It can be difficult to stand out from the crowd in the shooter space. You need a good hook and a decent angle, otherwise, you're just shooting in the dark at no-one in particular. The Farm 51, fresh from last year's enigmatic single-player shooter Get Even, is taking aim at the multiplayer arena with its next game, World War 3. The studio has seen a gap in the market, vacated by DICE as it ventured back in time to tackle large-scale combat with historical settings, and with its new shooter, the Polish developer is looking to fill that space. Therefore, WW3 comes to the party boasting huge near-future environments filled with players scrapping over capture points, all grounded in a plausible reality whereby Europe is in the grip of a third major global conflict.
It's a decent concept, but it's hardly original. Given the genre we're talking about, it'd be harsh to be overly nitpicky about that, and given the general lay of the land when it comes to competitive first-person shooters, WW3 does manage to stand out from the crowd, especially given the timing of its release and the mix of elements that The Farm 51 brings to bear.
So far there are three maps included in the Early Access build of the game. The action starts in Berlin, moves to Warsaw, and ends up in Moscow. Each of the maps is expansive, although you can choose to play smaller encounters on limited versions of each one. That change switches the overall feel of each match quite a bit, taking an experience that looks to capture the feel of a large-scale battle and making it into a more focussed skirmish. Tanks roll around looking for easy targets, adding to the sense of the scale, although we have to say that the combined arms side of the game does feel a little barebones at the moment, but at least the inclusion of drones and the like does at least make it feel busy.
While the guns themselves are rather adaptable, the overall gameplay is less nuanced and WW3 is positioned closer to the action side of the shooter spectrum rather than the simulation end. The action is almost entirely focussed on taking control of capture points across the map, although interestingly you need to hold two linked points to score. Once a team has an uncontested objective it becomes a spawn point for players to return to once they bite the bullet. If all the objectives are under the sway of the same team, there are a series of spawn points dotted around the periphery of the map. For the most part, this system works, but when one team is rolling over another and controlling all the key points on the map, it can be all too easy to push the losing team back to their spawn points and score easy kills as they look to get back in the game. At least there are multiple places to spawn, so if you're getting hammered on one side of the map, you can start from another point the next time around.
If you are in the midst of an evenly contested battle, you'll usually be able to join the game from one of the aforementioned spawn points, but that can also mean you jumping straight into trouble (and then back to the menus while you wait to get into the action once again). The alternative is a long run from the periphery of the map back into the action, and we have to say that we spend a fair amount of time traipsing from the edge of the action to the battles in the middle, only to be quickly dispatched and forced to run the same route again (and again). Spawn camping was also an issue at times, although that one didn't raise its ugly head too often and when it did it was mostly because players weren't talking directly to each other and so when they restarted they didn't realise what they were getting themselves into.
More to that point, communication between players wasn't always the most supportive, and while we acknowledge that our experience was entirely subjective, the chat was often filled with mockery and insults - hardly the kind of community that encourages people to stick around and push through the teething issues that games such as this one invariably go through while testing is done so publically. It probably doesn't help the general mood of players that the loading times are long and the servers a little unreliable. It's certainly more stable now after what looked a rocky launch, but there's still much to do to improve this side of things.
So there are bugs to squash and balancing issues to sort out if World War 3 is going to have the legs needed to see it endure in the long term. What gives the game a chance is the gunplay and the overall level design. Some of the environments feel a touch generic, but generally speaking, the maps are pretty interesting to explore, and they're filled with the kind of texture and detail that makes fighting over them interesting. They're really big too, and that means you'll be fighting in various locations that in isolation feel like individual maps.
The gunplay is also pretty solid, and while sometimes the hit detection felt a little generous to the attacker, for the most part, we thought this side of the game was well executed - and you can also see exactly where the bullets landed while you're waiting to respawn. The level of detail available in terms of weapon customisation is particularly empowering, and it's relatively easy to sort your preferences out and find your place on the field thanks to an extensive array of options. Whether you like to hang back and dispatch your foes from range, or get stuck in with something a touch more close-quarters, the developers have catered for you.
Apart from a plate on the chest, players are quite squishy and it doesn't take more than a quick spray to fell an opponent if you get your angles right, which in this kind of modern military shooter is important, and there are no armour-clad super soldiers to contend with here either (at least not yet, who knows what the future might hold). There are also some neat character animations that feed into the semi-realistic style that the studio is aiming for, such as the ability to lay on your back and fire from the floor, although not all of the animations were silky smooth.
The selling point in World War 3 is the near-future setting and the expansive playspace, and while there are positive elements to commend, this is also very much an in-development experience and your potential early involvement must be measured against the knowledge that there is quite a lot more still to do; it needs more maps, better balancing (in particular in relation to respawns), a lot more polish to contextual actions such as mantling scenery, and even weeks after launch the servers can be too temperamental. That said, in terms of the gameplay, the foundations seem fairly solid and there's potential for this to grow into something that can rival the more established names in the space, it just needs a bit more time in the oven.