War. War never changes. But is the Great War really that great?
Artillery screams overhead. I’m tripping up over the corpses of my compatriots. I’m all out of bullets and my health’s low. ‘Request order,’ I yell, but my commander is either wilfully stupid, or he can’t hear me over the crackle of rifle fire. All around me, a sickening hiss, and my vision blurs with a murky, piss-yellow smoke. Mustard gas. The bastards are trying to knock us off the high ground, one lungful of air at a time. I scrabble to pull on my gas mask, but it’s too late. It’s too damn late. I fall like the rest of them, and it’s game over.
Welcome to Battlefield 1.
It seemed, when it was first announced, that the game was a risky play for DICE, setting it during the Great War – you know, on account of the millions of lives lost, the donkey generals leading the lions into pure slaughter. It’s still a touchy subject, over 100 years on from the start of the ‘war to end all wars’. The First World War didn’t just change the way we fought, but left a deep and bitter scar on the world.
So how the fuck can you set a video game, a piece of entertainment typically devoted to glorifying the horrors of war, during this tortured time?
With respect – that’s how.
The opening section of the game sees you take on the role of different soldiers, holding out against Kaiser Wilhelm’s army for as long as your bullets last and your health remains. It won’t take long before you’re over-run, then the screen flashes with a dedication to your hero before you take control of the next.
It’s a poignant, interactive way to drive home just how futile it all was; those millions of men – boys, really – gunned down and left to rot in the mud of no man’s land… It’s not smushy and sentimental, but it’s not gloriously heroic either. It’s just death. Senseless death.
Leave your irony-o-meter at the door, though, because yes, despite bringing home the brutality of war, you’re still going to end up slaughtering thousands of other gamers when you pop on Battlefield 1. It’s still a video game, after all.
Battlefield 1 Story Campaign
For the first time since, well, forever, I’d actually welcome further story DLC for a mainline Battlefield game. Typically, BF games fall into the same trap as Call of Duty single-player campaigns – a fun, blockbuster story with supremely forgettable all-American heroes who leave about as much impact on you as a frag grenade thirty miles away. Despite playing them through, I just can’t remember what Battlefield 3 or Battlefield 4’s campaigns were. Something about guns and explosions and war, I think (Don’t quote me on that). Here, it’s a different story – literally, in fact, as you take on the role of six different soldiers, each fighting their own war in six different campaigns.
And a large part of that is the inspired WWI setting.
Even when I found myself doing something I’d done a thousand times before in a video game – for instance, avoiding spotlights and stealthing my way through a section loaded with enemies – I was enthralled because I knew this was, as far as it could be, what it was like shuffling through a trench back in 1917. If your heart doesn’t pound when you hear nearby German voices shouting at each other, then frankly, I doubt you have a heart to pound in the first place. And boy, all that grim shit you’re wading through looks fucking great. Graphically, this is one of the best FPS I’ve had the (dis)pleasure of playing.
While I was excited about the campaign, in a way that shooters like Call of Duty never got me, pretty much everything in the story mode really just acts as a long-form tutorial for Battlefield 1’s biggest selling point: The multiplayer.
Battlefield 1 Multiplayer
This was always going to be a tricky balance – because as gamers, we’re so used to super-rapid-fire-full-auto guns, and here we are using shitty turn-of-the-century weaponry that in real life would shoot as straight as a non-EU sanctioned banana. Thankfully, that ain’t so much of an issue here, since hey, this is a game, this isn’t real-life (because I dare you, I fucking dare you, to take on a man with an AK47 when all you’re holding is a musket).
If you’re a Battlefield veteran, you’ll know what to expect here: You pick a class that fits your playstyle or complements your 5-man squad, and play the objectives like the mother-fucking beast that you are. When I played the beta, I mentioned that it felt like a very slick Battlefield 4 reskin, and after sinking a few hours into the MP, that assessment still stands. Generally, there’s nothing here that particularly challenges the set-up that DICE perfected back in 2013, although there are two major shake-ups to the system.
One is the inclusion of Operations, which plays out like the beloved Rush Mode of yore, but on a much wider scale, with a lot more longevity. I strongly recommend checking this one out, as there’s a lot more team-work going on here than on the familiar Conquest, where your sodding commander almost always doesn’t signal which objective to capture.
The other major change is to the weaponry on offer. The selection of guns is far more limited, with just a select few for each class. As a man who digs in silenced weapons, this was a bit of a let-down, with no real customisation options. On the other hand, it’s in keeping with the WWI world, so there’s that trade-off. But each one of those guns comes in different forms, such as the Medic class, which offers a standard version, one with sights, and one with a sniper scope. That’s nice, and it allows you to create multiple loadouts within the same class, and allowing you to without having to switch out guns and accessories every single time you want to snipe that camping prick (because, to the surprise of precisely no-one, snipey little bastards infest every multiplayer map you’ll play on). But it can feel lacking in variety – particularly since earning war bonds, which are used to unlock new equipment, are so rare, particularly when you first start out, meaning you can’t experiment as much as you’d probably like.
Battlefield 1 Issues
Battlefield 1 isn’t flawless – although the servers actually appear to work, unlike the abortive BF4 debacle. There are still a few bugs in the system – there are times when you can’t revive fallen teammates, or you’ll be revived only to find yourself stuck ADSing and unable to shoot; other times, choosing where you want to spawn flickers between two different spots. Easily patachable, but no less annoying. And, of course, there’s the inclusion of micro-fuck-you-transactions.
Loot boxes are the way forward, apparently, and just like with pretty much every other game from Overwatch to Gears of War 4, you can either work your arse off to win them, or buy them like the sucker EA think you are. And then you’ll have that cool skin-job for your gun that literally no-one but you can really see, or earn a puzzle piece that eventually unlocks a new melee weapon. Personally, I ain’t convinced these are worth shelling out for, not least because the skins are pretty dull designs (and because it only encourages more of this nickel-and-diming).
Let’s face it though, with its large-scale maps, vehicle variety and squad-based objective capturing, there’s not another shooter out there that offers the same experience as Battlefield 1 (uh, except other Battlefield games). It might not be the greatest war, but it’s a pretty grand portrayal of the Great War.