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Classified France ’44 review – the WW2 XCOM of our dreams?

XCOM-like WW2 game Classified: France ‘44 is about to drop - we tested it to find out if Absolutely Games' PC debut passes the D-Day muster.

Classified France 44 review - wargamer screenshot showing armed resistance troopers on a road at night time

Our Verdict

Instantly familiar, but with tons of smart gameplay additions to the formula, Classified: France ‘44 may not be a looker, but its World War 2 tactical squad-based combat will keep you coming back for more.

Reasons to buy
  • Sells the WW2 commando fantasy
  • Rich tactical combat
  • Meaningful strategic decisions
  • Varied, cinematic-feeling missions
  • Steps a toe into telling individual war stories
Reasons to avoid
  • Characters lean towards caricatures
  • Falls slightly short of the authentic tone it promises
  • Lackluster graphics and animations may put some off
  • Bugs may get in the way

Classified: France ‘44 may appear to be a tactical squad-based WW2 game in the vein of Commandos or Silent Storm with lashings of XCOM slathered on top, but that’s not all it is. Instead, Classified: France ‘44 aims high, setting out to explore an authentic story of war, told by soldiers fighting behind enemy lines in a pivotal but little-known theater of World War 2. Developer Absolutely Games has served up a surprising amount to chew on; thankfully, we at Wargamer are a hungry lot.

We’re glad to say that, for the most part, our Classified: France ‘44 review finds it a compelling, smart, tactical combat WW2 game that shines a light on one of the more tenebrous arenas of the six-year conflict. So without further preamble, let us cry havoc and…

Classified France 44 review - author screenshot from the review copy showing the campaign map and the mission to help the french resistance

Let slip the dogs of war

In Classified: France ‘44 you take command over a squad of Jedburghs – commandos parachuted behind enemy lines in 1944 to sow chaos in the runup to the D-Day landings.

Unlike some other squad-based games like XCOM, each of your commandos is a character in their own right, fully voiced, with a backstory, opinions, and skills. In between missions it’s common to sit around the fire and listen to them chat, and doing so will even give some of your soldiers a buff, so it’s well worth taking the time to get to know your team.

Classified France 44 review - author screenshot from the review copy showing character XP and level up results after a mission

The beginning of the game sees your rag-tag team of saboteurs consist of four soldiers, with a few other volunteers joining your ranks over the first few missions. We couldn’t resist packing our ranks with a French smuggler with a distaste for authority and a Marxist philosophy student-turned-soldier who needed rescuing from a Nazi jail.

Classified France 44 review - author screenshot from the review copy showing the character Jacob Emil Bloch in a house

As you progress through the game, each of your Jedburghs – and the allies you pick up along the way – will level up, giving you access to more skills and abilities, new weaponry and clothing, and often an increasing array of very dashing headwear. Every commando also has a specialisation, which you can further customize as you level up in four key directions on each soldier’s skill tree.

Classified France 44 review - author screenshot from the review copy showing the skill tree level up screen for your characters

The meat of the game consists of throwing your chosen squad of commandos into the fray on various targeted missions, chosen from the campaign map. Theft, sabotage, assassination, you’ll be doing the lot – and you’ll be doing it from a tactical, XCOM-a-like interface.

If you’ve played any of the newer XCOMs, Phoenix Point, Warhammer 40k Mechanicus, or even the older X-COM turn based games, you’ll be right at home with Classified: France ‘44’s tactical gameplay. Each soldier has a finite number of action points per turn and everything costs points, from vaulting to shooting to smashing windows. Managing your turns, learning to set up your soldiers, thinking before moving, and anticipating enemy actions are key to achieving victory on the battlefield.

Classified France 44 review - author screenshot from the review copy showing the campaign map of northern France

Away from your missions, you’ll have access to a strategic map showing different regions in Northern France. This is where you’ll be choosing your missions, managing team loadouts, and checking in on the three different factions you’ll court as you fight for France’s freedom.

Each region is associated with one of the three factions, letting you earn influence, access to shops, and unique abilities as you gain favour with them by completing local missions.

In addition, this map overview shows the enemy’s attempts to shut you down. Areas will switch to higher alert, military police will move into regions to make missions more difficult, and you’ll have the ever-present timer at the top reminding you that D-Day is coming, adding urgency to your campaign.

Classified France 44 review - author screenshot from the review copy showing units in a building during a mission to steal tank schematics from the Nazis

Warfare with brains

Classified: France ‘44 really shines in several key areas that set it apart from the rest of the tactical warfare gang. One of the most intriguing and crucial mechanics is Morale. Each soldier – friend or foe – has their own Morale value which depletes when they come under fire – even if the shots miss.

Lose too much Morale and they’ll become Suppressed, receiving fewer Action Points, dealing less damage, and becoming more of a liability on the battlefield. Lose Morale entirely and a soldier becomes Broken, losing their next turn completely.

This opens up all sorts of options when in the midst of a skirmish, for both you and the enemy. Can’t crack a well-armoured Nazi but you’ve dropped a satchel charge that’ll blow them to kingdom come? Knock out their Morale with suppressing fire, and watch them struggle to escape the blast. Similarly, you’ll have to make sure you get the drop on enemies, as extended fights will see your own troops’ Morale plummet, their effectiveness dropping rapidly the longer the skirmish goes on.

Classified France 44 review - author screenshot from the review copy showing your soldier shooting a Nazi soldier behind a house during a mission

Every mission undertaken also temporarily saps your soldiers’ Action Points reserves, eventually leaving them tired and unable to perform on the battlefield. This encourages you to swap characters in and out of your active team between missions, letting your heroes rest up while you busy yourself elsewhere.

