The 'WW1 Game Series' is back with another entry following the cult 2016 hit Verdun and its 2019 follow-up, Tannenberg. Isonzo takes the battle to the Italian Alps, which puts a veritably vertical spin on the realistic tug-of-war battles the series is now known for. This third entry doesn't reinvent the wheel by any stretch, but Isonzo provides a wonderfully dramatic backdrop for intense online FPS action, and it's absolutely worth a go if slow-paced, methodical shooters are your kind of thing.
As hinted at there, Isonzo is purely multiplayer; there's no form of single player story campaign or wave-based modes to speak of. AI bots do fill empty online player slots though, and you can also set up custom matches with just AI. We'd love to see the developer dip into proper single-player given the attention to detail it's put on the series' multiplayer battles, but this setup is clearly the team's strong suit at this stage.
Even without a single-player campaign to speak of, Isonzo oozes authenticity, from the game's load screens that feature brief introductions to the real-life battles fought in World War 1, to the game's myriad of era-appropriate weaponry, uniforms, equipment and the like. The team has carried over its commitment to getting the little details right from both Verdun and Tannenberg, and it all helps immerse you in the game's version of historical events.
As for the core gameplay, Isonzo sticks closer to Verdun's blueprint than the more open-ended battles of Tannenberg. Fighting up in the Italian alps is all about push-and-pull gameplay over rugged terrain, with the game's 'Offensive' mode taking centre stage. If you've ever played Battlefield 1's 'Operations' mode you'll get the gist; a team of attackers attempt to progress the battle by completing objectives and gaining territory, while the defenders try to hold the opposition off, reducing the number of attacking lives. It's a little bit more tactical and 'involved' than Battlefield's effort, but structurally the two modes are fairly similar.
Where Isonzo takes things in a different direction is its pacing and the implications of putting a foot wrong mid-fight. Everything in Isonzo — as is the case with the rest of the series — feels deliberate; you'll have to watch your step at all times during battle. The dynamic between realistic player movement, the shape and layout of the maps, and the game's hefty-but-fair shooting mechanics all contribute to an experience that puts you right in the thick of it, which is ultimately to its credit.
However, it does mean that things can feel limiting at times compared to a lot of other similar shooters on the market. Class types have player limits so you might not always be able to use the one you want, and as Isonzo sticks very closely to its time period, you're not going to see many automatic weapons or easier-to-use equipment options. Put it this way - you'll need to be pretty handy with a bolt action rifle to see much success in Isonzo's intense multiplayer combat.
We understand why this is the case, of course, but it does add to the repetitiveness of things after a while. We often found ourselves dipping in for one match (which can be very long depending on how battles pan out - often over an hour), and then feeling like we needed to do or play something a little different before coming back to Isonzo. It's a game that does one thing well and sticks to that vision to a tee, but there's not a whole lot here regarding player freedom and variety.
The technical side of Isonzo holds up pretty strong on Xbox Series X mind, especially now the team has pushed out a patch to fix crashing issues on Xbox. The base mode hits a pretty solid 60fps throughout, and there's an option to unlock the frame rate for 120Hz players, which is a big improvement over how the series performed on Xbox One. The graphics probably won't blow folks away — it doesn't look particularly 'next-gen' — but the small dev team has created a consistent visual experience that fits in well with the style of Isonzo's authentic take on WW1.
All in all, Isonzo is very good at what it sets out to do, which is provide an authentic WW1 battlefield for players to experience, this time way up in the Italian Alps. The series' new setting does add some nice visual variety to proceedings, and the extra verticality has a pretty major impact on gameplay and match flow, but ultimately, we would like a little more meat on the bone, whether that be more online modes, gameplay options or even a single player campaign one day. What's here though is bloody brutally brilliant, and if you enjoy a more tactical approach to online warfare, Isonzo is definitely worth a shot - just remember to rechamber that rifle!