Early Access Preview: Foxhole

By Josh Brown 08 Aug 2017 0

Foxhole is a game unlike anything you've ever played before. You'll hear those words uttered even on a fan-made tutorial video offered up as suggested material the moment you boot up the game. A very rare instance of a massively multiplayer online real-time strategy game, Foxhole really is just that - but it's probably a genre you'd overlook while playing.

And as a game like nothing you've ever come across before, be prepared for a bit of a learning curve. Another fine example of a multiplayer game where survival is your primary objective, it isn't easy outsmarting dozens of other players for an extended period of time. Foxhole may not directly ask for a massive investment of your free time, but if things are going well, you'll likely want to stick around as long as possible.

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A persistent online strategy title in which rather than controlling a battalion or entire army, you're just one tiny cog in a much bigger picture. You're not controlling dozens of individual units - you are one of those units. But there also isn't a singular entity feeding you instructions in the hopes of winning the war; you're all in it together.

With the bigger picture viewed through the in-game Campaign view offered up on the main menu, you're free to click into one of these sought-after areas to fight for whichever one of the two teams you decide to join. Each map stretches a good distance out in front of you, and it's up to your team to annex each town, village and outpost. Claim them all, and you'll win the game - but it's much easier said than done.

In Foxhole, everyone has a role to play - whether its directly given to you or not. Some may opt to gather up raw materials and focus on building new guns, vehicles, and ammunition for the group, while others might squad up and head out onto the frontlines. Each player contributes in their own way, and it's the political hierarchy that grows from this mentality that could potential see Foxhole become some kind of research experiment over time.

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Passive players may just bow down to the instructions of their more talkative brethren, while those serious enough to take matters into their own hands would stay close to Town Hall to rally the rest of us into doing something more productive.  More often than not, I'd find myself logging into a server and comically calling someone Sarge the moment they began offering up any form of rough strategy - regardless of whether it was likely to get us killed or not. It may not have been the best situation for the good of the game, but it was a refreshing experience that essentially boiled down to impromptu role-play as a growing number of players began to cite famous war flick quotes with those brave enough to speak through its in-game voice channels usually pulling off an impressive accent to boot.

Heading out alone is a big no-go in Foxhole; you won't get far on your own, nor will the rest of your team see the effects of whatever it is you end up doing. If you're not up for the social experience of squad'ing up, you can at least make good use of your side's materials to craft some usable equipment or set up some AI-handled foxholes around along the roads to gun down any opposing stragglers. Though, with friendly fire constantly enabled, expect a fair few accidental and/or expected deaths along the way. You can't see much in front of you, and commandeering a truck feels like playing a round of Micro Machines - it's like you're ice skating, so it's probably best to steer clear of the roads if you're a 'boots on the ground' kind of guy/gal. That being said, the limited field of vision in the dead of night can likely be used to great advantage.

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Within 10 minutes of jumping into a server, it was clear the war wasn't going well. Likely fought for hours - if not days - already, it hardly seemed to matter to the rest. While I attempted to go to work as a logistics guy at first while I learned the ropes, one of the more talkative troops managed to become the pied-piper of the server, encouraging a group of cadets to grab a rifle and attempt to flank the opposition one town over. The trip felt long and scary, yet exciting at the same time. And though we didn't manage to pick off more than a few foes before we were bested, we spawned back at base thankful we at least gave it a shot.

Then came the barrage of enemy fire at our east gate. Finally beginning to understand the concept of shell-shock or the fear of living in a war-torn environment, the sound of artillery and rounds peppering our walls could be heard all over town. The rest, as they say, is history.

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It's said that over 200,000 people played a part in Foxhole during its pre-alpha state and thus contributed, one way or another, to the game's eventual Early Access release over a year later. The team have no specific timeframe in mind when it comes to a full-fledged release, but they're expecting a similar amount of time to pass before it's ready. For context, the Rifle Grenade Launcher and Fisherman's Row map were added in on July 7 with tanks only arriving on its July 27 Early Access release. It took well over a year of pre-alpha access for a war game to get tanks - a staple of siege warfare.

Clapfoot are coy when it comes to what we can expect of a finalised release. Simply stating how the full version will include 'much more content, new features, and additional polish', there's no solid explaination as to what those features or content could be.

Polish, on the other hand, is a little more self-explanatory, and the team do outline what's to come. Mentioning how the game is relatively bug free already, most of its issues come down to a cluncky UI/player interaction with vital gameplay elements and the lack of any real tutorial - all areas we can completely agree on. The core of the game is well and truly in place, but it doesn't always shine through some of its surface-level issues.

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Foxhole knows what it wants to be, and the players know what they want it to be. They share a synergy and common adoration for each other; but there's certainly room for improvement.

Movement, handled by your WASD cluster, still feels sluggish on foot, with areas like barbed wire ensuring its rogue design resurfaces as you grind to a halt and hold a directional key for a good 15 seconds before sliding free of its clutches. Driving is, much like life itself, bound to cause considerable amounts of easily avoidable deaths as wheels give almost no grip, turning circles are near non-existent and everyone essentially becomes the figurative deer in the headlights. Doing just about anything of worth other than shooting a bad guy in the leg feels unresponsive, and the game's lacking tutorial system means most servers are likely dragging a lot of dead weight as players struggle to remember hotkeys or ever struggle to work out how to gain and equip a standard rifle.

But underneath its choppy performance and glaring interface issues, the social aspect of Foxhole can't be snuffed at. Despite rarely having much in the way of self-direction, my time served in the war always felt at least somewhat meaningful. Vocal players encourage others to get involved with the group, and it all eventually adheres into a figurative barrel of laughs. Our strategies rarely worked in our favour, but we had fun running into an early grave. And that's what matters, right? 

Foxhole launched onto Early Access on July 27th, 2017. At the time of writing, the development studio are anticipating at least a year before they consider launching version 1.0.

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