As each soldier’s level and XP progress depends on them being taken on missions, this also naturally helps you to spread your attention across your full roster, avoiding the pitfall of many an XCOM campaign, where you’d end up with one small troop of hyper-valuable, elite super-soldiers and a whole base full of untrained chaff.

Similar to XCOM 2, the game also has a stealth mechanic that lets you start missions hidden from foes – though only in certain mission types. Some encourage you to stay in stealth, and impose heavy penalties if you break your concealment.

Classified France 44 review - wargamer screenshot showing the player squad advancing into sandbags and lining up shots

Others allow use of the game’s Ambush mechanic, where if you kill a certain number of enemies without raising an alarm, you’re granted a refresh of your squad’s Action Points to really lay down some surprise damage.

Acting in stealth really drives home the core fantasy of working behind enemy lines, stealing plans or blowing up bridges, all under the nose of your foes. It’s a basic system – stay out of sight, avoid making too much noise – but it allows for those fist-pumping moments where a plan comes together just right.

There are few experiences in gaming as satisfying as planning an ambush, getting your troops in the right positions, triggering it, and watching as your foes fall apart under the well-planned surprise attack you’ve been putting together all mission.

Classified France 44 review - author screenshot from the review copy showing a historical info popup about Operation Bolero

Playing through the varying mission types and exploring all the tactical options available to you is where Classified: France ‘44 really sings. The tactical combat is where you’ll be spending most of your time, and we’re glad to say that it’s meaty, engaging, and powered by enemy AI that’s tough enough to give you a challenge.

No two missions are entirely alike and all allow for the kind of heroic moments that make you feel like you’re living in a World War II movie. The non-traumatising kind, that is.

Classified France 44 review - author screenshot from the review copy showing soldiers entering a building to steal thermite explosives during a mission

Trouble on the Horizon

Of course, Classified: France ‘44 isn’t perfect, and there are a few issues that can get in the way of prospective battlefield commanders. When you start playing, you may be overwhelmed with information about weapons, damage types, cover, and lines of sight.

As you play further, however, you may wish that you were given access to more information. There’s an occasional lack of clarity that can interrupt the flow of a mission, such as the impact of being on a different height level to an enemy – both for your attack plans on them, and vice versa.

Classified France 44 review - author screenshot from the review copy showing soldiers walking through a town street at night

Initial reactions to Classified have understandably looked askance at its unimpressive graphics, and it’s true that – even playing on the highest settings – its characters and environments are often rough and underwhelming.

For us, the look of the game is extremely Ronseal: it does exactly what it says on the tin and, to be fair, it does it well. Classified: France ‘44’s graphics won’t wow you, but they don’t get in the way either; there’s a ‘miniature wargame diorama’ feel to many of the missions, with a small, carefully designed area to play through, shrouded in fog of war.

We found that, over time, we became fans of how Classified: France ‘44 looks, despite some of the textures and models not holding up so well when taking cinematic shots or zooming in too close.

Developer Absolutely Games says one of its ambitions with Classified: France ‘44 is to tell an authentic story of the troops dropped behind enemy lines before D-Day. And this works quite well – mostly. But there are some areas where the game doesn’t quite navigate the slippery tightrope between pathos and caricature successfully.

Classified France 44 review - author screenshot from the review copy showing your soldiers resting at a campfire between missions

You’ll be hearing your Jedburghs chatter a lot over the campfire and, while there’s some nuance there in the discussions between commandos, your soldiers can come off a little cartoonish at times.

It’s a difficult thing to do, talking about the horrors of war while hooraying over each individual enemy death and slit throat, and we’re not sure Absolutely has pulled it off entirely as well as it aimed to. At times it can feel a little like playing in a sandbox with green plastic toy soldiers, shouting dakka-dakka and boom at imagined conflicts.

Classified France 44 review - author screenshot from the review copy showing a destroyed radio tower building during a mission

While Classified: France ‘44 is smooth to play and simple to pick up and dive into, we encountered a few bugs in our review version that betray a lack of polish.

Occasionally tactical information would disappear, leaving us not knowing where we were clicking until we switched soldiers a few times. Animations in particular seem to have a strong chance to go awry, with enemy reinforcements arriving running on the spot, or cinematic shots being performed with the soldier in question facing the wrong way.

One of the biggest issues that interrupted our missions was pathfinding. Once or twice, when running over a catwalk, our soldier decided not to take the simple route, opting instead to jump off the side, run around, and hop back on where we had instructed them to move.

Classified France 44 review - author screenshot from the review copy showing soldiers entering a building on a mission

We also found we had to shepherd our troops more than expected – when in stealth, they would often gleefully run straight through enemy lines of sight to get to objectives, forcing us to move them one square at a time to ensure they didn’t go AWOL and get us all shot.

None of these are deal breakers, and we’re hopeful many of these can be fixed in time, but they are important niggles and, as of the time of writing, they appear to still be present in the version of the game purchasers of the Overlord Edition have access to.

Classified France 44 review - official game graphic showing various characters including a women with french style hair and a helmeted US soldier

Classified: France ‘44 – Verdict

Classified: France ‘44 is a game with lofty ambitions that mostly hits its targets. But, even laying aside its higher storytelling goals, this is a meaty, smart, and challenging slice of tactical combat that combines some of the best ideas from games such as Jagged Alliance, X-COM, Phoenix Point, and Shadow Tactics into something both familiar and new.

With an attention to detail that really sells the World War 2 setting, a ton of meaningful options to explore, and a mission-builder granting the game a surprising amount of replayability value, Classified: France ‘44 is a solid and satisfying entry into the pantheon of turn-based tactical games.

For more early 20th century wargaming, check out our guides on the best WW2 board games, the best WW1 board games, and the best WW1 wargames. Alternatively, go vehicular with the best naval games and best combat flight simulators you can play on PC.