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Hell Let Loose is a big WWII shooter that one person plays as an RTS

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The next big sensation might be here

Hell Let Loose - a Squad of American WW2 soldiers navigate an urban environment Image: Black Matter/Team 17

Hell Let Loose looks generic at first glance — it’s a World War II shooter with tanks, guns, and explosions. If you’re not paying attention and you click on a random stream of the game, it looks like a scene you’ve seen a hundred times before. But developer Black Matter expertly threads the genre needle between goofy, Looney Tunes multiplayer chaos and hardcore military sim precision, resulting in one of the best online shooters around right now.

Hell Let Loose is very clever with its simple premise. It's a 50 vs. 50 battle, and the map is divided into sections. Players win by taking over the sections and out-maneuvering the enemy. There are traditional classes, like Scout, Medic, Engineer, Officer, or Tank Commander, which can all help their allies in different ways. A tank can hold the line against infantry, or a sniper can pick off enemies from afar to control an objective.

Here’s the catch: You’re not really coordinating or interacting with the bulk of the other 49 players in the team. Instead, you’re part of a small squad, and that squad has a leader. The squad leader speaks to the other squad leaders as well as the Commander, who has a big-picture view of the map. Depending on your perspective, you’re either a soldier trying to hold down a supply depot, a squad leader coordinating the defense, or the Commander tasked with winning the whole battle.

Hell Let Loose - the customization and inventory screen, showing the options available to outfit a WW2 soldier Image: Black Matter/Team 17

In some ways, this is refreshing; the proximity-based chat and squad system means it’s very easy for you to just play with a friend without having to deal with 48 strangers. Other times, it can be irritating. A lot of the game rests on the Commander and Squad Leader’s shoulders, and it’s up in the air whether you get a patient leader or an annoyed rando who just wants to lecture. This is a game where the community makes or breaks it, and so far, streams and reviews suggest that Hell Let Loose players are meeting the game on its own terms and generally making an effort to work together. When you’re on a squad with experienced leaders who use good communication, it’s great. When you’re not, Hell Let Loose gets a little aimless.

Right now, Hell Let Loose feels like it’s on the precipice of blowing up. It left early access in June, and it’s racked up over 30,000 reviews and stands at “Very Positive” on Steam. It’s a slow-paced and demanding game, but a surprisingly accessible one, and the gameplay keeps feeling great long after the novelty of big battles and RTS elements have worn off.