A lot of games try to take on the ‘theatre of war’ and they never quite seem to nail it. They never have that moment where there’s a long stand-off between opposing forces as troops hunker down behind cover waiting for the inevitable ‘big push’ from the other side. That anxious space of time that seems to stretch on into infinity as every little break between gunfire sends the heart racing as you think “oh god are they coming now?”
Now, everything I’ve just described doesn’t really appear in modern shooters. Sure, Battlefield can convey the scope of a real and changing war and Rising Storm can convey the stress of being constantly under fire. But these all take place in short sharp matches that are usually over within 20 minutes or so. What you really need is something that happens in a real war, stand-offs, firefights that last for hours as you claim territory inch by blood-soaked inch and stories of daring acts against impossible odds, that’s something that’s not really been covered in a lot of games. That is until Foxhole came along.
Developed by Clapfoot, Foxhole is what I can only describe as a World War MMO. Set in an alternate universe with an isometric view it’s perhaps the best analogue for how a real war would play out in a videogame.
How Foxhole works is there are two opposing sides with roughly 50 to 60 players on each team. The goal is to capture specific areas of the map to win the game. Now, that may sound like something that’s been done a million times before in other games, but where Foxhole does it differently is that each teams fight for territory depends entirely on their ability to work as one cohesive unit.
Everyone in Foxhole needs to fight for the good of the whole army not just themselves. The game drills this into your head with its tutorial, saying: “There is no ‘My truck’ or ‘My gun’.”
Just like in a real war you fight to help your buddy next to you behind the sandbag, the guys that are pinned down ahead and the dedicated souls at home that are farming for the war effort.
In Foxhole, you don’t begin with any gear. All the weapons, ammo and equipment you need must be requisitioned, individually built and then delivered to supply areas. So, each team needs to have a dedicated core of logistic players that are mining, producing and then delivering materials to where they’re needed the most. There’s also builders that need to reinforce areas with walls, bunkers and other defences, whilst the fighters protect them.
There’s this unspoken hierarchy in the game that you just find yourself organically fitting into. New players run in and die repeatedly, whilst the more experience form squads, start-up command units, gather intel and even take on raids deep into enemy territory.
For example, here’s one such mission I got roped into completely by accident.
It began with me walking into a base I thought was abandoned only to find a Lieutenant rounding up any passing soldier he could into a make-ship squad in an almost Saving Private Ryan-esque kind of way.
We formed lines and he began his debrief.
Over the space of 20 minutes he told us our job was to infiltrate the enemy lines, find their main supply line to the front and ‘give them hell’. We all knew it was a suicide mission, but if we could delay enough trucks to the front lines the main core of our army could advance further into enemy territory, so we were playing a small part of the war efforts bigger picture.
We were all given our roles, medics, riflemen, spotters, scouts and in my case ‘Guy who gets to blow things up’. Which meant I got my own little escort detail since carrying all the heavy gear meant I moved much slower than the main raid team.
Our advance was careful and methodical, the scouts would run out, report any movement they saw and our observation team would lay out our approach and any changes we would need to make. It was a painfully slow process, but after one real world hour we had reached our destination relatively unharmed and undetected.
We setup our ambush point, dug our foxholes and waited.
We didn’t need to wait long as the first truck approached and instantly got blown apart under machine gun fire. Then the second truck turned up, then a third, a fourth, then finally a fifth. Then nothing for a long stretch of time.
We sat in silence for a while, talking between ourselves in hushed voices trying to figure out what was going on, then our Lieutenant spoke up. We had gotten word from our intel group back at HQ that the enemy team were aware of us, and were moving to deal with the problem.
What followed was the most tense and stressful three real-world hours of my life. We were constantly bombarded and fired upon by enemy troops from all directions as they probed our lines. One by one our squad dwindled until it was just me cowering in a foxhole with our Lieutenant and a medic crouching close-by. I got out of the foxhole for a second to drop some extra ammunition I found for my fellow squad members when a grenade took out the lieutenant in his foxhole and our medic got gunned down by a sniper.
Suddenly I was alone.
With a pistol and one rocket to my name my options were to stay and die, potentially costing the enemy more time without supplies, or I could cut and run with the possibility of being shot in the back as I fled.
I went with a third option, I pretended I was I large squad of men. The voice chat in Foxhole is open to the entire server and it’s location based, so if you get near enemy troops you can hear their conversations and vice versa, plus you only see another player if you’re directly within their sightlines.
So, I crawled under a bush, stayed completely still and started to talk into my microphone loudly asking for more heavy machine gun ammunition, or asking if anyone needed a spare grenade. I even made up voices to just make it seem like there were more people to deter any more attacks hoping that somehow my charade would last long enough for reinforcements.
Surprisingly it worked for about half an hour before one lone scout figured out what was going on. He shot me, I respawned and found the base I spawned in to be in complete ruin. And so, I ran on into the wilderness looking for the front lines again.
All of that happened in the space of one night, I was so engrossed in the game that I forgot to eat or even turn on my bedroom light. I only noticed how much time had passed when I finally died. I just couldn’t look away, I was there in a war fighting alongside people I started to genuinely care about only to seem them gunned down in front of me.
The battles in Foxhole are ongoing, wars can last for days with some even running over a month on a persistent world where battle lines are constantly shifting. It’s as close as you’re going to get to a real simulated war experience and I genuinely cannot recommend it enough.
Even though it’s still in Alpha, the amount of fun I’ve had with Foxhole has more than made up for some of its shortcomings. There are a few nit-picks here and there that I do have with the game, the UI is clunky, it’s not very friendly to new players and the chat needs streamlining. But I’m still completely enamoured with it. I haven’t had a game hold my attention for such a long period of time like this one for a while and I already can’t wait to get right back into the thick of it.
So for now I’ll see you on the front-lines soldier…