In order to illustrate my experiences with Squad, I have to go back to the beginnings…I’ll never forget the first time that I purchased Battlefield 2 way back in 2005. Up until then the only modern shooters that we gamers were treated to were ones of the close quarters sort—you know, like the original Counter Strike. The small, enclosed maps of those types of games just didn’t do it for me, as there were only so many places you could set up, and if you lingered anywhere for too long, other players would accuse you of “camping.” I wanted to take my time in a game, while also having nice places to patiently set up and recon enemy movements.
EA’s Battlefield 2 promised all of that and more. It featured an entire array of gigantic maps that were all totally unique from one another, squad-based combat, a whole plethora of land, sea, and air vehicles, and a wide variety of weapons. It also offered one of the first persistent progression systems, meaning that every time that you earned enough points to unlock a new gadget or weapon, it stayed with you until the next time you booted the game up. I was so giddy reading the back of the Battlefield 2 game box (remember those?), and looking at the images on it while driving home from the store, that I almost ran off the road.
While Battlefield 2 didn’t disappoint, it eventually drew in many of the Counter Strike-type players, you know, the ones that don’t use a lot of communication and like to run off Rambo-style all by themselves. After about a year the game began to get stale. Luckily, right around that same time, I discovered a mod called Project Reality that had been out for a while, and which reportedly had enhanced realism, more vehicles, weapons, factions, and equipment, than the base Battlefield 2 game. But what really attracted me to it was its reliance on teamwork on communication. If you joined a squad without a mic, or were too shy to use it, you’d find a large combat boot up your behind, and would eventually be excommunicated by pretty much everyone who played the mod.
I played Project Reality, AKA PR, for years, and its developers were constantly cultivating its hardcore community, all the while releasing a steady stream of patches and updates to keep the game fresh. Over the years, however, the PR community gradually began to dwindle (sniff), as old players stopped playing, got married, or trailed off to other more modern games. In an effort to stem the exodus of PR players, the developers released a standalone version of PR in June of 2015. This retained or attracted back old players, but unfortunately also drew a whole bunch of people from other countries who were no strangers to using hacks and cheats, in order to win matches.
As the PR community began to ebb once again, many had stopped playing it in order to wait for the successor to PR, appropriately enough titled Project Reality 2. Unfortunately, PR2 was cancelled but from its ashes rose the original PR’s spiritual successor, Squad. In fact, Squad’s development team includes a couple of PR developers, and it plays very similar to its venerated forbearer.
If you Googled “Squad game,” you’ll probably notice a lot of words like “tense” and “realistic.” That’s because just like PR, Squad doesn’t feature any cutesy weapon skins, dopy skull face helmets, bright floating weapon and equipment pick-ups, or life gauges. It’s just you, your weapon, a couple of pieces of equipment such as grenades and medical field dressings, and your all-important…wait for it…squad.
What’s so brilliant about Squad (just as it was with PR), is that each match plays out like a real battle. Each squad on a team is tasked with certain objectives (in most cases), such as attacking a particular point first, defending an objective, or setting up Forward Operating Bases (FOBs). As the maps are large, you don’t really know where the enemy teams are at first, and as you go about your tasks you are always on edge because of that. I’ve been in many matches where my squad set up a FOB near an objective, only to find out that an enemy squad likewise set up nearby, and we’d happen to run into each other in forests, building complexes, or across dust-choked roads. The gradual build-up of tension in Squad is almost palpable, and no other game has come close to it in my experience.
As of this writing, Squad offers four different factions, the U.S. Army, Russian Ground Forces, Militia, and Insurgents, with each one playing very differently from the others. This takes us to the main game modes featured in Squad: Assault and Secure (AAS), and Insurgency. AAS is similar to capture the flag, but points must be taken in a certain order. Insurgency is where you have BLUFOR forces trying to find munitions caches that are secreted across each map. So for instance, you could have the U.S. Army (BLUFOR) on one side of a map and Insurgents (OPFOR) on the other, and it’s the Army’s job to track down the caches while the Insurgents have to set up ambushes for them. This offers a lot of asymmetric warfare opportunities that can be very intense indeed.
Squad is also been in its Alpha stage since its debut on Steam’s early access on December 15th, 2015. But that doesn’t mean that its developers, Offworld Industries, has been lying dormant. On the contrary, they have been very receptive to its burgeoning community’s suggestions and feedback, and have been releasing a steady stream of updates since then. Squad debuted without vehicles, so one of the biggest questions on many people’s minds was: when do we get vehicles? Well, I’m happy to report that on August 7th, 2016, vehicles were introduced into Squad.
Eleven new vehicles have lumbered onto Squad’s battlefields. These include an armed Humvee for the U.S. Army, a BTR-60 for the Russians, and various technicals, logistics, and transport vehicles spread amongst all of the game’s factions. The newest update (Alpha 0.7) also offers a brand new desert map, Yehorivka, dusk and night maps, a new UI, weapon handling, and other goodies. This has forced regular players of Squad to rapidly learn and re-adjust to the game that they previously knew. Fortunately, since the Squad community is (overall) a friendly one, it’s been great to see players share tips and offer suggestions to one another, as well as to the large number of new players who have come into the fold.
Squad’s graphics are very high end—I’d say they’re on par with Arma 3. This makes Squad an excellent game to show off to your friends on a beefed up gaming laptop. I recently played it on my new Sager gaming laptop at a local café and had complete strangers form around me in order to gawk at some of my Squad matches. It’s just that good looking.
I’d say that Squad is on its way to being the most impressive large-scale tactical shooter on the market, if it isn’t there already. Its combination of team-based tactics and communication, incredible amount of depth, careful pacing, and realistic game mechanics, make it an exhilarating military gaming experience that falls perfectly in-between an arcade shooter and a full-on military simulator. I’ll carefully be following Squad’s progress in the months to come, and I highly recommend this game to any fans of military actions games.