I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy both Tannenberg and Verdun, the previous two FPS titles in the WW1 series by developer BlackMill Games. Frankly, they’re both masterpieces, seamlessly blending realistic mechanics, visuals and audio design while remaining perfectly approachable. They’re challenging titles, especially if you play online, but for the most part, they manage to maintain a satisfyingly fulfilling and rewarding baseline of enjoyment. So, you can imagine how overjoyed I was when I was given the opportunity to review Isonzo, the latest entry into this WW1 shooter. While its single-player offering doesn’t live up to its predecessors, its overall gameplay and online matches are so brilliant, that I would hardly hesitate to call this the greatest WW1 shooter ever made.
“Unfortunately, Isonzo’s single-player content is just not ready yet.”
I want to discuss the single-player component of Isonzo first and foremost. I appreciate I’m in the minority when I say that the primary reason I play a title like this is for AI matches. So, if this doesn’t interest you, feel free to skip to the next section. However, it is the aspect I was the most excited about. After all, I have spent an inordinate amount of time writing a guide about shooters with offline bots. So, this really feels like my area of expertise.
Like its predecessors, Isonzo features the ability to play offline against bots. You can choose between any of the maps and modes and will play against enough bots for the sizable maps to not feel empty. This is a fantastic offering, especially considering the gaming industry’s attitude towards offline gaming.
Unfortunately, Isonzo’s single-player content is just not ready yet. The main reason for this is that the AI is just broken. It refuses to move unless you shoot it or an objective is taken, meaning the entire war effort is really on your shoulders. They act more like mannequins, ones that will jump out at you if you get too close but will do nothing if you’re more than ten feet away, even if you’re picking them off one by one.
In its current state, it is hard to recommend Isonzo as a single-player experience. If you were hoping to get it for offline matches, you will not enjoy yourself. No matter how fun the base gameplay is – and let me reassure you, it very much is – you will not have a good time alone. That being said, I’m certain this will change in the future. Both Verdun and Tannenberg have brilliant AI that function as you’d expect. So, hopefully, BlackMill Games will soon improve the AI in Isonzo for those who prefer to play alone.
“This genuinely feels like a step up, a next-gen offering that maintains the quality of the other games while innovating where it can.”
Now that the single-player portion is out of the way, let’s discuss just how incredible Isonzo is. It’s apparent from the moment you start a match that Isonzo is not only the best-looking game in the series but one of the best-looking shooters full stop. Its gorgeous use of vivid colours makes the verdant valleys and ash-soaked dilapidated buildings feel as visceral as the horrifyingly realistic combat. The densely detailed environments further this sense of immersion, each battlefield littered with the debris of war. It’s simultaneously engrossing and jaw-droppingly horrific watching as a fellow soldier writhes around in pain while the hot Italian sun bares down on the scorched forest you’re cowering in.
Outside of the visuals, Isonzo plays just as amazingly as its predecessors, perhaps even more so. I haven’t played Verdun or Tannenberg in a while, but I don’t remember the gunplay feeling quite as punchy or satisfying. That’s, of course, not to discredit those incredible games. Rather, it’s to illustrate how much of an upgrade Isonzo is over those titles. This isn’t merely a reskinned game in the same series. This genuinely feels like a step up, a next-gen offering that maintains the quality of the other games while innovating where it can.
“Each map feels truly dynamic, their detailed battlefields allowing for each and every skirmish to feel fresh and new.”
Perhaps my favourite aspect of the previous games was the sheer tension that presided over each and every match. The fact that you could die from a single shot made every move a potentially dangerous one. Fortunately, that level of extreme tension returns for this excellent sequel. You’re constantly looking over your shoulder, approaching each objective with an extreme sense of caution, ensuring you’ve not gone too far or wandered into an opponent’s line of fire. Of course, you can never be too sure, and more often than not you will become the prey of a more experienced hunter. However, I see this as part of Isonzo’s charm.
One of the ways Isonzo really helps build this tension is through its map design. They’re truly enormous, containing multiple types of terrain and topography. You’ll go from defending a farmhouse at the bottom of a hill, waiting breathlessly for the enemy to appear in your line of sight to being pushed back and forced into poorly constructed trenches in the depths of a burning forest. Each map feels truly dynamic, their detailed battlefields allowing for each and every skirmish to feel fresh and new. Suffice to say, despite replaying most maps multiple times, I never felt like I’d seen everything they had to offer.
“Isonzo is an exceptionally enjoyable online experience.”
In terms of the online component, Isonzo runs perfectly. I didn’t encounter any issues while playing, and despite most matches obviously containing some bots – as I have been playing it pre-launch –. it was a refreshing change to play against real people. The different modes in Isonzo are mostly the same, seeing one side start with very little terrain attempting to make their way up the map and decimate the defender’s objectives. With real players, this style of gameplay feels endlessly exhilarating, as you battle against the odds to try and claim the battlefield as your own.
There’s also the ability to create your own loadout, something that was also present in the previous games. While I didn’t dabble with this much, it’s clear that those looking for a good sense of customisability will definitely get that here. Frankly, I’m not someone who plays online very often – perhaps my biggest fault as a reviewer – so I feel there isn’t much I can say beyond: Isonzo is an exceptionally enjoyable online experience.
As I mentioned previously, this series has always done a decent job of making its realistic mechanics more approachable. This is due to the fact that while some players will be pros, for the most part, everyone is in the same boat. Its realism ensures that you have just as good of a chance of taking down your opponent as they do you. You can plan and prep each attack, but when it comes down to it, it really ends up being who shoots first. That meant that I never felt like a useless member of a team – as I normally tend to be whenever I play multiplayer games – as I was able to take out a multitude of people ensuring our team could complete the objective. It’s an incredible feeling each and every time, and one that kept me coming back to this masterpiece.
“I highly recommend Isonzo to anyone looking for a satisfying, realistic WW1 shooter.”
Is Isonzo perfect? No. Its single-player offering isn’t great at the moment with bots just standing around doing nothing for the entire match. I also encountered a number of visual glitches, such as soldiers standing inside artillery. However, its base gameplay is so ridiculously satisfying, its visuals so breathtaking, its audio design so horrifically accurate, and its maps as densely detailed as they are sprawling that I consistently had an amazing time.
I highly recommend Isonzo to those who enjoyed the previous games in this series as well as to anyone looking for a satisfying, realistic WW1 shooter. To those wanting a solid offline title, then perhaps play Verdun or Tannenberg. Hopefully, BlackMill Games will patch Isonzo and improve its AI. If they do, then Isonzo will truly be the best WW1 shooter ever made, and one I can imagine myself playing indefinitely. Until then, however, Isonzo remains almost the greatest WW1 shooter ever made.
Isonzo is available for PlayStation, Xbox and PC right now.