Remagen: The worst map of all time?

Hell Let Loose’s Update 12 is out now, which means it’s time to once again right click on the game in steam, click manage, click “Browse Local Files”, click through HLL to Content to Movies and to delete all the files within to save yourself a full minute on startup.

It brings with it a bunch of changes. There’s a new old Panther tank, which is an absolute beast. They ruined stationary AT guns, I assume because everyone at Black Matter Studios is a Girls Und Panzer fan and the stationaries were killing their waifus. They changed a bunch of sounds in the game, I assume for realism reasons? I’m still not sure if making it so the Artillery is all but inaudible until it falls on you is better or worse, but as long as Arty is still in the game it’s bad however it sounds.

They also added in a bunch of map variants. Omaha Beach now has a Warfare version, and I think it’s pretty cool. It’s interesting how different you look at a map when you’re playing it in Warfare versus Offensive — but they also made some changes to it too. And Foy, Purple Heart Lane, Hurtgen Forest and Kursk all now have Night versions, where visibility is lower and terrors lurk around every corner.

The big new thing in Hell Let Loose for Update 12 is Remagen, a map based on the Allied effort to capture the Ludendorff Bridge across the Rhine and to establish a point of attack into the Ruhr heartland.

And it might be the worst multiplayer map ever conceived.

I’ve played a lot of games. I would put a strong wager on the fact that I’ve played more games than probably 99.9% of the world’s population. This isn’t a brag, because if it was it would be very sad. I’m just trying to establish here and now that what I am saying is coming from a position of knowledge.

Remagen is a bad map. Well, I should clarify. I haven’t been to the area in question, situated as I am thousands of kilometres away busily trying to play more video games than other people for bragging rights, but it appears to be a very faithful recreation of what the area might have looked like in 1945. I wouldn’t say I’ve looked at more maps than 99.9% of people, but to my untrained eye it seems like it is very well mapped.

But as a video game level it’s bad. And as a Hell Let Loose level it’s even worse.

Before I break down why that is, though, let’s cut something off at the knees.

Realism isn’t real

I am fully aware that the soldiers who fought in the Battle of Remagen weren’t huge fans of the map design either.

I hate that argument. I hate the realism argument. I’m so tired of it. Hell Let Loose isn’t realistic. If it was realistic it’d delete your fucking game from your computer and ban you from the master server after your very first death. You understand that, right? There are conceits we accept when we play video games, adjustments to reality that make the game more fun, or decrease the resources required to run it, or to accommodate a specific goal of the developers.

Sometimes, especially in games where one side was outright evil — like in games set in World War 2 for example — reality is glossed over a little to avoid particularly spicy elements of history.

So you can save the ‘realism’ bullshit right from the get-go, because it doesn’t hold any water in any video game you’ve ever played. But it’s particularly nonsensical in Hell Let Loose, an arcade World War 2 shooter that blends faithful representations of real world battlefields with dozens of elements that make the game more playable and fun.

And it’s particularly egregious on Remagen, where the Allies’ surprise attack allowed them to establish a bridgehead before proper German defences could be mounted. The US Navy and Coastguard used things called “BO-ATs” to cross — sorry, they used boats — to cross the river and had built temporary bridges by the time the German counter-offensive began. 

Realism is always a poor retort used to dismiss genuine criticism, employed as a catchall handwave that conveniently ignores the many concessions games make because in real life war is a nightmare that many people never wake up from.

Fuck realism.

With that out of the way, let’s breakdown what’s wrong with Remagen.

The Three Lane Problem

There are really two philosophies regarding map design that first person shooters like to employ. There is ‘honeycomb’ or ‘fishbowl’ or whatever you want to call it, and there is the ‘three lane’ design that is popular in Call of Duty.

Both concepts have their pros and cons. The three lane idea allows players to find combat without necessarily playing the objective — simply make your way down one of the lanes and you will inevitably run into an enemy. This works for the Call of Duty style of ‘kills first’ gameplay — and it’s why you’ll notice it emphasised less in Treyarch’s Call of Duty maps. Treyarch has always put a stronger emphasis on PTFO than the other COD studios, and as a result they want to empower players to be able to find the objective from almost anywhere on the map.

That’s where the honeycomb design shines. Good map design in multiplayer games is designed to create areas of conflict, because conflict is what people have paid money to experience. In the three lane system, those areas are wherever players might be when they run into one another, and that means making sure all areas of the map appropriately accommodate conflict. So cover, interesting elevation changes and unexpected but manageable sightlines need to be at play at almost all times.

But it doesn’t make for terribly natural level design. If you’ve ever played a third person shooter and seen a wide open concrete plaza littered with waist high concrete blocks and thought to yourself ‘looks like I’m about to get into a fight’, you know what I’m talking about. Environmental elements that stick out like a sore thumb are a necessity in the three lane philosophy because the conflict can happen anywhere at any time.

Honeycomb design isn’t burdened by this issue. By placing emphasis on playing the fucking objecitve, designers are able to strive for naturalistic environments while knowing that the bulk of the conflict will take place on that objective. If players get into conflict outside of those specific areas, the onus is on them to make sure they are able to get to cover.

