Classified: France ’44 Review (PS5) – Enemy Well Known

Even if you’re not a massive fan of XCOM: Enemy Unknown, chances are you’ve seen its influence in the video game space. From its spiritual successor, Phoenix Point, to smaller, inspired titles like Narcos: Rise of the Cartels or Broken Lines, XCOM’s impact on the strategy paradigm has been significant. Now, it’s Absolutely Games’ turn at the wheel, with Classified: France ’44.

As the name suggests, this time around it’s not alien invasions and laser technology, it’s the grand setting of D-Day and ol’ reliable M1 Garands. Classified: France ’44 places you into the resistance movement, gearing up and running amuck in advance of the Allied landings. Does it do enough with its setting and gameplay to successfully land on the beaches, or does it struggle to get off of the landing craft?

Vive La Résistance

One of the more unsung and underappreciated periods of World War Two was the work of resistance movements ahead of the D-Day invasion of occupied France. Classified: France ’44 attempts to shine some light in this regard, which provides a fitting backdrop for the kind of tactical squad-based combat it opts for. A run-and-gun squad up against an overwhelmingly powerful opponent faction? Fits perfectly.

You begin the game with a couple of Allied troops dropped into France ready to start the resistance. As the campaign progresses, you’ll acquire further like-minded citizens, up to a maximum of 8. Each has their own personality and background, providing a bit of depth to the kinds of people involved in the build-up to D-Day.

Aside from the odd cutscene, every few missions or between-level interludes featuring short character exchanges, however, there’s not a whole lot to draw you in, I found. The resistance members tend to veer on the side of rambling as opposed to making meaningful insights into the period. Moreover, come the second half, it was preferable to skip through their exchanges. There were only so many forced “conflicts” I could really handle.

Story-wise then, Classified: France ’44 is pretty underwhelming. Your resistance forces can’t be killed in action and even a story pivotal moment where my squad was supposedly captured, is literally resolved a second later in a cutscene. Considering the stakes of D-Day and World War Two, it’s disappointing how little investment is built into the characters. Thankfully, the setting works better on the gameplay front.

Classified: France '44 review

Hit ‘Em Hard

Classified: France ’44 is your typical XCOM-inspired top-down, turn-based strategy game. You embark on missions across Nazi-occupied territory with a squad of up to 4. Each unit has their own action point (AP) limit, there’s half and full cover to utilise, abilities to deploy and overwatch cones to place. If you’ve played any game similar to this before, you’ll be right at home. Suppression is a core focus, where even missed shots can still inflict morale damage to break or suppress opponents.

These mechanics are tried-and-tested; they work well and it creates a satisfying strategy loop. Consequently, Classified: France ’44 plays well and is a competent recreation of the formula. However, to me anyway, it felt like exactly that – a basic recreation of a model of gameplay that’s been done many times before. There’s little to differentiate Classified from basically any other XCOM-like title.

Not only that but there are some abusable abilities and mechanics which undermine the potential challenge, which is key to these types of games. For example, using melee attacks almost always fully breaks an enemies’ morale meter, giving them the “Broken” status effect, vetoing their next move. I made it through multiple levels either slashing multiple foes to death over turns, or by preventing a dangerous enemy from being able to do anything at all.

Like I said though, this gameplay loop is inherently fun. Classified: France ’44 gets the foundations unequivocally right, and when you are placed in a difficult scenario, it’s rewarding to mastermind your way through it. The variety of mission types is great, with a plethora of objectives split across stealth (stealth kill to your heart’s content), ambush (limited stealth before all-out war) and assault (instant combat) variants.

Classified: France '44 review

Prepare The Beachhead

Leading your squads into battle against the German forces is only half of the Classified cake, however. Between deployments, you’ll be spending chunks of time perusing the overview map of France. There’s a 60+ day in-game timer until D-Day, and each mission eats up precious days. Often, new opportunities to recruit a character or deal a blow to the occupying forces will be an “either-or” scenario, so you’ll need to pick wisely.

Moreover, there are three factions you’re aiding – Radicals, Gaullists and Criminals. Complete a mission in a faction’s relevant district, you’ll gain a token to fortify one of their regions. Fortify a region three times, and you’ll unlock a bonus to your combat effectiveness or the ongoing war readiness meter for D-Day, which is required to succeed by the end.

Classified: France ’44’s factions are a nice addition, as levelling up your relationship offers trade opportunities for better equipment. It’s very limited, however, as there are no competing loyalties involved (despite the game’s claims to the contrary). By halfway through the campaign, I’d also maxed out every relationship, rendering it null for the rest of the story. This leaves it feeling a bit lightweight, come the end.

