Battlefield 1 Review
“There were many words that you could not stand to hear and finally only the names of places had dignity. Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage or hallow were obscene.”
-Ernest Hemingway, ‘A Farewell to Arms’, 1929
In the past decade or so gamers have borne witness to war stories told through varied conflicts. From frequent and numerous trips back to the battlefields of World War 2, making short stops in Vietnam, tackling the various conflicts unfolding currently in the Middle East to potential future conflicts and beyond. If you’ve noticed the lack of ‘World War 1’ in that list, it’s because, bar mobile titles, one well made side-scroller from Ubisoft (Valiant Hearts) and a pretty great multiplayer PC title (Verdun) the so called ‘Great War’ has seen very little attention from the AAA game industry. Once you start to read up on World War 1, you begin to see why. An average of six thousand slaughtered per day, archaic battlefield strategies, new and untested machinery, single conflicts lasting months with little or no achievement from either side. Upon initial inspection, creating a game that excites players whilst taking the material it’s tackling seriously seems like series-suicide. That may be about to change however with the release of Battlefield 1, the next iteration of EA Games and developer Dice’s first person multiplayer juggernaut.
For the past 14 years, ‘Battlefield’ has been the series that allowed you to drop into an online match, survey the large open map and intense firefights unfolding, ponder which of the many fully pilot-able vehicles will help your team the best…and instead decide to unsuccessfully pilot a plane for less than about 30 seconds before plunging into the nearest mountain range. Battlefield has always given players the freedom to approach a large sprawling online skirmish in their own way, gifting the rock/paper/scissors options needed to tackle whatever you faced during the 20-30 minute rounds. Many wondered whether this style of game would fit the dark and grim history of World War 1, and we’re incredibly relieved and happy to reveal that, for the most part, Battlefield 1 manages to balance the need to respect the utter horror of the conflict it’s trying to convey, whilst also giving players the quintessential ‘Battlefield’ excitement.
Whilst known for its stellar multiplayer, for the most part the Battlefield series’ single player stories have been something else entirely. Uninteresting, bland and generally completely forgettable, no-one expected much from Battlefield 1. Shockingly however, for the first time since the much loved ‘Battlefield Bad Company 2’ we have a Battlefield game that comes with a pretty impressive single player campaign. Rather than focusing on one single boring ‘soldier-hero-man’ whose name might as well be ‘Butch McLargehuge’, we have ‘War Stories’, an assembly of short campaigns located in various different conflict zones around the world and focusing on different protagonists for each story. It’s a smart move, one that allows Dice to show off their graphical prowess, whilst also respecting and honoring the fact that this truly was a world war, with differing tactics, landscapes and mindsets. All in all you’ll spend around 4 to 6 hours dogfighting above Europe, committing sabotage deep in the Ottoman empire, sneaking through no man’s land and battling through the 6 included stories, and whilst none of them can be considered weak points I do wish we could have spent more time with some of the characters. With only 2 or 3 missions separating the beginning and end of each individual War Story, it feels like we’re only scratching the surface of some of the incredible stories these characters could have shown us, and considering how well told each story is, it feels like if Dice had spend a little more time on it, we’d have potentially one of the best first person shooter campaigns in quite some time. As it stands however, Battlefield 1 gives us 6 incredibly short, generally well told tales of heroism and sacrifice, and whilst it might not be a campaign you’ll rush back to upon completion, it is a testament to the writers that it weaves the Battlefield series’ staple punchy and meaty gunplay with tales that give you a few moments of reflective pause after each is finished.
Once the single player is complete, you’ll be charging headfirst into the meat of Battlefield 1, multiplayer. You’re presented with 6 different game modes varying in quality from the always-fantastic staples of Battlefield games, Conquest and Rush through to the much more uninteresting Team Deathmatch and Domination. In addition we’ve got 2 new additions in the form of War Pigeons and Operations. War Pigeons is a World War 1 twist on the standard Capture the Flag and is actually a lot better than you’re probably thinking. Operations is a much more substantial addition, and frankly should become a permanent fixture for future Battlefield titles. It mixes the large scale maps and vehicular mayhem of Conquest with the attack/defend mentality of Rush. Once the specified number of capture points fall to the attackers, the front-line moves forward to the next set of points until all points on every front are captured, or the attackers run out of reinforcements. It’s absolutely fantastic, with rounds potentially lasting for nearly an hour and a genuine feeling of exhilaration, exhaustion and achievement once it’s all finished.
Conquest and Operations are worth the price of admission alone, and are what really differentiate Battlefield from its nearest rival, Call of Duty. New recruits to the series will initially struggle to understand how these massive modes work, especially when most first person shooters focus simply on kill/death ratios. The focus instead is on working with your 5 person squads and to a larger extent your entire 64 player team, to take over the capture points on the map, defend them, then push forward. Lone wolves do not prevail, and leveling up your character happens a lot quicker when working cooperatively. Used to finding somewhere high up with a sniper rifle and simply getting the highest number of kills? Good luck with that strategy when you’ve been spotted by someone on the way to taking a capture point, allowing their teammate high up in the sky to bomb the living hell out of you. Every map is genuinely impressive in scale, from flat French landscapes to Italian mountain ranges, each of the 9 available from launch is fun to play through multiple times due to the smart map design, creating choke points for assault-focused soldiers to wide open spaces for tank and sniping engagements. Another feather in Battlefield’s cap is the ability to knock down any wall or building you can see. It’s been in place since 2010’s ‘Battlefield: Bad Company’ but hasn’t quite put across a truly realistic level of destruction. For the most part that changes in Battlefield 1. The destructibility is, as always, a little haphazard, however when it does what it’s supposed to nothing can match an entire building coming down around you, because a tank spotted you poking your little head through a window.
Battlefield 4, the previous entry in the franchise, launched in 2013 and had an utterly atrocious online launch. Considering multiplayer is Battlefield’s bread and butter, the fact the online portion of the game wasn’t properly fixed until nearly a year later was a stain on an otherwise great title. There were concerns that EA and Dice wouldn’t learn from their mistakes, and that early adopters to Battlefield 1 would be stuck with a broken title. So far however, judging by the first week or so’s online play during potentially the busiest online traffic period, we’ve encountered very little to be concerned about. Bar a few little skips and slowdown hiccups, there have been no crashes (except for ones involving planes and the ground…we’re still not great at being pilots) and no real graphical hitches that spoil an otherwise hugely enjoyable online game. The single player, bafflingly, seems to suffer a little more with frame rate drops and audio glitches. Again, it’s nothing to fetch the pitchforks about, but it does seem odd when compared to the unscripted mayhem that occurs every single Conquest match.
The First World War, more then most conflicts in our history, was a dehumanising, destructive meat grinder and is one of a few true stains on humanity. However amongst the blood, violence and senseless murder there were moments that encapsulated the unbreakable human spirit. Whilst conveying all that in a playable video game intended to entertain and excite would be nearly impossible, EA and Dice have done an admirable job attempting to at least showcase even a fraction of that. Whilst the single player story is over too soon, and could do with being much more in depth, what’s there is an enjoyably brief look at some of the battles that were fought and a fictional look at those on the front lines. Multiplayer is a triumph of large scale warfare tied to enjoyable gameplay mechanics, with an attention to both audio and visual detail that sets it apart from its competitors. Whilst the fact there are only 9 maps is a little disappointing, what’s here is a masterclass in map design and execution. Should you decide to opt out of the annoyingly priced season pass, the maps available from day one, and the inevitable free maps Dice will make available are more than enough to make Battlefield 1 a worthwhile purchase.