Positioning is a huge part of the appeal of these games, because it means clever movement can overcome a lot of other inadequacies. All the oldheads who haven’t got the reflexes to win 50-50 fights any more can succeed in honeycomb maps because their superior knowledge makes it so they never take 50-50 fights. They use positioning to make sure they only ever get into conflict when they have an advantage.

Hell Let Loose, being a Battlefield-like, generally uses a honeycomb style. This might not seem obvious at first, because the objectives on the map are laid out in what looks like three lanes. But once you’re on the ground in these maps you can see that you’re usually able to approach an objective from almost any direction — and that’s good. It’s great. As mentioned earlier, Hell Let Loose has gone to great lengths to map out the areas represented in its game in intricate detail. Private Ryan didn’t go running from conveniently-placed waist high cover to waist high cover while he was fucking up Captain Miller’s plans to go home, did he.

Ahh, but I said ‘generally’, didn’t I. That’s because with Remagen, Hell Let Loose has introduced a brand new map design philosophy. The One Lane Design.

1D Chess

Knowing what we do about how three lane maps funnel players together, where do you think the conflict will be on a map that only has one lane?

Unsurprisingly, the Ludendorff bridge on Remagen is an absolute clusterfuck. It is a meat grinder. Players throw smokes and run into oblivion, hoping against hope that they will make it to cover before they die. Enemies pass one another like ships in the night, blinded and deafened by the non-stop barrage of explosives and gunfire. At either end sit tanks and machine gunners emptying endless amounts of ammunition into the corridor of death that is the only way for either side to cross the 400 metre wide Rhine.

Artillery pounds the bridge endlessly, and why wouldn’t it? Artillery is already a near risk-free proposition in Hell Let Loose. For at least the first five minutes of any map there is zero chance the other team can contest players on the artillery — they physically can’t reach the guns that fast. On Remagen, that problem never solves itself. The recon team who are supposed to spend all their time sniping the Artillery can’t make it across the bridge in the first place, and so Artillery is a straight up zero-risk proposition.

If you and a pal sat yourselves down on the arty at the start of the game and set up a pair of Drinking Birds after dialling in the middle of the bridge, you could go to the pub for an hour and a half and come back to 200 kills and zero deaths.

The Lone Rangers

“But Joab,” I hear you say. “What about Airheads?”

Great question. So there is another way to get across the Rhine in Remagen, the mythical “Airhead”. A commander ability, it creates a spawn point that players can use to appear in unexpected locations.

It’s pretty simple to use, too. The Commander calls in an Airhead, tells everyone to spawn on it and then your team appears across the river, fat and happy and no longer being blown to smithereens trying to cross a bridge being covered by every muzzle on the Western Front.

And then they explode.

The Airhead can only be deployed within two grid squares of the current front, and on Remagen about 90% of those two grids are made up of water. 8% of them is the video game equivalent of smashing your face into a wall, and the remaining 2% is viable land for an airhead, shared evenly between the two teams.

The viable territory is anything not blue between the two black lines.

So when the commander does call in an airhead, all the defending team needs to do is spot it in one of the only two places it can land and then explode it. How do they explode it? Why it’s dealer’s choice my friend. They could use a satchel, or a rocket, or a grenade, or a tank could shell it. Any of these options could be used the moment it landed, or if the defenders were feeling particularly shitty they could wait 30 seconds for the attackers to spawn and then pull the trigger.

I love airheads on regular maps, because it epitomises the sort of risk vs reward gameplay that Hell Let Loose generally does well (not counting arty). Spawning on them feels sneaky and bold and scary, and there’s a tension felt as you pray none of your idiot teammates starts firing until you’re all close enough to capture the objective. Seeing them floating behind your objective is thrilling too, as the panic sets in and spurs you and your team to action to try to remove it before it becomes an issue.

Good airheads land and provide the team with an opportunity to find success from an unexpected vector. Great airheads do so when the enemy is looking elsewhere, so that resistance is almost non-existent and the point is captured quick enough to start attacking the next objective as well.

On Remagen, neither is possible against a team paying even a little bit of attention. The night version of Remagen provides enough visual cover to facilitate a successful spawn, but the plane still makes noise and the locations for deployment are so limited that it’s easy for defenders to root out.

And once the airhead is done, your team is safe for another 10 minutes. That’s the cooldown on airheads, 10 minutes. You could blow up an airhead as it landed in the 40 – 50 metres of viable space on your side of the bridge, and then you could watch an episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force, and by the time Frylock had begrudgingly fixed Master Shake’s screw-ups you’d hear the plane fly overhead so you could ruin the next one.

The only way airheads work is if attention slips. If the players defending their side of the river get bored, an airhead can work. But that’s… not good? Your entire strategy can’t be ‘gee I hope those players get bored’. I mean I realise that philosophy has already been employed in Hell Let Loose previously — Arty players can successfully have a good time after getting sniped by simply deploying to the frontline for 5 minutes and trusting that the Recon players have gotten bored, and everyone accepts that as ‘good’ somehow.

