Caliber technically launched years ago but hopping on Steam gave the platform the new best third-person shooter to flaunt.
What you need to know
- What is it? Third-person shooter with PvE, PvP and PvPvE modes
- Reviewed on: PC
- Developer: 1C Game Studios
- Release date: April 12, 2023
- Available on: PC
Coming from a developer that previously had their game published by Wargaming , I plunged into Caliber fully expecting predatory monetisation at every step, skewed power between the operators and pay-to-win ruling over everything else.
Players who were there before the Steam launch confirmed these suspicions but when I got my hands on this third-person shooter, I got to see it in a whole new light as 1C Game Studios turned the whole thing around and delivered a free-to-play title that is actually quite fair to all the users. On top of that, Caliber proved to be a fun time all around, even if you are not into PvP.
Story, voice acting and political implications
Starting from the roughest spots Caliber has to deal with, there are the matters of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the weak story and presentation, although the two are not connected.
1C Game Studios are a Russian developer studio so it was inevitable that the press round table before the Steam release would bring up the question of the devs' opinion on it. They noted they wanted to keep the game away from modern-day tragedies and from what I've seen so far, they kept true to the word.
There is no glorification of the war in the game so far, no propaganda or negative narratives about Ukraine itself. Furthermore, the country is not exempt in the selection of Emblems that can be used in the game and I see players with it on the regular.
Additionally, Caliber is set in an alternate timeline where the eponymous coalition consists of operators from all over the world, mirroring the concept of Rainbow Six. The story itself is about fighting a fictional terrorist organisation in fictional places around the world and even the dates are set in 2026.
Still, that doesn't help the story aspects of the game, which are sometimes written as a cringe-inducing mix of edginess and MCU jokes. It is not helped by voice acting that is borderline unbearable at times. There also isn't much story to talk about as it takes a backseat to allow gameplay itself to take the spotlight. After all, the game was marketed as a multiplayer TPS in the first place, not a narrative experience.
That said, one saving grace here is that the voice lines are mostly happening in PvE modes so if you are more about PvP, the game instantly becomes much better.
One of the high points of Caliber, the gameplay section has several points to boast about.
There were 64 operators at the time of writing this review, spread across 16 groups such as SEALs, KSK, GROM, etc. Each group consists of four operators, one for each of the classes - Assault, Support, Medic and Marksman. Another four operators from BOPE are coming in 2023. In other words, there should be something interesting for everyone to play with.
With so many operators around, it is to be expected that some will become meta and others will fall into oblivion but from what I've seen so far, pretty much all of them can be made to work. Besides an exception or two, you will be fine regardless of what you pick, provided you play well enough.
Operator variety means nothing if you have nowhere interesting to use them but Caliber delivers on that front as well. PvP modes in the game include team deathmatch, elimination and Ranked Battles that take the Counter-Strike format of planting the bomb and defusing it, except it's about planting a hacking tool and disabling it in this case.
PvE modes are where the game gets really creative. Depending on the map, you will get different objectives and while the start and the final battle are always the same, the objectives between them can vary and send the team through different encounters and parts of the map, offering additional replayability. It is quite interesting that this is the game that came up with the concept before the looter shooters like Destiny 2 and The Division 2 , who rely on these activities at their core.
Harder PvE activities include playing the initially accessible ones but at a higher difficulty but also a completely different one with rounds instead of just moving between objectives seamlessly. While that doesn't sound like much on paper, in practice it is quite interesting as you are thrown into a battle of attrition seven times during a single match.
Overall, the game offers enough content with great replayability to provide fun for tens, if not hundreds of hours and even though unlocking and leveling the operators can become grindy, the journey has proved to be fun so far instead of becoming a second job where the carrot keeps getting dangled in front of me, just outside the reach.
Unlocking all the operators in the game will take you about a year or so if you are dedicated. This sounds like a lot of grind and it is if unlocking is the only goal you have in mind. If you just came to have a good time or compete in Ranked, there are plenty of opportunities to do so and just enjoying it so far has left me with several unlocks even though I didn't focus on playing the game like it was a chore.
Caliber doesn't push you to have everything unlocked in order to be competitive. All you need is three operators in the same class if you want to play Ranked games, which is more than enough variety to get you to the top of the ladder if you are good enough. For reference, by the time you complete the first 15 matches, you will have unlocked four operators in total.
On the flip side, each operator requires around 400,000 Credits to level them up fully, which is a massive drain on resources. Getting them to level 10 is fairly quick and cheap but going from there to level 15, which is the maximum, takes 340,000 Credits. For some operators, it doesn't make that much of a difference but for others, especially Medics, it is crucial.
