Ten hut, soldiers! As the great Bill Nye would request, please consider the following. Think back to any and all RTS games you’ve played, ever. Remember that first soldier you learn to build? He’s cheap, weak, and you basically build scores of the little beggars just to throw them into the grinder. Think of all the marines in Starcraft, or all the infantrymen in Red Alert. What if you did more than just aim the poor goons at the baddies. What if you actually controlled and aimed their rifles too?
The tables have now turned. In Running With Rifles, you are one of the expendable Joes tasked with running (with rifles) alongside an army of similarly clothed and colored army men to capture points of interest held by enemy forces of different colors.
You will certainly die and it will be frequent. You will also cause wanton destruction among the opposing forces yourself, so let’s get started with a more in-depth look at this World War 2-esque trench battle simulator.
When you begin your military career in Running With Rifles, you drop onto a battlefield as one of three colors of soldiers, all strangely reminiscent of old plastic army men. As classic Greenbelts, Brownpants, or Graycollars, you traverse a variety of wartime theaters in a top down isometric view much like the real time strategies of old. You start as a single, exposed, somewhat unimpressive grunt. Welcome to the machine of war, soldier! Good luck staving off an inevitable and unimpressive death! The game is won by capturing the entire map for your faction. This feat is achieved simply by occupying it; however, you will need a large presence of soldiers outnumbering and outfighting the opposition in order to claim the land, often comprised of a combination of player controlled soldiers and less competent but not worthless NPC grunts. Once control of the area is yours, you might gain access to a new armory to buy weapons from, as well as the ability to respawn here when you die.
Whenever you kill a member of the opposing armies, you gain experience points that eventually build up into growing in rank. Rising through the ranks can make you a more effective soldier, but unlike more common RPG elements, it does not artificially boost your attack or defense stats. What it does do is grant you access to more weapons which can affect your efficiency, as well as give you command over a squad. If you are a higher rank than one of the computer controlled soldiers on the field (and have room in your squad), you will recruit him to fight alongside you automatically. If someone with a higher rank comes along, however, your squad may move on to working for that soldier instead.
There are vehicles in the game which you can use to travel the map or even assault the enemies. Armored Personnel Carriers will often vomit soldiers as soon as it is destroyed, and tanks, though very effective, can be dealt with somewhat simply if you have the right tools. Commanding a tank is a bit more difficult to do and takes a small crew: a driver, a gunner, and even a small arms gunner mounted on top of the turret can help turn the tide of battle. A driver can not aim the cannon and will need to get at minimum an NPC to hop aboard and man the guns for them. Now if someone else wants in that tank, and appears to be a higher rank the the infantryman (Human or NPC) he’s attempting to evict, then it looks like you’re hoofing it from here.
Death in this game is handled in a few interesting ways worth noting. For starters, your soldier has a name. Next to your username that identifies the player, the soldiers have an individual name, like Dick Clark. If you are gray, you are a sort of German analogue, and may be named something like Dietrich Schmidt. The Brownpants who are somewhat Russian in attitude, are named things like Timor Balinsky in order to fit their nationality theme. Every time you die, that guy dies. You assume control of a new soldier, with a new name and often times with slightly different gear.
In Running With Rifles, there is no health. Essentially, every enemy bullet whizzing by has a chance to kill you. Most weapons that characters start with hover around about a 50% chance to kill. Sniper rifles are usually much higher but also fire more accurately and reliably, though slower. This means there are many occasions you will simply drop dead and have no idea where it came from. Just as often you can dump a whole clip of ammo into an enemy and he just refuses to die. The idea is to make mortality be incredibly likely for every player. High level players are just as easy to kill as new players and boils down to effective use of cover, crouching, and prone stances, as well as a degree of good ol’ luck.
Collectively, as an army, you will find random items and weapons dropped by rare enemies. Carry this fat stack of loot to one of your armories and exchange it for something called RP (Resource Points). Sure, you give up the looted pack of cigarettes or even rare gun, but if enough get turned in army-wide, it will be available in the armory for purchase by everyone of sufficiently high rank to wield it. RP is essentially money you use to afford new weapons and every time you die, it costs resources to equip the new soldier with the gear you had attached to the old guy.
Death in this game costs you resource points. It now carries a bit of meaning, though not so much as to suddenly rob you of an entire arsenal of rare weapons. There are times a death will cost you your favorite weapon, but the balance of the game is set in such a way that it gets treated like an inconvenience rather than a horrible cheat. Occasionally, death will cost you some experience points as well, however it’s just enough to keep you incentivized, not enough to really wound your game play. The idea they convey is simply that death does in fact matter, albeit only to an extent to which you are encouraged not to throw yourself blindly into enemy lines and sandbag the enemy teams. Don’t feel bad friends, you will die often. In this game, most everyone does.
There will be those stints of massive destruction wherein you manage to stave off the approach of thirty soldiers before they manage to get a bullet in you, and you know what? It’s rewarding. It feels good to find a real groove on the battlefield, and lock down a section of map with just a handful of infantry.
Running With Rifles manages to be a fairly unique experience that I think it worth trying both as a lone soldier and as a part of a large team with your friends. High, uneventful mortality is the only real promise, and you you get so much more out of it. If after reading this you get the urge to hit the killing fields, just keep these basics in mind; Use cover, and in the absence of cover, stay low, utilizing crouch or prone positions as you deem fit. Fire in short bursts to maintain accuracy and fire often; you have unlimited ammunition so keep reloading. For everyone’s sake, stand up before you throw a grenade. Otherwise you slam dunk the damn thing over your shoulder onto the cover you were hiding behind and you may just kill everyone within range. Most importantly, have fun. Death will come swiftly and with great frequency, so don’t worry about it. It’s a huge map with up to thirty-two players, so if you need a break, take it. Your team will be fine, they lose good soldiers all the time.