick trigger finger, Isonzo isn’t just the best entry in the WW1 Game Series to date, it also happens to be one of the best tactical multiplayer shooters full stop.
Isonzo is out now on PS4 and PS5.