Daily objectives will usually give you 34,300 Credits since the last group that awards up to 7,500 is so hard it is often not worth the effort. In other words, you need 10 days' worth of daily objectives to level an operator from 10 to 15.
If you are looking to get just a select few operators to max level, this is feasible but it will be major grind for completionists who may want everything unlocked.
With the aforementioned grind, you are probably expecting the game to turn into pay-to-win at this point. That is not happening because, as I mentioned, the four operators you get are already good enough tools to take you through any of the game modes.
Buying enough Credits with Coins, which is the premium currency, to unlock operators and level them up would be extremely expensive. Buying one of the cheapest operators in the game and maxing them out through purchasing power alone would set you back around 22,800 Coins, which translates to around $100. Doing this with the entire roster would probably result in a bill of around $7,700 so it does seem to be whale-centric.
On the other hand, the thing about whales is that they are a very small portion of the player base and even if they do splurge on the full roster unlock, they simply gained access to a wider range of operators than a regular player, which doesn't necessarily translate to power. A skilled Volk will 10 out of 10 times come out on top in a duel with an Aphela that doesn't know how to play the encounter. In duels of evenly matched players, Aphela may have an advantage but Volk will still sometimes win it as there are too many variables in the game to simply say one operator always has the advantage over the other one, provided they are of the same class.
Now, here is the kicker, Volk is one of the cheapest operators in the game and you can even get him for free if you choose him in the intro mission while Aphela can only be purchased with Credits and was one of the most powerful operators in the game at the time of writing. Therefore, it is really hard to claim you ever lost a match because another player threw more cash at the game.
Besides the operator unlocks, there are matters of microtransactions affecting progression and Credit accumulation. You will earn around 50 per cent more Credits and double the operator experience if you have Premium. It sounds like a lot and yes, it is convenient to have Premium activated but even playing without it I didn't feel like the game is too much of a grind or that it demands all of my free time.
Just farming the easier daily objectives and completing the weekly ones will give you enough Credits to unlock and fully upgrade two operators per month. On top of the four that you are given for free by the time you complete 15 matches, you should have enough operators to be able to play ranked with two different roles by the end of the first month, which is also the amount of time I would recommend playing before actually jumping into Ranked. You do need to have some understanding of the game if you want to climb the ranks.
That progress is further enhanced by the rewards that come from levelling your account and they range from Credits, over experience boosters and Premium to Coins. With all these rewards, you will unlock an extra operator from time to time on top of having enough premium currency for a few skins.
Speaking of which, the skins themselves are the only gripe I have with Caliber's monetisation. Upon leveling an operator a few times, you are given the opportunity to purchase their cosmetics at 60 per cent off which sounds like a great deal. The price usually comes down to 2,000 Coins which is just under $10. The flip side is that the deal will only last for seven days and after that time you will be stuck with the full price of $20 or so, meaning this is a blatant attempt to goad people through fear of missing out (FOMO).
Still, these are cosmetics and the operators already look pretty cool by default so I can't fault the devs too much here but FOMO always leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.
It is also worth noting that I had access to a press account that had everything unlocked but the review itself is based on a brand new one I created at Steam launch. The best part is I enjoyed the game much more with the blank slate account as the journey proved to be much more interesting than just being at the destination.
Graphics and performance
Caliber's graphics are not the biggest eye candy in modern gaming but the game also never looked explicitly bad. They definitely do the job well and more importantly, there isn't too much visual clutter.
Modern games often lean into the visual presentation to the point of just throwing too many visual effects at the players who then proceed to be clueless as to what is happening on the screen. That is not the case with Caliber and visual clarity is one of its best aspects of it.
There are quite a few HUD elements on the screen but they don't impede the visual presentation which is quite the achievement for the UI team, who managed to provide players with a whole lot of info without drowning them in HUD elements.
With that in mind, it is also a pleasure to report that Caliber didn't have any hiccups or performance drops during my time with it, although my PC specs did exceed the recommended ones on Steam.
Caliber is a fantastic TPS that offers tens, if not hundreds of hours of entertainment. There are grindy aspects of the game but Caliber chooses to compete for your free time through the virtue of being a highly entertaining experience instead of a checklist of chores, which is the case with most live service games today.
There is monetisation in it, with a few FOMO elements but it never feels like I'm obliged to buy these items for any reason other than supporting developers who provided a fair model for everyone.
Voice acting and writing needs serious work but most of that is bypassed if you are a PvP enthusiast.
With all that in mind, do I think Caliber is worth your time? Absolutely. It was worth every minute I played it for the purposes of coverage and I will continue to play it afterwards. At the off-chance you don't like the game, you didn't spend any money on it and the hypothetical time wasted would be minimal since the download itself is smaller than most games today.
The devs even bothered to give players the option to choose which texture packs to download or forego in order to minimise the downloading process.