It has been a long time since we first played Squad. We covered the game in early 2017, and that was already more than a year after it first landed in Steam Early Access. As it was back then, although much has changed in the intervening years, Squad is a military shooter with big teams and a focus on atmosphere. To give you some points of reference, it leans more towards the Battlefield side of the shooter space in terms of scale, however, there are Arma vibes that bubble under the surface and stop it from feeling like Michael Bay: The Game.
The thing that Squad absolutely nails is the nervous tension you feel in your gut as the action draws closer. A new tutorial has been added to the mix and that teaches you, among other things, to hug cover and stay out of sight as much as possible. Thus, using the terrain all around, teams must advance through rural and urban areas using cover and smoke to advance to objectives dotted around the map. Particularly at the start of a match, before a shot has been fired, there's a real sense of tension as the two factions establish their respective positions.
The frontline is always shifting in Squad, and that only adds to the intensity of each game. Players must band up and head into action in coordinated teams, and I received short shrift from my in-game commanding officers whenever I tried to play like a lone wolf. It's all about sticking together, watching each others' backs, and moving as a team, covering as many angles as possible as you advance.
There are a bunch of maps, and they're pretty huge as they have to accommodate up to 100 players, 50 on each team (most servers at the moment seem to hold 80). Each round starts with both teams in the staging area. Players pile into trucks and then head out in a convoy. This opening, while a little uneventful on the face of it, is certainly atmospheric, and there's a real sense of trepidation as everyone sits in two rows, staring at the digital faces of their comrades as they bump over the uneven terrain of Squad's vast maps.
Once your squad has disembarked it's time to find that frontline, and my main issue with Squad is the percentage of time I spent moving around the place compared to the time I spend actually doing something meaningful. There is an upside to this approach, and that's the pre-battle tension that grips you as you near the battle ahead, and I can completely understand why the developers have taken this particular road, even if it does mean periods of relative inactivity. It makes moments matter. Every time you pull the trigger, it's not because you're on some sort of arcade thrill ride, taking potshots at moving targets as you might at a fairground, but because you've slowly and methodically made your way to the battle, and then, with the greatest of care, you've worked an angle and got involved.
It only takes a couple of hits before your number's up, which only increases the tension. Nearby bullets whistling past darken the screen, creating a gloomy tension that death is near if you don't take care. You can call for help if downed, although my experience was that if you weren't with your own squad, other allies will let you bleed out rather than head over to a risky position and revive you.
In fact, sticking with your squadmates is very much the order of the day and everything in Squad is geared towards cooperation and communication. That focus on battlefield hierarchy works here and I quickly fell in line, taking orders from more experienced players as I tried to be useful to the group. It didn't always work out, but it makes the role-play element easier to grasp, and it raises the stakes when you're pushing forward with your team, trying to cover the skyline or the open windows all around as you advance.
In terms of game modes, there's a skirmish mode that's quite fun, but the game comes to life in the objective-based modes, with teams pushing and pulling over certain locations, the ever-shifting battlelines a constant cause of stress as you look to make your own positive contribution on events. With dozens of soldiers on each team, tanks rolling around the streets, and helicopters taking shots from the skies, it's a lively and engaging multiplayer experience and you'll need to keep your wits about you.
There are several factions in the game, which can make unit identification a little tricky, although that's the sort of problem that eases with familiarity, and for the most part, it's easy to keep track of what's going on thanks to some crisp visuals and detailed, thoughtfully composed environments. Your player-character moves well, for the most part, with an effective lean mechanic to complement a fairly standard PC shooter setup. On top of that, the bullet physics felt decent, and the arsenal available to players, while not the most impactful I've encountered in terms of handling, is varied and feels authentic.
There are, however, a couple of rough edges, and we encountered a couple of performance issues during our time playing, with stuttering frame-rates most noticeable when covering the sometimes extensive distances between locations on foot, which happens from time to time. It's those moments, which usually come after a painful death just before, that were the most frustrating for me. Those semi-regular lulls, and a couple of physics-related glitches, are my main complaints about Squad. On the whole, though, it's an interesting and thoughtfully-made big team shooter that creates a really distinctive and impressive atmosphere.
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