I’ve been playing Hell Let Loose, a World War II Shooter with a strong emphasis on teamwork, communication and strategy made by an international team based out of Sydney, Australia.
It looks great, it runs… pretty well (most of the time) and it has the sort of high lethality that I tend to love in games. I don’t know why, but I gravitate time and again towards games where one shot kills. Oh, and the sound in it is phenomenal. In terms of precision sound, I think only DICE has this game beat, and when everything starts exploding around you, you know about it.
One thing I noticed about it, however, is that despite loving the opportunity to pull off a sick flank and crack out some amazing kills, I keep coming back to, more than anything, the medic role. And it got me wondering — why is the medic role so compelling in shooters?
I think in games like Overwatch or Team Fortress — Hero Shooters — the answer is quite simple. Medics give players the opportunity to meaningfully contribute without the pressure of winning in combat. That’s not to say they’re not able to win fights, just that it’s not their primary goal — the combat Mercy is a rad idea in theory, but in practice it’s seen a lot of teams lose.
But I’m talking more about games where the lines between roles are a little more blurred. In Battlefield, the medic is as capable as any other class. For a while, when the Thompson was too powerful in Battlefield V, people would pick medic for the weapons and then actively ignore their Hippocratic Oath.
But when the weapons are balanced away from the combat docs, the medic doesn’t always feel like the most obvious class choice. They generally find themselves with far fewer options compared to their peers — with slightly worse guns, no grenades, and no way to deal with armour or help build emplacements.
And yet I can’t stop myself from picking them.
I guess a part of it is the same as it is in Hero Shooters. If Playing the Fucking Objective is a crippling part of the way you play games, it’s hard to go past the medic. Every action you do is helping. That giant flank with your squad, deep into enemy territory — if you get your teammates back up when they get dropped, you’re PTFO.
And while I’m on the Hero Shooter thing, I’m a firm believer that every competent team needs a healer. And I’ve played enough Overwatch to know that sometimes, even if you can shoot circles around everyone on your team, the only way to make sure your team has a healer is to be the healer yourself. So there’s that factor.
There’s also a bit of Enrique Iglesias in the mix here. There’s nothing quite like swooping in under heavy fire to get your teammates back into the fight, smoke all around you as in your head the music rises and you sing to yourself “I can be your hero baby, I can take away your pain“.
But that’s still tied, a little bit, to the Hero Shooter thing. Getting a bunch of teammates up under fire is the non-combat version of the 1v4 clutch play, contributing without actually dealing direct damage.
And while all of the above is part of what draws me to playing the medic, I don’t think it’s the entire answer. I think there’s a hidden factor, one that only shows its hand in games like Hell Let Loose.
HLL is a member of what I think of as the “Project Reality” subgenre of shooters. It’s a game with a fairly high skill floor — it’s not the sort you can just pick-up and play — but once you reach that base level of play, it’s an intensely compelling experience.
One of the biggest challenges to reaching that base level, though, is information. All games are won and lost on information, but these Project Reality sorts increase their complexity by restricting it from you. Where in other shooters like Battlefield you wind up with loads of info thanks to a variety of mechanics — spotting, mini-maps indicators, etc. — Hell Let Loose, Squad and others take it away from you.
Instead, it’s you, some broad indications of who is on the same team as you and whatever your squad leader is telling you over the in-game comms. And as a new player starting out, this can make things more challenging than they need to be.
Assume the medic role, however, and an entire world of information opens up for you.
Games like Hell Let Loose have a problem, see. While they strongly recommend you play with a microphone, they know people won’t do it. It’s not that they can’t, but that they don’t want to. For myriad reasons people don’t feel comfortable talking in-game — which means they can’t relay critical information to their teammates.
To overcome this problem, the HUD will communicate this information for you. In Hell Let Loose, a bandage icon means “I need healing!” while a syringe tells you they are dead and need to be revived. It saves the player from having to scream medic over and over, which is probably a good thing if you’re playing games at 2am.
The trade-off for developers everywhere here is that this information can be used beyond the simple “oh they’re hurt” or “they need to be revived” concepts. Seeing a bunch of your teammates all suddenly either need reviving, need bandaging or straight up blink off of your HUD tells a medic oodles about what’s ahead. Either they all played hot potato with a live grenade, they got shelled by the artillery — or there’s an enemy squad ahead with some excellent shooters among them.
When information wins games, this is the stuff dreams are made of. Medics have this sort of information constantly in these large scale battles, and I think it’s such a fascinating aspect to behold. I should point out that in games like Squad or Hell Let Loose, the Squad Leader and Commander roles often also have this information — but both of those roles come with a load of extra pressure someone who hasn’t yet reached the skill floor of the game wouldn’t be ready for.
I don’t only use the extra information medics get for cheekily sniffing out enemy squads, mind you. One of the best ways to learn how to play a new game is to watch others play it, which is easy enough in HLL — join a squad and do what your Squad Leader says.
But with the HUD information the medic has, you don’t just watch what your Squad does — you can watch what everyone is doing. You can learn why you don’t sprint down narrow alleyways without having to enter the alley itself. You can suss out the safe parts of a ridgeline while still deep in a trench. Instead of using trial-and-error to work out the safe way to deploy your heavy machine gun, you can watch as others do that work for you — when you see the syringe icon pop up, you know the trial has ended in error.
It reminds me of playing SPG in World of Tanks, because you have an entirely different perspective to other people. You don’t see the game world they do, and so you can learn entirely different lessons to them.
The end result is that you reach the skill floor faster, and you can progress beyond it quicker too. And, yeah, you help keep your teammates in the fight for longer too, which is always a good thing in team-focused objective based games.
If you’ve never tried playing Medic in a shooter before, give it a punt. Try it out, and revel in the wealth of information at your disposal. And if you don’t like it because their guns are garbage and you’re tired of losing fifty/fifty firefights like you’re using one of the 80 non-meta guns in Call of Duty, let someone else take the role.
But fair warning — if you’re anything like me, you’ll soon be back, addicted to the oodles of extra information, the thrill of the nail-biting team save and the possibly sarcastic calls of ‘good revive’.