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How to use military tactics in shooter games

We all like to play the lone wolf, running into an enemy outpost like Rambo and swinging a chain gun around while yelling “Leroy Jenkins!” It’s the way shooter games may play in our head, but unfortunately it’s not going to net you many wins (and if it does, thank your teammates). The best shooter games take inspiration from actual squad-based combat, and even if at the end of the day you’re still just playing Fortnite or Battlefield, some strategies and maneuvers still bleed into the experience. Here’s our selection of squad-based military tactics that will give you an edge over players, even when the odds are stacked against you.

1. Location, location, location

If you’re a fan of shotguns in video games, you’ll need to stay out of wide, open fields. Likewise, you’ll want to keep far away from close quarters if you’re playing a sharpshooter. Where the fight happens is up to you; avoid running into a place where you’re outnumbered, outmaneuvered, or have poor mobility. Before Napoleon Bonaparte sent off his invading armies, he hired cartographers to sketch maps of enemy settlements and terrain.

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 Outpost heat map
Studying this heat map of Outpost from Modern Warfare 3 can shed light on areas to avoid.

Instead, keep to familiar territory where you have a clear advantage. If you’re not sure where that is, look up the map online. Check your loadout. Plan where you want to make your stand. This tactic also works great in games that offer gadgets like thermal vision, smoke grenades, or trip mines. Keep your entrances covered, and outlast your opponents.

2. Use team chat

You know how people like to scream and hurl insults about your mother over game chat? While this is charming you can also use this tool to coordinate a team (provided you can establish the ethos for them to take you seriously). Don’t just use it to call out enemy locations either. In an actual military situation you’d be doing a lot more communicating than shooting, and it’s this way for a reason – knowing is half the battle. Which of your teammates can offer cover fire with a sniper rifle? Does anyone have eyes on the objective? How many enemies are converged over x position? If you know what you’re up against you won’t be understaffed.

Splitscreen shooter
“Who needed a carbine? There’s one by me.”

If you’re on a team with some outlandishly good players, but you find you’re still having trouble capturing a territory or completing an objective, it’s probably because your team’s talents aren’t being put in the right places. Stop banging your head against the wall and coordinate an effective push. Take a second to rethink your strategy. There could be a weakness you were too frustrated to see. Re-evaluate and exploit it, this time with numbers behind you!

3. Move in formation

The military deploys its units in small squad formations, and it’s not just because it looks cool. The way your team is positioned can make all the difference once a firefight erupts. Where are you positioned? Where are your teammates positioned? Can you effectively move, react, and shoot as one cohesive unit, or could one well-placed grenade take you all out at once? Know the best time to employ the best shape.

One of the most effective formations in a game like PUBG or Battlefield is the Fire Team Column which positions your squad mates in a parallelogram (the bottom formation pictured below). This is a great shape for controlled mobility in any direction, and also allow for an immediate, reactive counter in case you get ambushed. If you move together and keep moderately spread out you’re forcing your enemies to pick a single target. Once they do, communicate and retaliate as one cohesive unit. It’s also great because you can easily and intuitively switch formations from the Fire Team Column:

Changing fire team formations

4. RTR

RTR stands for React, Take Cover, Return Fire. If you find yourself separated from your team for whatever reason, this is an effective defensive strategy should the enemy gets the drop on you. In a more realistic shooter experience you’re not going to have health bars a mile long, or shields made out of magic. Your best defense is to threaten with your own firepower, and retreat to a more advantageous position. That’s what RTR is all about:

Battlefield
No one likes getting shot at. Go prone and return fire. See how they like it.

When you get shot at, your first reaction may be to run or hide, but it’s actually better to shoot back at the enemy – even if you know you can’t kill them; that’s not what you’re trying to do. You’re trying to get them to stop shooting at you. If you lay down suppressive fire (React) you can buy yourself enough time to do step two (Take Cover). If there isn’t a decent cover to duck behind, crouch down, drop to the ground, or at least zig-zag back and forth. It’s better than standing there doing nothing, and jumping around isn’t as helpful as you’d think. Once you’re in a better spot for avoiding enemy shots, you can take proper aim (Return Fire) from a safer position.

5. Flank

This is a classic ‘hammer and anvil’ tactic employed by the Alexander the Great and the Macedonians. The idea is to keep your opponent preoccupied with an unbreakable force in front, while you’re circling around to hit them with a hard-hitting elite force from behind. It looked something like this:

macedonian hammer anvil tactic alexander great

Flanking is such an overused, obvious tactic that it’s often discarded as a something overly predictable. The whole point of a good flank is that it is unpredictable. If you’re just attacking from two directions at once, you are technically flanking an enemy, but there are ways to do so more effectively: Surrounding and pincering, misdirecting, or attacking from a wholly unexpected angle.

You may have noticed that most of these strategies involve working with a team. Yes, that’s the point. Even if you’ve spent the entire match bad-mouthing your teammates for a having bad K/D, at the end of the day even bad players can group up and at least hold the advantage of numbers – they just need to be properly coordinated. Hop on team chat and start playing the macro game! If they won’t listen and just keep shouting insults about your mother … at least you tried.

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