War is hell. And World War 1 was perhaps the most hellish of them all. That makes its selection as the setting for the next Battlefield game somewhat controversial.
It's obviously up to you to decide how you feel about the choice of setting, but one thing's for certain: the game itself is brilliant. I know, because I've played it.
Preparing for battle
Unsurprisingly, what EA gave us to try out was 64-player Conquest. In other words, an absolutely huge battle that forces the use of team tactics thanks to the need to take and control five capture points on the map.
Everything about the way Dice presents the pre-match is pure Battlefield, but smarter and shinier. The map immediately looks huge, but it's way more detailed and animated than it's ever been before.
From here you select where you want to spawn on the map (you'll be limited to your squad mates, captured points or certain vehicles) and which loadout you want to take, and even more so than before, the latter choice rests on how you want to play the game.
Do you want to be a tank-busting badass? That's the Assault class. A machinegun-wielding tank mechanic? That's support. Or you can be a healer or long-range damage-dealer by selecting the Medic or Sniper class respectively.
As well as dictating which gadgets/abilities you have, your class also dictates which weapons you have access to. During the hands-on I mostly played as the assault class (I love having an answer to those nasty tanks), and could choose between a shotgun and two different sub-machine guns as my primary weapon. Customisation of your weapons (scopes, attachments, colours etc) is also available in this screen, but was locked out for the demo.
Once finally dropped into the action, one thing becomes immediately clear: this game is beautiful.
I spawned on the edge of a valley on a map called Saint Quentin Scar, and the scene below was just breathtaking. Planes doing strafing runs, tanks and armoured cars barelling over hills, squads of soldiers sprinting from building to building with bullets and shells landing all around them. It seems clear to me that Battlefield 1 is capable of producing the most visceral, realistic and exciting, umm, battlefields gaming's ever seen. Let's just hope all of the maps are up to the standard of this one, and let's also hope that the console versions get some of the way towards looking as good as the PC build I was given to play for this demo.
Having spent far too long admiring the scene I'd already lost my squad mates, and as I pegged it towards a farm house next to capture point A was quickly torn to shreds by an enemy squad. Life in Battlefield 1 can be very short.
Weapons of past destruction
Tanks for the memories
But as the game went on I began to find a rhythm, and I also began to get used to the weapons. The guns in Battlefield 1 are a far cry from the ultra-modern firearms of the last few games in the series, and they feel pretty analogue and comparatively inaccurate as a result. They're also somehow more brutal and tangible, and they sound utterly superb - Dice has once again put a huge amount of effort into producing sound effects that are bombastic and realistic.
Speaking of brutality, Battlefield 1 includes a new bayonet charge move that's hard to pull off and horribly violent when you do. If you're sprinting in the direction of your enemy a press of the melee button puts you into a charge - make contact with your enemy and you'll put them down with a nasty stab to the guts. Not nice, but certainly effective.
From armoured cars to behemoths
Battlefield 1 behemoths
After finding my rhythm with the guns I found my Battlefield 1 niche: turns out I'm a fairly handy armoured truck driver. I just happened across one while taking an objective, and once the location was ours decided to hop in and high-tail it to the next contested zone.
The vehicles actually seem to handle much better than they have in previous Battlefield games, and while that's pretty unrealistic it does make them great fun to drive. As I raced through fields and over hills, smashing through the occasional fence, I realised that my truck had four mounted weapon points and that my squad had spawned to my vehicle and were operating them. We were now a deadly, mobile weapons platform and so began a good five minutes of team domination as we raced from point-to-point, conquering objectives and laying waste to any enemy soldiers foolish enough to get in our way.
What ended this blissful run of form? A blimp. A huge, gas-filled monstrosity bristling with weapons. This is one of the three Behemoth-class vehicles in the game (there are also battleships and armoured trains) and nothing can prepare you for the sight of it looming above you. And if you've noticed it too late there's not a lot you can do to escape the barrage of artillery fire that it's undoubtedly about to send in your general direction. I certainly tried to drive my plucky squad out of danger, but we were caught in the deluge and our faithful truck and all of its occupants were toast, with nought but huge craters in our wake.
That's right: craters. Battlefield's famed (and occasionally maligned) destruction engine is back, and it's far more impressive than before. Instead of feeling like a fixed, indestructible map with a few objects and buildings that can be damaged or destroyed, Battlefield 1's maps feel entirely destructible. Basically, if you think it should collapse, explode, shatter or fall down, it probably will.
This destructibility isn't just for show, either - it can change tactics as you use new craters for cover or destroy walls to get better shots at your enemies. While it didn't happen in the game I played, I've even seen footage of a flaming blimp landing on and flattening an entire village in spectacular, map-changing fashion.
Battlefield 1: the early verdict
There was no time to fly a plane during my demo *sob*
My 15-minute game of Battlefield 1 wasn't nearly enough time to properly explore all of the features or options (I want to fly the planes!), but it was enough time to confirm that it's an absolutely awesome game in action.
There are things that could go wrong, of course (those servers had better be working at launch), but I find it hard to see this as being anything other than a monstrously successful game.
It looks incredible, it's exceptionally exciting and immersive, and it appears to be deeper and bigger than any of the previous games in the hugely popular series. Bring on the 21 October release date!