Early Access has become something so frequent and popular these days that it cannot be ignored so I thought it will be a good idea to take a look at the games that are in this stage of development/commercialization and see which one stands out the most. Does this mean I support a system that is partially flawed? Not necessarily, but it means I acknowledge the games with high potential that are part of this system and I would like to point them out as they might have a bright future.
I’ve played a bunch of Early Access games released this year, but among them only a few stood out: Killing Floor 2, ARK: Survival Evolved, Call to Arms and Squad. I’ve given all these games a fair amount of time, some of them I’ve played more than fully released titles (I have 95 hours in ARK), but coming to a conclusion was a lot easier than I expected.
There are enough horde mode games out there to keep the enthusiasts busy and the genre has a high replayability by nature and the fans are usually tolerant to the repetitive content. Killing Floor 2 might be a reenvision of the first game with a lot of cool new features and a shooting worthy of AAA games, but it’s still Killing Floor.
ARK: Survival Evolved takes on the mechanics set up by Rust and puts them in a prehistoric world inhabited by various species of dinosaurs. It’s a fresher setting for the survival genre, but it’s taken to extreme heights through nerve-racking grinding that can lead up to hours of wasted time when somebody destroys your entire work. It’s a good game for those interested in such a game style and looks fantastic with Unreal Engine 4, but most importantly it is closer to a release than any other Early Access survival game of the last three years. Still, ARK doesn’t take the survival genre by storm and just serves its continuity.
Call to Arms is the modern warfare reimagining of the Men of War: Assault Squad series with the addition of physics and a 3rd person aiming that can be more accurate than the unit’s AI. It’s a good RTT with a lot of gameplay depth, but a little less personality. The game is promising and for the fans of the Assault Squad series it’s surely a step forward after the disappointment of the sequel, but too many degrees is too similar to those games. Being in Alpha a lot of the features are subject to change and that is good because this game and the genre deserve the best.
The last, but not least is my pick from this year’s pool of Early Access games. Why do I consider Squad to be the most promising? First of all, the game is designed out of passion by a group of modders who worked on the Project Reality mods for Battlefield 2 and ARMA 2. They worked with some of the best shooters and improved on them based on the needs of a community that was looking for a more niche simulator gameplay experience. Now they are using Unreal Engine 4 to make their own standalone game named Squad.
Squad is a sandbox tactical war simulator played from a first person perspective. It’s a game with brutal gameplay depicting perfectly the dehumanized war of today.
Squad’s need of tactics comes from the game’s mechanics that keep the players from going solo rampage like in the latest shooters style. The slow movement, the difficult shooting, the deadly weapons and the small view range support a gameplay that requires teamwork and coordination more than anything else. Because of these factors the VOIP plays an important role allowing squads members to communicate between them and receive orders from the squad leaders on the strategy and how they should proceed to combat. This level of realism leads to a thrilling war experience where teamwork and tactics win over shooting skill.
Squad is part of a niche genre that isn’t for everybody and the only real competitor it has is ARMA 3 with the big difference between the two games being the engine. With the power and flexibility of Unreal Engine 4 Squad has an actual chance of becoming a problem free game, compared to the ARMA series which is carrying the same issues from a title to another with no fixes in sight.
The development roadmap for Squad is fascinating with transport vehicles in January and later in the future combat armored vehicles, main battle tanks and even attack helicopters. The already tactical sandbox experience of the today’s game will change completely in the future with the features planned. And with mod support the game’s lifespan and replayability will be expanded for years to come.
Video games’ portrayal of war has never looked as realistic as it does now and the future looks extremely promising for Squad as it does for all the games I’ve mentioned above. But with Early Access games (not exclusively with them) the question remains if the developers can deliver on their promises. Let’s hope they do, because these games deserve the best.