World War I was credited as ‘the war to end all wars’, but, as we now know, that was not meant to be. Instead, the devastation and destruction, the almost unimaginable number of combatant and civilian casualties and the bloodshed that occurred across the globe and brought down governments merely laid the groundwork for the rise of the Third Reich and the next world-altering global battle, World War II. Despite the war being full of incredible stories to tell, this pivotal point in our history is rarely touched upon in video games, and EA DICE should be lauded for being one the few developers to take on this complex and diverse conflict, to bring to life true heroes of our past that went through the depths of hell for our well-being. In the process, they have created a gaming classic, a fresh reinterpretation of an iconic part of our history that may even make a new generation consider the true horror of war. A fitting entry to a series that has certainly had its ups and downs. The wobbly launch of Battlefield 4 and the subject matter of Battlefield: Hardline which was controversial amongst fans of the series due to the decision to divert from a non-military premise dampened the popularity of the franchise. That is until now.
Battlefield 1 rises from the ashes of its predecessors with enough fresh ideas to revitalise everything that made the Battlefield series so popular. The large multiplayer maps, diverse arsenal of weaponry, and stellar vehicular combat suit the World War I setting nicely. DICE translates it all into videogame form beautifully. Bringing back the destructive environments last seen in Battlefield: Bad Company 2 certainly boosts the appeal, along with ultra-realistic visual fidelity that is nothing short of breath-taking and never drops a single frame.
Battlefield 1 does bring with it something that we haven’t seen in a Battlefield game for years: a credible, worthwhile campaign. We are not talking about a single protagonist taking on enemy forces in mission after mission, in fact Battlefield 1 does something new. Chronicling 5 key events across the 4 years the Great War took place, players are free to select them in any order. It puts you in the thick of it in the short prologue, taking on the roles of a handful of soldiers, each with different roles across the front lines of the Western Front. You’re told ominously that you’re not expected to survive, and although I lasted a while, I was quickly overrun only to take on the role of one of my comrades. This pattern continues as the game teaches you perfectly what it was like for those brave men who died that fateful day by having you experience the brutality and chaos that surrounded each soldier as they fought to try to stay alive. It also acted as a tutorial, showing the ropes of the refined aiming, movement, the different soldier classes, and of course, the weapons.
The “War Stories” campaign missions feature a greater focus on narrative and introduce a more relaxed pace than the frenzied prologue. The first mission, “Through Mud and Blood”, places you in command of a powerful Mark V tank affectionately named ‘Black Bess’ by your fellow soldiers. It’s slow but packs a serious punch with its cannon which quickly dispatched any field gun emplacements I encountered with ease. Bess’s secondary firing mode was an anti-personnel machine gun that takes out any enemy soldiers within my immediate vicinity. This carries over across all vehicles by giving them all 2 firing modes to handle any kind of target. Aiming is more precise here. World War I era weaponry weren’t known to be accurate, but keeping the left trigger button held down significantly increases your chances of scoring a hit. Each character you play as has a story to tell. You’ll go from taking on the role of a green tank driver fighting to cross enemy controlled forest to being a cocky American who just happens to be an ace pilot that finds himself trapped behind enemy lines after being shot down. Each of the 5 missions are a joy to play though, mixing brilliantly choreographed cutscenes with in-engine scripted moments that will take you some hours to complete.
Multiplayer in Battlefield 1 is better than ever, with the setting of the First World War being a perfect fit for the series’ famed set of modes. Rush, Conquest, and Team Deathmatch all keep their rightful places in the list with a new entry called Operations which is a large scale variation of Conquest that was my favourite way to play out of them all. In Operations, your team fight against the enemy team to take control of, or defend, 2 points on a huge map that is cut into 3 sections. If the enemy take both points, your team is drawn back to 2 more points located in a second section which they must defend. Taking these 2 points pushes your team back again before the game is ended by the final set being lost. The scale is impressive in this mode. Looking in the distance to see all-out warfare is a true sight to behold as 2 teams of 24 players duke it out in explosive fashion.
Your choice of gameplay depends on the choice of 1 of 4 classes. The Assault class is ideal to take out vehicles with anti-tank grenades and a portable rocket launcher at your disposal. Or you may want to play Medic to support your fellow players by providing medikits to the injured and revitalising fallen comrades with a jab of adrenaline. Each class plays a specific role in any match-up solely depending on however you prefer to play. Are you a runner and gunner taking on anything that moves? Or are you a pesky sniper, keeping your distance and taking out opponents from afar with clearly overpowered sniper rifles? Whichever class you pick, each one has a grenade and a melee weapon that can range from the classic knife to a spiked club to even a shovel. Battlefield 1’s multiplayer mode is exactly how you’d expect it without any of the issues that made the launch of Battlefield 4 so notorious. It’s clean, polished, and remarkably fair. The sniper rifles could do with a bit of tweaking to make them slightly less powerful, but it’s not a big enough concern to call it an unfair addition.
Another impressive feat of Battlefield 1 is its diverse range of maps. The dense woodland areas of Argonne Forest filled with sneaky hiding places and ambush points contrast with the sandy desert plains of the Sinai Desert with its sprawling wide open areas and ideal sniping positions. Each map is extremely well designed, catering to each and every class and the great range of vehicles. A highlight was the Behemoth, a gigantic zeppelin designed for nothing but raising hell; even when it is destroyed, it comes down at a slow pace and kills all in the vicinity when it finally hits the ground. It’s as much a highlight as the tower block falling down in Battlefield 4’s Siege of Shanghai map, a definite distraction from the fight for survival and control that lay before you. Then there are the superb visuals that are second to none, laden with intricate details that bring the era alive: rats in the trenches as they hunt for their next corpse meal, the flame trooper’s thrower sputtering gasoline before it ignites into a spectacular inferno of death; it’s features like these that DICE have added which make Battlefield 1 such a classic.
Developer: EA DICE
Publisher: EA Games
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: 21st October 2016