This isn’t Call of Duty. It isn’t Battlefield or any of the other war games centered on spectacle and bombastic action. It’s a rough-around-the-edges adherence to historical accuracy, rigid to a fault, and full of its own unique charm and allure because of it. In Tannenberg you aren’t some hero or super soldier. You’re just another body in one of the many battles on the Eastern Front of WWI. Many times your death will be without note, at the hands of a stray bullet or a shooter you never saw. Guns will jam. Your long-range accuracy will be terrible, but getting in close is sure to bring a certain death. There’s no quick scoping or mad heroic dashes. No singlehandedly mowing down waves of enemy forces. It’s a rough and often frustrating depiction of the realities of trench warfare. It’s what makes Tannenberg work, and also what gives it a number of its problems.
“War is hell,” I jokingly grumbled as my wife watched my soldier collapse into the mud following the distinct crack of an authentic WWI-era weapon. I didn’t even know where the shot came from. It sparked a conversation between us about just how insane and harrowing trench warfare was. And in that respect, Tannenberg overwhelmingly succeeds. Once I turned off my “gamer brain” that wanted fast respawns and cracking headshots, I was able to appreciate my fragility. I wasn’t important. I was another gun on a messy and imprecise battlefield. I was just as apt to fall as the guy next to me. Little I did independently helped to turn the tides of any battle.
But, work within your squad, capture objectives, and help your team as a whole? Suddenly my role in bolstering my side became something worth fighting for. There were lots of little things I could do to incrementally make a difference, and conversely, failing to be a brick in the wall meant the whole thing could quickly come tumbling down. You aren’t necessarily individually important as any kind of hero, but your place on the frontlines is essential to ensuring your team’s victory. Tannenberg’s main mode is Maneuvers, a fight for control of territory across a vast battlefield. Capturing specific zones will grant benefits like faster cooldowns for artillery or more rapid reinforcement respawns.
The key here is tactics. Tannenberg isn’t a shooter inasmuch as it’s a game of tactical warfare. Sure, shooting is part of that, but if you aren’t playing to the objective, you’re bound to lose, no matter how many kills you end up with by the final scoreboard. Making a coordinated push is going to work better than hapharzardly scattering across the map. Knowing when to fall back and defend a point is just as important as knowing when to push and take the next one. Tannenberg, to the best of its ability, recreates how armies fought on these fronts over 100 years ago.
And it recreates other realities of the period as well, from the mundane details of each different unit’s uniforms to the agonizing and never-ending screams of a fellow soldier who lays dying in the trench beside you. It’s rather horrific at times. You’ll often die in a single shot, and its rare that you’ll survive two. Respawns are on a rotating time to allow for the tactical ability of kills to feel like they make an impact on the front. Your new respawn is little more than another reinforcement joining the frontlines. It changed the way I play, more aware of my surroundings. Death felt like true punishment, and because it comes easily, I played from a much more cautious approach. Still, there were plenty of times when death felt unfair and out of nowhere, with no real indication for where I had screwed up. Flank exposed? Lucky shot? Spawn camper? Tannenberg was hesitant to ever show me which made it tough to learn.
There are also modes for those who just like to get in there and kill, but these feel like consolations (and are barely populated at all, at least on consoles). Sure, I guess you could pop into AI-filled battlefields, but without the tactical intricacies of the Maneuver mode to hold it together, these modes just feel like a poorly balanced low-budget shooter.
Tannenberg Review – The Eastern Front on Consoles
Launched over a year ago on PC, Tannenberg’s fresh console release still feels like it was inherently designed for PC. Layers of confusing menus, microscopic text, and unclear UI are all carryovers from its mouse and keyboard days where people played directly in front of a monitor. The way everything is presented is overwhleming and unclear, and it took me a number of matches before I even figured out that I had to swap roles with my Squad to be able to get a rifle. And the menus for making that happen are all very PC-based UI designs with little in the way of clear tutorials (aside from even more tiny text) on how to actually do all of this stuff. Playing Tannenberg on a TV in the living room—even a 65″ one—can be something of a chore in the best of circumstances. Consoles also limit the maximum number of players on the battlefield, though it’s unclear why it was reduced from 64 on PC to 40 on consoles.
Its console presentation is decidedly rough, looking like a game from five to ten years ago, as opposed to an experience that is closing out this console generation. Animations are stiff and hilariously awkward looking. Each of the maps, designed around real battlefields from the Eastern Front of WWI, are a treat though. Though not much better visually, they each genuinely felt unique and interesting to explore, requiring specific strategies to overcome and defend points of interest. Add dynamic weather systems that change from match to match, and the developers did a great job making these environments feel more interesting than their attention to realism suggests they might be.
Tannenberg’s attention to historical accuracy and education is impressive, if lacking in the dressing that makes it arguably “interesting.” It’s lackluster presentation means it feels rigid and awkwardly presented, almost forgetting that its a video game in its pursuit of realism and accuracy. It’s both one of the game’s strengths and its biggest Achilles heel, making it appeal to a rather limited subset of people who can get past its unpolished production and appreciate it for these core values. In fact, the game has a number of awkward bugs and glitches, from silly harmless ragdoll physics to a full match I spent randomly falling through the ground and teleporting back above ground for 80% of the 30-minute match.
Despite being rather rough around the edges, Tannenberg’s unique nature breaks from the trends of most AAA first-person shooters today. It’s hardly what I would call a “good” game, and the console version needs a lot of work to feel like more than just a quick PC port, but in spite of all that, I enjoyed the time I spent with it. It was a refreshing breath of fresh air, something just a little bit different. To that end, I commend the development team for not making yet another action-packed blockbuster-style FPS. While it’s not going to replace my old multiplayer standbys of Warzone or Destiny 2, Tannenberg is a game I’d definitely consider going back to if I’m craving a bit of a different approach. I’m just hoping for a bit more polish and console accessibility by the time I return to the Eastern Front.
Tannenberg review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PS4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.