Let’s start as we mean to go on. Squad is a very niche experience. How niche? Military Simulation niche. But get past the friction and Squad is an incredible experience.
Squad is about halfway on the Simulation section of the Simulation/Arcade shooter dichotomy. Where Simulation is ARMA and Arcade is Call of Duty.
The average match is 1 hour, maybe more. You’ll probably spend most of your game being ordered to travel to waypoints on the map of the realistic modern combat zone, use your shovel to build things and pointedly not shoot to avoid attention. You may in fact, score 0 kills in any given game.
You’ll need to work as part of your squad. Follow instructions from your squadlead. Play the objective by capturing zones. Use your mic. Work as part of a 50 strong team comprising transports, armour and helicopters to combat the enemy.
It’s gritty and fiddly all over to slow the pace down from a Battlefield-like experience. (SQUAD is a successor to Project Reality, a Battlefield 2 Mod that sought to enhance the teamwork and realism aspects of that game)
Any time you enter a vehicle you need to turn the engine on/off. When you respawn, you have to go and rearm at the base. Forget and you’ll have no ammo or gear when things kick off, even for special class weapons. Base doesn’t have supplies? Hope someone is driving a logistics truck back to resupply the base or you’re down to what you start with.
It’s a multiplayer only game, so it’s highly dependent on all 50 members of your team being as willing to play with the same co-operative mindset.
It’s incredibly microphone and headset dependent. 3D Positional Audio for gameplay and Location based Voice chat means communication is essential.
As I said. This is an incredibly niche, demanding experience which expects a certain level of commitment to the illusion.
The game is visually cohesive, with some especially nice lighting, but it’s not here to win awards for high fidelity models or textures. The animations are sometimes a little clunky and everything has just a little bit of Indie game friction. The sound design pairs that great voice system above with hideously loud gunfire, suppression and explosions.
Funnily enough, this all plays out in the game’s favour. The player fills in the blanks and smoothes over the rough edges because the verisimilitude is coming from the gameplay, not perfect textures or animation.
Playing a match is lots of slow building, as dozens of little individual elements start to come together. But when the peak of a game hits in Squad? It’s like the crescendo of an orchestral movement.
You’re playing a medic, bullets whizzing around you and suppression kicking in as you’re dragging your bleeding out teammates into a ditch. Over local chat, you demand they keep their heads down or you won’t fix them up again. Your Squadlead is hurriedly requesting an artillery strike on the player built base you all just accidentally stumbled upon.
The almighty roar of the blasts from several hundred metres away has you all prone in the ditch, waiting for it to end.
An enemy armoured vehicle has the team’s advance completely suppressed inside the city. You with an RPG and your ammo carrying buddy sneak through side streets till you can get a clean shot on the rear of the vehicle. A hit means it’s immobilised, but you watch in horror as the turret spins around to hunt you. Your buddy hurriedly throws down the ammo kit. You dash to reload. From a distance, the rest of the team just hears the woomph of the vehicle exploding and they start moving forwards after you report in.
Your squad is being dropped behind the enemy advance. The helicopter hovers low. You all stumble into fields of wheat and behind stone walls as small arms fire starts to whicker overhead and ping off the plates of the helicopter before it takes off. You will all probably be dead in the next ten minutes, but during the time you’ve drawn attention, squads 3 and 6 have regrouped and captured the next objective in the chain.
It’s being the last member of your squad left standing in a small village held by the opposition. Using the locational voice chat to call out targets to your reinforcements, to make sure they don’t meet the same fate.
At its core, by playing as a team and organising, you can see the turning points of a battle form. Squad 1 and you held the objective just long enough for squad 7 to flank. Because of that, the support squads were able to safely bring up armour and consolidate. The game shifts around these moments.
Squad (when it works) hits the same lizard part of my brain that likes doing tasks in Among Us, or the early gear build in a survival game. Follow instructions and work as a team. It then pairs that with hyper lethal first person shooting, and a surprisingly comprehensive and tactile movement/interaction system.
It’s not for everyone. But in terms of capturing this incredibly specific experience, Squad is perfection.