Since seeing the reveal trailer earlier this year I’ve been cheering Battlefield 1 on – willing it to do well, daring it to live up to my lofty expectations.
My confidence in DICE took a knock when Star Wars Battlefront lacked content and depth, but I’m delighted to announce that they certainly learned a lesson because Battlefield 1 is the best game I’ve played in years.
How rude of me, let me introduce you.
Battlefield 1 is a first person shooter set in World War 1 – a risky venture considering WW1 was one of the most bloody and horrifying wars in earth’s history! The glorification of war is something a great deal of games are guilty of. Whilst Battlefield 1 is incredibly addictive to play, it has been crafted in a respectful and emotionally provocative way by means of War Stories and factual narration.
Before I get all choked up about the War Stories, lets talk graphics. Star Wars Battlefront impressed me with it’s authentic audio and breathtaking graphics, but Battlefield 1 is even more impressive. The dynamic weather and particle effects not only affect gameplay tactics online but look real, and give you an incredible sense of immersion.
The audio is gritty and real, leaving nothing to the imagination. Gunshots and reloading clicks are loud and deliberate; the roar of a charging front line is sickeningly broken up by screams of the wounded; the constant shelling and the sounds of aircraft and tanks are realistic as they are frightening. In terms of immersion, the combination of realistic sounds and visuals puts you right there, and it genuinely is scary.
War Stories – Campaign
Upon booting up the game you are instantly introduced to your character and told “you are not expected to survive”. I thought: Thanks DICE, but I fancy my chances, I’ve played a lot of FPS games…
You don’t survive, and so the introductory sequence forces you to live the life of several soldiers on the front line, each of which dies more quickly and pointlessly than the next. It’s a brutal, emotionally difficult sequence to play and it sets a somber tone. The integration of narration and text begins to give context to the madness, and to humanise the soldiers you senselessly lead to slaughter.
OK so it sounds like I didn’t enjoy the War Stories, but the fact is I loved them. After the intro you get to choose between 5 different stories on a world map – each story shows a different part of the war whilst introducing you to a wealth of gameplay variety. Whilst they are a tad short, I found every one riveting.
I applaud games with strong plots – plots which make you emotionally invested in the protagonist. In Battlefield 1 there are 5 different protagonists telling 5 individual stories and I found myself attached to all of them!
The characters are real, imperfect and vulnerable. Some stories are told from the past tense, some in the present. They encapsulate an incredible amount of themes better than most movies, I was inevitably reminded of Saving Private Ryan – how nothing is fair, how lives are fragile and expendable in war. Also I like to think my sniping is like Private Jackson’s…
The gameplay is fun, with the dog fighting being exceptional. The compactness of the missions means nothing is dragged out: you never get bored, and there is rarely a break in the game’s immersion as you are never doing the same thing for long. A couple of frame rate drops marred the gunplay in a couple of instances, but largely my Xbox dealt admirably with the sheer amount of detail on screen.
Stealth sections were greatly improved from Battlefield Hardline – sorry but the arresting thing didn’t work. The sense of danger is real here, even if you do feel a little like Iron Man clearing out bunkers without any backup when the stealth tac goes tits up! Just stick the difficulty up higher than usual and take your time – the wonderfully detailed environments are worth spending some extra time traversing.
A quick one on Multiplayer
Firstly I love how weapons are balanced in Battlefield 1, finally my bolt action and semi autos are viable options again! Sniping is the most satisfying thing ever, and each has a unique set of statistics including bullet velocity, sweet spot range and general damage output. Oh and the melee weapons are sufficiently visceral!
I love every single map – an absolute anomaly for me. They are all well designed and diverse, and make for truly terrifying standoffs. Monte Grappa in the Venician mountains will always be my favourite because the verticality is so breathtaking, but what really impressed me was The St. Quentin Scar map. Set in Northern France when the German Army attempted to punch through the British lines, the map depicts classic trench warfare. Pushing an objective whilst explosions violently light up the muddy, cramped trenches is made harder by treacherous barbed wire slung all over no-mans-land, not to mention the snipers who always seem to occupy fortified positions.
The new mode “Operations” plays out like an actual front pushing battle and takes place over 2 maps instead of 1. The attacking team has 3 battalions of 150 (lives) to advance their troops across historical battlefields, each of which is narrated on to add context. Having 3 tries means games last longer which is actually good because it makes you invested in the match outcome, something Call of Duty never instilled in me. The addition of airships, armoured trains and battleships to boost the losing team is a nifty touch and adds a layer of depth to the gameplay.
Additions I like include the medic proximity: when you die you’re able to identify whether you’re likely to get revived by a friendly medic. I don’t like how they changed the flexible class setups from Battlefield Hardline though. Now (like with Battlefield 4) you can only customise your class within a match – I’m constantly self conscious my team are a man down because I’m fiddling with sniper variants.
Battlefield 1 is carefully and intricately made to walk the line between entertainment and education. The War Stories emotionally wrecked me, the audio and visuals stunned me, and I can tell I’m going to be playing Operations well into the new year. I am so glad DICE decided to make a historical shooter, it makes a wonderful change from the general FPS trend.
I can’t help but be cynical though. Much like CoD 4 Modern Warfare, I think Battlefield 1 is a genre defining game which other developers will struggle to equal. I won’t be expecting another FPS of the same original caliber for a long time.