The plan was doomed from the start. Storming onto the beaches of Normandy, leading my Enlisted squad amongst dozens of others, it immediately became clear that the Axis powers held the advantage.
Our soldiers' war cries are soon drowned out by the thunder of artillery and crackle of gunfire. Planes soar overhead, pummelling shrapnel into the sand around tanks that steadily trundle up the beach alongside us, providing a precarious source of cover.
Our numbers steadily dwindle as we push to the edge of the berm, until I'm just one of the few remaining, hunkered behind a dune while an MG turret rains hellfire from the hilltop in front of me. And yet, even as death surrounds me from every angle, I can't help but smile; it's good to feel this utterly helpless in a multiplayer shooter again.
D-Day is hardly a novel experience for any veterans of the first-person shooter, but Enlisted makes a compelling argument for its appearance as a flagship map in the game's ongoing PS5 and Xbox Series X open beta. That's because Darkflow Software's next-gen multiplayer military sim pushes for grounded, squad-based combat in a way that I haven't seen on consoles for quite some time, taking residence in the vacuum that many are hoping Battlefield 6 will fill later this year.
In short, Enlisted makes you feel like a small cog in a big war. You're not a hero; just one soldier amongst hundreds whose life is on the line, where the language of warfare isn't about domination, but survival. When so many other online shooters glorify the player as a one-man army, there's something to be said about the games which put us back in our place, heightening our vulnerability to push us into new ways of playing.
A single shot of a rifle in Enlisted is enough to kill, or be killed. That maxim, universal and unrelenting in its application, shifts the dynamics of warfare that you might expect from an online console shooter, though PC players weaned on the likes of Rising Storm and Arma 3 will be more than familiar with Enlisted's pace and mechanical rhythms.
Running with a squad of customisable AI bots under your command (anyone who's played Brothers in Arms will feel right at home in this regard), you'll need to exercise extreme caution and tight teamwork.
You can dish out commands to your inferiors, such as where to move, or what to focus on, and friendly players can even join your squad should you prefer a human element to the camaraderie. Each match can support up to 100 real players, too, meaning that there's simply too many threats to run and gun as a lone wolf; something I learned the hard way during my first baptism into the game's combat waters.
While Enlisted's gunplay isn't quite as smooth or snappy as its bigger budget competitors, its emphasis on patient strategy rather than twitchy trigger fingers alleviates most of those shortcomings. It's a rather gorgeous looking game, in fact, with rich, expansive environs that pop on PS5, and some seriously impressive sound design that maintains the immersion of battle throughout.
With 12 distinct infantry classes, dozens of era-appropriate weapons, several unique types of tanks and aircraft, and customisable skill trees for you to progress your soldiers and squads into certain roles, there's a lot to sink your teeth into, as well. That class system, in particular, diversifies the game's PvP dynamics with a compelling meta-layer around squad builds and player choice.
Playing as an engineer, I had opportunities to construct defensive fortifications, including machine gun nests – easily one of the most effective ways to rack up your kill count from a safe distance.
Certain classes can equip unique weapons such as flamethrowers, meanwhile, whereas another can call in artillery strikes from a portable radio. Better yet, your class choices don't just extend to yourself, but your entire squad, allowing you to pick, mix, and progress the perfect composition for your playstyle.
Where Battlefield has streamlined and simplified its class structure in recent instalments, Enlisted thus goes the other direction, expanding it as a deep and integral part of the overall experience. That comes with its own problems, including a hefty sense of grind to progress each class, and a complicated main menu that doesn't exactly cater to newcomers.
But those hurdles soon shrink in relation to the joys of Enlisted's class combat, which gives players an immensely satisfying degree of agency over the kind of squad leader they want to be on the battlefield.
Trial by combat
Enlisted also has an MMO-inspired metagame centred around what it calls Campaigns, which splits multiplayer up into several distinct periods from World War 2. The PS5 open beta includes two of the four Campaigns planned for the full game; Battle for Moscow and Invasion of Normandy. Each Campaign features exclusive maps, weapons, playable armies, and vehicles, though you can switch between Campaigns freely from the main menu. Players can progress through each Campaign by completing in-game objectives for more exclusive rewards, and Darkflow plans to add more to the roster as time goes on.
The structure is an extension of Enlisted's commitment to maintaining a degree of authenticity in its depiction of WW2. That's all well and good, I can't help but wonder whether the addition is unnecessarily complicating a first-person shooter that already has a lot of competing systems for players to contend with. That said, Campaigns do set a healthy foundation for seasonal updates and live service stories later down the road, and the fact you're never shoehorned into any of them at once avoids it feeling overly constrained.
Besides, it's the slow burn catharsis of Enlisted's tactical class warfare that's the real draw here, which is compelling enough on its own to drown out the game's more esoteric design choices. If you're looking for something to scratch that Battlefield itch as we wait for DICE's sequel to arrive later this year, Enlisted is always recruiting for more soldiers to join its ranks.