If you only played Hell Let Loose at launch, there’s a chance you won’t recognise the game we see today. Starting out with a team of three, developers Black Matter has been through quite the journey, seeing a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2017 and securing a publishing deal with Team17.
After two years in early access, Hell Let Loose’s full release has arrived, launching for PC on July 27th, 2021. In preparation, I spoke with Black Matter’s co-founder and CEO Max Rea, who shed some light on this hardcore shooter’s development.
Hell Let Loose Interview – A Hardcore Shooter’s Journey From Early Access To Full Release
Turns out, Hell Let Loose has a long history and according to Rea, his initial concept began in 2010. Having played Company of Heroes and Battlefield 2 mod Project Reality, Rea prepared a game document, looking to make a World War II game and telling me this oft-explored setting holds personal significance for much of the team. Between Black Matter’s staff, one that’s scattered around the globe, many of their grandparents served during WW2 for their respective countries.
He also talked about Project Reality’s wider genre influence, calling it “the kernel behind many present-day hardcore games”, comparing how key DayZ and PUBG staff were also players. Similarly, Rea described himself as “captivated by what they did” in the way these games put emphasis on player-to-player interactions, rather than simply fragging people. Come 2015, he was looking for a change, finding himself unhappy with his job situation.
Soon enough, Rea began looking at developing games in his spare time, using Unreal Engine to test a concept with basic marketplace assets. Needing a programmer and animator, Rea shared project details through Unreal Engine’s forums, meeting Roman Kramar and Rick Echler respectively for those roles. Soon enough, Black Matter officially formed and upon completing their Kickstarter campaign, more staff were brought in.
The Early Days
Two years later, Hell Let Loose hit early access and since then, we’ve seen nine major updates. While many games solidify the core concept before launching and add new content later on, Black Matter took a different approach. Though we’ve seen content updates with new vehicles, weapons, maps and such, each update gradually implemented engine overhauls. Accordingly, he told me that calling the changes we’ve seen significant “is an understatement”, saying Update 10 features 1500 changes alone.
More strikingly, Rea says he’s not even sure if “any of the code we launched with even exists anymore”, saying you couldn’t even vault over the walls previously. Initially launching with just 3 maps and 2 vehicles, Hell Let Loose’s full release brings that up to 11 maps and 16 vehicles. Weapon ballistics, progression and cosmetic systems, loadouts and more have been factored in. Speaking frankly, Rea told me:
“It’s a different game. Almost every aspect of it has changed, every sound in the game has been changed. Every animation in the game has been changed, the entire animation system’s been completely overhauled. Every single map has undergone significant iteration and work, both from a gameplay and visual perspective.”
Undeniably, update 10 is a big one and two of those new maps, Kursk and Stalingrad, are part of the Eastern Front expansion. Though we previously only had German and American playable forces, that introduces Soviet Forces too. So, what specifically about this update that Black Matter meant it was time for full release? Rea describes Hell let Loose’s early access development as a learning experience, comparing it to a well-built car. With update 10, that marks the “solidification of all the stuff under the hood.”
Better still, it won’t be limited to just PC. While they won’t launch alongside the Steam edition, PS5 and Xbox Series X|S versions are planned later on, and I asked whether there’d been any challenge in adapting it for those platforms. Rea confirmed there had been, though he admitted much of that was “self-created” by how much work was required for the main game alone. However, he says the biggest task is making sure it's technically optimised and hitting 60FPS, informing me multiplatform requires a strong level of complexity.
With that in mind, I asked whether Black Matter considered PS4 and Xbox One editions too. Rea advised they had, but they knew at the time it was unlikely to release on consoles before the current generation launched. Telling me the team were “leaning into the future” as opposed to “squeezing the game down technically”, bringing 100 player games was also cited as a huge challenge on the older hardware, hence why they’ve skipped it.
Ultimately though, the full release isn’t the end for Hell Let Loose. In terms of leaving early access, Rea calls this the moment that the game’s fundamentals are now in place, saying they’ve got a better understanding of what Hell Let Loose is after these last two years. While I wasn’t advised of a specific post-launch roadmap, Rea confirmed they’ll now look to expand “the breadth of the content”, which includes plans to implement British and Japanese troops later on. It’s not over yet but for now, there’s plenty to look forward to with the Eastern Front expansion.