All Fair in Love and War: Tannenberg Review
World War One was bloody awful, and Tannenberg wants to make sure you know it.
Released in February 2019 by Blackmill Games after a brief stay in Steam’s Early Access program, Tannenberg, like it’s trenchfoot-laden brother from 2015, Verdun, aims to strike the seemingly impossible balance of creating a fun and engaging tactical shooter while also accurately portraying the misery and brutality of the Great War’s Eastern Front.
As I lay in an old shell hole, desperately loading my revolver to the cacophonous sound of shellfire and rifle reports, dimly aware of the twitching, gargling bodies of my comrades just behind me and mindful of the hopeless push that lays ahead of me, I’m inclined to believe that Tannenberg nails the mark.
The game champions its realistic presentation as one of its core strengths, and even as someone who can’t appreciate the differences between a Mosin-Nagant M1891 Dragoon and a Mosin-Nagant M1907 Carbine, the game’s obsessive attention to detail across its multinational assortment of six armies and around fifty weapons is still palpable.
While Verdun’s star gamemode, ‘Frontlines’, sought to emulate the strangely structured barbarity of trench warfare, Tannenberg’s own unique mode, ‘Maneuver’, intends to imitate the comparatively chaotic maneuver warfare like those seen at the titular Battle of Tannenberg, which saw close to 200,000 casualties over the course of four days. Players and A.I bots form into four-man squads of Roumanian, Russian, Cossack, German, Bulgarian or Austro-Hungarian origin and do battle on one of six 64-player maps spanning from East Prussia all the way down to Dobrudja on the Black Sea’s coast.
Teams must control more than half of the sectors on the map in order to grind down the resources of the other team and benefit from the buffs that each point provides. This leads to an intense and dynamic frontline where the two teams must best determine how to balance offence and defence to their advantage. Through this, Tannenberg does an incredible job of creating both moment-to-moment and overarching tension as you fight for dominance of both the sector and the map at large.
Gameplay is hardcore and unforgiving. It is very rare that it will take more than one hit for either you or an enemy to go down. The bolt action rifles and pistols you will invariably find yourself equipped with, provide an uncompromising demand for first shot accuracy. Man-portable automatic weapons are but a myth in the fields of Galicia, which makes the static machine gun emplacements spread throughout the maps and powerful artillery and gas barrages at the fingertips of NCOs all the more terrifying and, for some, frustrating.
If you’ve come to Tannenberg in search of Quake-style gameplay or the bombastic combat of Battlefield 1, you’re in the wrong part of town. Combat is unending and attritional, lives are short, it doesn’t take long for the battlefield to become strewn with the dying and the dead, a grim reminder of the cost of every sector gained and defended. Between the piling bodies and the incredibly drab colour palette the game uses, it truly makes the world look like a horrific and scarred hellscape.
Tannenberg excels in the goal of creating a miserable, yet enthralling experience that has no intention to be for everyone, which takes a specific kind of person to enjoy the brutal and occasionally frustrating meat-grinder combat that Tannenberg constantly forces you to face.
It just so happens to be that I am that kind of person, and if you are as well, then I can only give Tannenberg my highest recommendation.