Classified: France ’44 disrupts German plans in the run up to D-Day

Having been interested in video games for more than thirty years, I’ve noticed that interest in WWII seems to come and go in phases. With several AAA games that deal with the war against Hitler’s Germany already on the horizon, it’s great to see Team 17 and Absolutely Games adding something a bit more cerebral to the mix with Classified: France ‘44.

Inspired by turn-based tactical games such as XCOM, Classified: France ‘44 takes place in the 50 ish days before the D-Day landings, with players taking on the role of an initially small (but ever-expanding) team of covert operatives and resistance members who intend to disrupt German plans at every step.

Classified: France '44

At a strategic level, the player will observe a map of France divided into provinces, each of which is broadly aligned to one of France’s three most powerful groups (traditionalists, communists and criminals). These groups each have a level of trust with the player and will potentially sell you items or offer opportunities if your trust is high enough.

The player also chooses missions from this overall map, and with each successful mission, you’ll be able to strengthen support in a certain region. Reach full support in any region and you’ll unlock a benefit from it — although the Nazis may also try to reclaim the region and take that support away from you, which means you’ll need to send one of your team members away for a few days to deal with it.

There’s lots of other busy work on the strategic map as well — including having team members interact with each other, setting up loadouts and perhaps most importantly, working through the massive experience tree that each team member has. This is all the sort of stuff you’ve come to expect from a game like this, and with an overall objective to build supplies and increase readiness for D-Day, there is genuine impetus to try and cover all bases. 

I prefer this to the system in XCOM for example, which indicates that something is coming, but you don’t really know what. Whenever we talk about D-Day and its importance to world history, there’s nobody who wouldn’t understand what you were trying to do and why. I won’t spoil any surprises about what happens depending on how well-prepared you actually are at the end, but let’s just say that Classified: France ‘44 gives you reason enough to try again if you don’t do well enough.

Classified: France '44

But strategy, smatergy, right? What you’re really here for is tactical combat, and Classified: France ‘44 isn’t about to disappoint you there. Whilst mechanically, most missions boil down to “go to this interactable object and then get to the exit” the additional sense of importance that the WWII theme brings adds a lot. Whether you’re collecting explosives from a train station or documents from a factory, you’re adding to the war effort in a way that links to the strategic map and ties things together really well.

Some missions involve rescuing a civilian or resistance member and that person becomes the focus rather than an object, whilst other (often more memorable) missions will have the players hunkering down behind a fortified position as wave after wave of enemies assault their lines. Some missions actually begin with the enemy unaware of the player presence, and when this happens, you’ll typically be able to take out three or four enemies silently, which then fills a gauge that ultimately gives the player an ambush turn (after which normal turns resume.) 

I really enjoy the variation that this brings. You can never complete a full mission using purely stealth tactics, but you can use the four or five kills that you will get to remove key enemies and swing the battle that follows in your favour. The reward here is high if you get it right, but if a character gets spotted during this stealth phase, they will likely be out of position, potentially out of cover, and almost certainly in significant danger.

When the bullets start flying, Classified: France ‘44 copes pretty well. Characters can be in partial or full cover and the latter makes them very difficult to hit from anything other than the flanks or rear, whilst partial cover gives the shooter a chance, but not a great one. Flanking is definitely key here, and the only situation where that leads to frustrating misses is when your character is sharing the same cover (a pillar for example) as their target, and visually it seems that your character just leans around and executes their target at point blank range, yet in the game, the chance to hit is 50% and often results in a miss.

Classified: France '44

Classified: France ‘44 also uses a suppression and morale system which I think is quite unique. All units have a normal health gauge and can be taken out of the fight if reduced to zero (with player characters and some enemies being able to revive exactly once to fight on). However, each character also has morale – if this is reduced to half, the character becomes suppressed, which reduces their action points and has other negative consequences. If morale reaches zero, the character can’t act at all, and simply hunkers down trying to survive.

The player must use this to their advantage, whilst also minimising the risk of suppression to their own units. Certain weapons such as light machine guns can offer suppression fire, which is less likely to hit and do harm, but causes a lot of morale damage and does exactly what you’d expect it to. Other weapons certainly add to suppression, especially to targets out in the open, but you’ll only actually suppress a target with those weapons if multiple characters fire on the same target in the same turn.

In terms of difficulty, Classified: France ‘44 is just right. On “regular” difficulty and ignoring ironman mode options, I did succeed in almost all missions, however, there were missions where I had one or more characters downed and sometimes taken out a second time (removing them from the mission) which resulted in costly recovery time on the strategic map. By the end of the campaign, my team “felt” pretty beat up, and the physical and mental toll that undertaking repeated missions behind enemy lines would take on a person had become obvious. 

Visually, Classified: France ‘44 isn’t perfect, but the maps are detailed and the panning and zooming options allow for the player to view the battlefield however they wish to. The colours are a bit washed out (which may be a deliberate choice) but in general, the detail is decent, and the appearance of the 1940’s as seen through the lens of any classic Hollywood movie is as you would expect it to be.

Overall, Classified: France ‘44 is a really good tactical combat game with all the strategic bells and whistles that you’d expect. The overall reason for the campaign (supporting D-Day) feels critical and the time pressure applied as a result feels relevant in a way that it often doesn’t. Whilst not absolutely jam-packed with variety, missions are interesting and challenging enough to remain fun throughout the whole game, and I really enjoy those ambush-mode starts that lead to full-on assaults. 

You can buy Classified: France ’44 on Xbox and PSN.

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