Classified: France ’44 features tense and satisfying turn-based strategy | Hands-on preview

by on August 10, 2023

In Classified: France ’44, it was all going so well. We’d taken out three enemy soldiers and headed towards our objective in silence, passing through the trainyard like ghosts in the fog, but one silly mistake forced everything to change. Gunfire replaced stealth, and chaos replaced concentration. What started off as a simple recon mission turned into an all-out battle, where I almost lost one of my men because the sound of broken glass caught the attention of a nearby German infantryman. There’s something compelling about its bleak yet compelling gameplay, and I was hooked from the start.

D-Day was a pivotal moment in World War II, and Classified: France ’44 is set a few months before the Allies landed on the shores of Normandy. Through various different missions, you build a special ops team in an effort to sabotage the Axis. It’s inspired by the Jedburghs who were a group of Allied forces sent into disrupt the plans of the Axis who were occupying France in the run-up to D-Day. You recruit soldiers, build friendships with them, and help to liberate various regions across France.

Each soldier or French Resistance fighter you meet has their own personality and skills, allowing you to customise your own team depending on your playstyle. It’s no easy task when stepping into a mission, as they play out on isometric dioramas where every decision needs to be executed carefully. It shares many similarities with games like XCOM and Marvel’s Midnight Suns, but its Morale system highlights the very real nature of combat, and forces you to make important decisions at every turn.

The Morale system can work both for or against you. Pin down an enemy by firing at them, and if you can’t kill them, there’s a chance their morale will break and their next move will freeze them out. However, you can also suffer a similar fate, leaving you vulnerable to enemy attacks. This can be a great tactic because enemies can be flanked without a fear of response from them, meaning you can get closer without getting fired at. It’s one of many tactics you can use in battle, but don’t be surprised if things go south very fast as the AI is smart and unforgiving.

It cements that realism, never glorifying bloodshed and respecting the very nature of World War II. It also celebrates the brave actions of soldiers who would do anything for freedom in the face of adversity. That is why your choices on the battlefield carry weight, but thanks to a variety of options, you’re always ready for whatever the enemy throws at you. Each mission has a variety of objectives, and if you complete all of them you’ll earn more gold to spend on new gear and weapons back at basecamp. They aren’t necessary to complete every mission, but it’s well worth trying to tick them all off.

Each soldier falls into a particular class like the Leader, Marksman, and Medic, and having a good balance helps a lot. With them comes a variety of important skills to use in battle. such as recovering fallen teammates; launching sticky bombs and grenades; executing long range shots with a high percentage to hit; and more. Every action consumes Action Points, such as movement, firing a weapon, and using a skill. Other environmental options can use AP as well, like breaking a window or cutting a wire fence. Every attack, whether its a stealth kill with a knife or a shot from a pistol all have a percentage of success based on location, distance, and cover.

There’re always factors to consider in your approach, and if you take too long to reach an extraction point or complete a mission, more soldiers will appear. Enemies also have different types, but you’ll always get an idea of how your attacks will injure or break someone. You’re always considering whether stealth is the better option, or whether launching a grenade in-between three enemies is worth it in the long run. Whatever approach you take, battles are never clear cut, and almost always end up different to how you envisioned them. Outside of battle, there’s plenty to do from your base.

You can buy new gear and weapons; sit around a campfire and chat with your teammates to gain certain buffs, listening to their stories and understanding their plight; build relationships with different factions to gain access to new equipment; improve regional strength depending on where you choose your missions; and spend skill points to improve individual soldier’s stats and abilities. There’s a lot to do in Classified: France ’44, helping you to improve for every new mission as well as gaining a deeper understanding of the story being told and the personal struggles of your men.

While I didn’t get to play through the whole game, I saw a lot of what Classified: France ’44 has to offer, and it’s both carefully constructed and satisfying to play. It can be tough if you’re unprepared, but there’s a wide range of tactical options for you to employ. You start to gain a deep respect for your team, and when one of them goes down, you feel a genuine sorrow for them. It grabs you, pulls you in, and refuses to let go. Absolutely Games are onto something special here, and I can’t wait to play more of this tense turn-based strategy when the full game releases.

Classified: France ’44 is due for release in 2023 on PC.