But the stakes are a lot higher on Remagen. Boredom is not your primary strategy for dealing with some kill farmers who are actively ruining the game for everyone else so they can level up Rifleman without having to use the Kar98 for 15 games. Boredom is your only hope of getting across the river, because there’s no reason at all that any team should make it to the other side if they’re facing equal opposition. And the only way to create unequal opposition on Remagen is via Airheads — so you’re banking on boredom as if your virtual life depended on it.

Get Lucky

And know too that in some circumstances your virtual life will depend on it. Remagen’s central cap zone can be located in three different areas, and if that area is on the other side of the bridge from you, you’re fucked.

That’s not being defeatist. Hell Let Loose has long featured some lopsided map design, due in no small part to its dogged adherence to realism (at least in terms of landscaping). But when the centre point is on either side of the Rhine, it’s not lopsided — it’s a vertical wall.

The team gifted with the cap point on their side of the river has a massive advantage from the outset, because technically speaking, holding the centre cap point is the single win condition of Hell Let Loose. Anything else is gravy. Getting lots of kills, capping the other points, blowing up tanks — none of this matters in the grand scheme of getting the W.

And if the team cursed with a bad roll of the three sided die happens to make it across the bridge to cap the point on your side, their problems are only just beginning. They either need to hold that point for the next however long and pray they never slip up, or they need to cap the next point to give themselves some breathing space. But the area of control isn’t any bigger than the thin strip of land commanders had to use for Airheads before. “Safe” territory doesn’t magically expand once they capture the middle objective.

They have to play perfect for the rest of the match, but the defenders — who can roll new tanks onto the point from any direction, not just ‘over the bridge’ — only need to get lucky for a moment. They just need a single great bombing run, or a sneaky squad, or a bold tank to roll onto the point to destroy the garrison and potentially shove one team back across the river.

It’s deeply lopsided. And that doesn’t even account for Erpeler Ley, the clifftop overlooking the entire map on the German side, which can be used to rain holy hell down on anyone and everyone across the map if someone has a tank and working knowledge of the Parking Brake.

The Remedy

Anyway, as always I’m loathe to suggest problems without also offering up solutions, even if I know deep down it’s not necessary. Some things can just be broken, and you don’t need to know how to fix them to say it’s broken. The Internal Combustion Engine’s secrets might as well be high sorcery as far as I’m concerned but I still know when a car is fucked.

So here is how I think Remagen could be fixed.

The first change is pretty easy. Delete Remagen from the game. I love deleting things. You should see all the words I deleted from this article. A lot of f-words. Many, many typos. A portion of my rant about realism that got a little too specific and mean.

I don’t think every big update for Hell Let Loose needs to come with some grand new map. Night maps are honestly enough for me. Omaha Beach Warfare is enough for me. I like that stuff. So yeah, just delete Remagen. And while you’re deleting things, remove Artillery and the new MG42 sound.

The second change is a little bit more complex. Build bridges across the Rhine. As I said earlier, this is actually something that happened in real life, which I know is deeply important to the hyper dorks who are worried about realism in their game where people can supernaturally warn their teammates of an enemy’s position from beyond the grave.

These bridges wouldn’t be the primary option, theoretically. But they’d draw resources away from the main bridge and create opportunities for attack that don’t involve cramming one’s self through a sausage grinder and hoping the meatball that comes out the other end retains all of their memories.

This solution would make Airheads even harder to pull off, at least across the middle point, but that’s actually super duper realistic because the bulk of the fighting during the Battle of Remagen involved Anti-Aircraft weapons and the planes those weapons fire at. And hell, at least three lanes is better than one.

The third change is a sort of stop gap thing that could solve a lot of problems pretty quickly, and it’s pretty simple. There is one middle objective on Remagen that I didn’t talk about at all — Ludendorff Bridge. If the bridge was the only objective in the central two quadrants of Remagen, I think the map could fulfil its Operation Metro destiny.

Some people just want to be grist for the mill. They love the idea of throwing themselves at the wall and hoping their stomach acid will erode away at the concrete. They were the mainstays of the Metro 24/7 or Locker 24/7 servers back when Battlefield used to be good, and Remagen provides them with an opportunity to relive those glory days.

And honestly more power to them. It’s not for me, not at all, but I don’t think every game has to be for me. I’m arrogant, but I’m not that arrogant.

When I load into Remagen, though, and the map has chosen a middle cap point for either side of the river? That’s not for anyone. It’s not realistic, as we’ve discovered, and it’s not remotely balanced. It’s not based in good map design philosophies for large scale battlefield style games — it wouldn’t even make the cut in Call of Duty.

Is Remagen the worst multiplayer map ever conceived? Counter-Strike’s de_aztec wasn’t balanced, but it wasn’t as brutally lopsided as Remagen. Rainbow Six Siege’s Bank bores me to tears in the Pro League, and they were right to not make Bartlett U. a multiplayer map, but again Remagen is worse. Yavin Prime in Star Wars: Squadrons is an empty skybox with bad spawns — and it might be the current title holder. But I’ll tell you what, I think Remagen has what it takes to beat it.

You can support The GAP on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!