The German forces will slowly upgrade as the story progresses too, with new enemy varieties and stronger types, which provides a steady challenge uptick. Opposing squads will also be deployed to nullify territories, but these are remarkably easy to manage (you can incapacitate them using tokens) and repair, again reducing its effectiveness. There are some solid ideas here, but they jam up like a rookie’s rifle just when it needs to push on.

Classified: France '44 review

This Is My Rifle

As you go about readying the battlefronts for the Allied naval assault, you’ll need to manage your soldiers’ equipment and wellbeing, too. This is a fairly typical trope of the genre, and Classified: France ’44 handles this with a fair balance. Injuries take time (4 whole days!) to heal up, while fatigue and morale damage can be rectified through non-deployment and rest.

The skill trees for the different unit classes are fairly expansive and allow for specialisation. For instance, one of my riflemen was able to decimate opponents in cover, and on every kill would get a new action, allowing them to fire again. There’s a good sandbox here, that encourages you to maximise your strategies on every turn, which I really enjoyed.

Throw in passive buffs to weapons and equipment, which can be obtained as mission rewards or through purchasing from factions, and there’s a solid amount of customisation to tinker with. Unlike others in the genre, Classified: France 44′ strikes a good balance between pushing you into uncomfortable decisions, without brutalising your experience from one bad mission or decision.

You can of course save scum if that one 97% shot inexplicably misses, but I never felt the need to. If anything, I hit more 5% probability shots here than I probably have in every other XCOM type game combined. As far as games of this genre go, Classified is probably one of the more accessible and forgiving for newer players. For veterans, you can naturally push up the difficulty and do it on Ironman mode, so you’re catered for too.

Classified: France '44 review

A Grizzled Figure

On the whole, your pre-emptive strikes across 1940s France is pleasant enough to behold. The overview map is cleanly handled, while the UI strikes a good balance between providing information without being cluttered. There are the occasional metal Hedgehogs you’ll poke into, like when the interface for a mission glitches out visually or you argue with the character customisation screens, but these are inconsequential.

In terms of visuals, I liked the various locations and map aesthetics you’ll visit. There’s an occasional bit of repetition, but the plethora of maps is actually pretty broad compared to others. Whether you’re destroying an enemy U-Boat facility or defending a broken-down train while you rob it, the attention to detail is on point. This is probably more important here, given the setting of World War Two, and it sells the immersion well.

Graphically, things can be rough around the edges, to say the least. It’s not uncommon for one of your units to hold their weapon sideways when firing. Explosions sometimes won’t have an actual explosion and there’s a jagged edge to most textures. This is a lower budget game, and it shows in places, but graphics aren’t everything, and the sense of time isn’t lost just because of some dodgy polygons here and there.

I’ve had some rough experiences of XCOM-inspired games and performance, not least XCOM 2 itself being more of a framerate disaster than the actual alien occupation of Earth. For the most part, Classified: France ’44 holds up well. In later missions, more enemies means the wait time between turns can be frustrating. There’s also a strange delay that occurs when commanding your units, where you can’t use abilities for around 5 seconds, for no discernable reason. The camera can also get glued to things that aren’t your squad, which is equally annoying.

Mostly insignificant, aside from the two crashes to the PS5 menu I experienced. It’s a relatively smooth D-Day landing, but a few ships will get stuck along the way.

Classified: France '44 review

A Sturdy Resistance With Flaws

So, brass tacks, is Classified: France ’44 a good entry into the XCOM space? I’d argue yes. Despite its flaws and issues in almost all areas of its design, the core of the game is great. Pulling off a perfect mission in stealth or successfully retreating from the Gestapo through a clever strategy kept me entertained throughout. The campaign lasts about 15-20 hours roughly, and I’d say I had fun through 80% of that.

It’s nothing evolutionary nor revolutionary. However, the setting and period of history its set in synchronize superbly with the turn-based tactical gameplay formula. It’s never going to compete with the best in the genre, but it holds out its defensive line with a steadfast strength. It’s a ragtag resistance as opposed to a fully organised one, but isn’t rooting for the plucky group more enjoyable than supporting the already perfected one?

Classified: France ’44 is a good game worth your time if you’re into the genre. It won’t convince anyone outside of this, apart from those interested in all things World War Two, but I had a good time disrupting German operations and laying the groundwork for one of the biggest moments in human history.

Classified: France ’44 sits comfortably within the XCOM genre, content to replicate a good, solid formula without much deviation. This resistance group suffers from all manner of technical flaws and they don’t present themselves as particularly interesting, but the missions you’ll send them on will keep you engaged right up until the Allied assault of D-Day begins, and you’ll have earned that victory lap.

Classified: France ’44 is available March 5th on PlayStation 5 (review platform), Xbox Series S|X and PC.

Developer: Absolutely Games

Publisher: Team17

Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy from the publisher.

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