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Classified: France ’44 Sneaks Up Behind Nazi Germany And Stabs It Between The Ribs

The French (and American, and British) Resistance

Amidst everything else that's currently out and stealing the headlines, I've been spending a lot of time playing a turn-based tactics game called Classified: France '44. Why this, when I could have been playing Dragon's Dogma 2? Let me tell you something. If it's World War Two and it's turn-based, I am in. It doesn't matter what else is vying for my attention.

Sure, this dogmatic approach has led me astray a few times. But it has also served me and my spare time very well. It's led me to the Order of Battle series, for example, which I've clocked thousands of hours playing in Steam when I might otherwise have totally overlooked it. It also got me playing The Troop, a turn-based wargame from late last year that I also loved, and right now I'm also enjoying Headquarters: World War II, and might write about that next week.

France '44 is my latest dalliance, a game that puts you in command of a tiny unit of Allied special forces and French Resistance fighters, and owes a lot to Firaxis' XCOM reboot. I know this gets said a lot when it comes to turn-based tactics games, often unfairly, but really, France '44 knows better than most where Firaxis' bread was buttered. From the shot percentages to the strategic management to the customisable and unlockable hats to over-the-shoulder cinematic firing sequences, this game knew exactly what was great about XCOM and made sure it's what's great here as well.

At the risk of sounding like any review for any mildly-competent squad tactics game from the last 15 years, then, if you like XCOM you'll probably dig this too. And I mean that in the most complimentary way possible; I'd put this up there with Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Gate - Daemonhunters as one of the very best "Squad Tactics Game Heavily Influenced By XCOM" games you can get. Good artists borrow, great artists steal, etc etc.

The best artists also make their own contributions, and in France '44's case that's via its stealth system. As operatives working behind enemy lines in the leadup to D-Day, espionage plays a huge part in the game, so you'll spend a lot of time sneaking around, avoiding patrols and knifing Nazis in the back.

And France '44 is really good at this. Enemy units not only have vision cones but indicators showing their patrol movements, and once you get closer the game will even highlight the places you need to move to score an undetected kill. These stealth ideas slot into the wider shooting experience with ease, in a way I haven't seen done this well in the genre since 2015's Invisible Inc.

Stealth isn't a frustration or diversion here; it's fundamental to most missions, and can be incredibly powerful. It's so good, in fact, that it's not a crutch you can fall back on; in some missions you're only permitted a certain number of silent kills before an alarm sounds and the guns come out, so adopting a stealthy approach is as much about strategy--when to use your knives, and where everyone's going to situated when the bullets start flying--as the immediate tactics.

This balance fits the setting really well. You're in command of a small band of soldiers working in enemy territory, of course you're going to need to be quiet and careful to a point, but these guys and girls also carried rifles and submachine guns for a reason. It's a similar story at the strategic level, with various factions at play in occupied France, and completing missions in certain territories--while a timer ticks down to D-Day, so you can't fuss around forever--will curry favour with each of them, unlocking certain unique perks.

Here's the stealth system in action, the game highlighting an orange square you can approach the German from and stab him silently

Some other cool ideas: your troops can't die, but they can definitely waver, with a morale system affecting every unit on the battlefield, friendly and hostile. Even if you miss point-blank with a shotgun, for example, it might spook a German so badly that he breaks and runs anyway, and pinning forces down with heavy weaponry will absolutely paralyse them. You can also choose from multiple berets for your Resistance forces, which I appreciate.

France '44 has its quirks. Visually it wavers between looking pretty good (while zoomed out in battles) to looking incredibly dated every time the camera gets too close to a soldier's face and arms. Its interface can also let the game down at times; it's about as pretty as a piece of accounting software, and inconsistent with stuff like what's a button and what's a status symbol.

I'm going to go out here on a limb though--one I've made myself very comfortable on over the years--and say that WW2 tactics buffs might not be as concerned with those visual shortcomings as I tend to be, and are probably more interested in knowing that this is a very solid shooter that's also a very good stabber at the same time. 

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