The First World War was a long, slow and bloody affair.
The horrific monotony of trench warfare and the Lost Generation it birthed doesn’t really sit easy with what we expect from a first-person shooter. It’s hard to really enjoy that headshot when you’re surrounded by mutilated bodies writhing around in a muddy abyss, you know?
Battlefield 1 does its utmost to sidestep these issues without trivialising them. It’s a game that relies on developer EA DICE having its historical cake and eating it too, and that’s a compelling paradox to spend time with. Even if it doesn’t always make for the most nuanced proposition.
Across both its single-player campaign and the multiplayer gameplay we’ve dug into so far, Battlefield 1 delivers a bombastic take on the ‘Great War’ that mixes stomach churning savagery with spectacular set pieces - and a generous lashing of artistic license. But hey, if it’s accuracy you’re after, there are plenty of documentaries that’ll do the trick.
Are you not entertained?
Video games have done World War II to death, but it’s not hard to see why its predecessor has remained comparatively untouched.
Aside from the gruelling nature of the combat, this conflict doesn’t have the same indisputable ‘good versus evil’ narrative and ultimately served as a prelude to even more brutality. That’s some tough stuff for a game to get to grips with, let alone one that’s meant to be entertaining in the same way as a FIFA 17 or Forza Horizon 3.
Keeping that in all mind, Battlefield 1’s opening 20 minutes are the most affecting I’ve experienced all year in gaming. Having been concerned about how much brutality was going to be whitewashed out for the sake of keeping proceedings light and fun, my fears were instantaneously allayed.
As an introduction to the game’s War Stories, Storm of Steel is a total masterstroke. So much so that the five other hour-and-a-bit-long offerings that comprise its campaign mode never quite scale the same gut-wrenching heights. That said, they’re still worth buying Battlefield 1 for. Even if you couldn’t care less about its multiplayer.
War Stories: a campaign mode worth caring about
Ignoring id Software's sensational Doom, it’s been a torrid time for FPS campaign modes. They've often amounted to little more than a distraction from online play, with uniformly laid-out missions, meat-headded braggadocio and preposterous cinematics.
It's why Battlefield 1 deserves so much credit for not simply giving into temptation and creating an 8-hour Michael Bay movie.
Freed of the necessity to tie into an overblown narrative, each War Story takes place in a completely different country and centres on a specific mechanic. From the tank-based dramatics of Through Mud And Blood to the sniper-friendly Nothing Is Written (starring Laurence of Arabia?!?), they’re glorified tutorials for your multiplayer travails but so well-executed that you’d be forgiven for not noticing.
Friends In High Places, in particular, is a blast. Controlling a renegade pilot battling against both Fritz and his own conscience, it’s the most glamorous of all the War Stories but still retains a character arc worth investing in. If that’s the closest I get to crawling unarmed through a No Man’s Land-like hellscape, then it’ll suit me just fine.
More DLC, please
Combined, War Stories are a huge leap forward from Battlefield Hardline’s turgid campaign, but they’re not perfect.
Enemy AI, in particular, is all over the place. In supposed stealth missions, you can walk up right up to your chosen victim and offer them open heart surgery on the house. When spotted, though, these same foes have a psychic ability to devise your whereabouts. Aside from ramping up the game’s difficulty curve and breaking your immersion, these moments are just plain annoying.
Think lying prone behind a tree is gonna give you enough cover to restore your health? You’re in for a rude surprise, friend.
Still, I’d happily pay out for another War Story if one were to crop up in Battlefield 1’s upcoming DLC. Having been thrust onto the beaches of Gallipoli and soared above the skies of London, I’m not ready to call it quits with DICE’s dramatic vignettes.
Especially since they provide such a stark contrast with the game’s multiplayer combat, which recreates an apocalyptic sense of scale while deadening the emotional impact of such a colossal loss of life. Because, hey, you’ve only got 10 seconds left to respawn and Objective D isn’t going to capture itself.
Multiplayer: so far, so good
Wondering if Dice has flunked the multiplayer? Don’t. Even though a lot of the subtlety that’s so carefully rendered in each campaign is unceremoniously dispatched as soon as you hit a loadout screen. Partly out of necessity and partly because a 64-player face-off is always going to dissolve into total and utter chaos.
For the moment, though, things are looking good - even though a lot of the subtlety that’s so carefully rendered in each campaign is unceremoniously dispatched as soon as you hit a loadout screen. Partly out of necessity and partly because a 64-player face-off is always going to dissolve into total and utter chaos.
Yep. More than anything, Conquest is still what separates Battlefield from its not-so-distant cousin: Call of Duty. Given that franchise’s decision to go embrace the Space Age in Infinite Warfare this year, the contrast between the two titles couldn’t be starker.
With our feet firmly planted on terra firma, we’ve duked it out across three maps so far: the bombed out city of Amiens, the mountainous expanse of Monte Grappa and Argon Forrest’s dense maze of bunkers and shrubbery. Regardless of setting, your modus operandi is the same: use team tactics to take and control five capture points on the map.