The ‘Great War’ took millions of lives around the world, seeing massive technological advancements to warfare and military tactics to the peril of many. So, whilst the change back to a more historical setting is a welcome one after numerous years of modern themed warfare, EA have set themselves quite the challenge navigating such a tricky period. The result is justifiable, though. Battlefield 1 is an epic portrayal of a grim war that finds the series back on top form with only a few minor stumbles to show for it.
Game: Battlefield 1
Developer: EA DICE
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Reviewed on: PS4 (Review copy provided)
I lost my way with both the Call of Duty and Battlefield franchises during a period of gaming that began to feel overly generic and lacklustre, despite enjoying my time with Battlefield 4 for the most part. A little of what makes past wartime stories worth retelling is that of the reminder that it brings with it; the senselessness of the death, the genuine heroics and sometimes unbelievable events of what happened during that period. The nature of modern warfare truly began here between 1914 to 1918 and the series cautiously goes back there, tagging itself with a symbolic ‘1’ in representation.
There’s a balancing act constantly struggling to maintain stability during the campaign. The five short stories scattered across different regions of WWI often fail to find any sort of solid footing within their narrative, never sure whether to be respectful to the scenario or push in some pure doe-eyed sentiment. It leaves the stories all a little too quirky to draw you in whole hearted despite being a massive improvement on past campaigns.
It’s good that they’re all well written and voice acted with a high level of quality, often preferring flicks of individual heroism over the constant bloody-mess of all out of warfare. One of the stories focus on a tank driver, hopping between missions that send you alone into a village to retrieve parts and then engaging in the seemingly impossible task of fending off a plethora of enemy machinery and infantry single handily. To balance the unlikeliness of certain scenarios the game can feel sluggishly paced in parts as you move from one area to another picking of enemies in small groups and thus lacks some intensity.
It’s when those moments turn into Battlefield’s trademark large-scale fights that the campaign comes alive. 20 minutes of tutorial-like flying that throws one or two fighter planes in the mix for you to shoot down becomes a full aerial assault on an enemy base. Flying down over encampments at full speed during bombing runs whilst being fired on from artillery and trying to avoid a sky full of planes can be exhilarating. Another time, a stealth mission in the desert will eventually become a larger scale fight to take down an armoured train with all hell raining down on you. When Battlefield plays to its strengths, it’s a superb gaming experience.
There’s good variation in the 5 stories, too. From manoeuvring a tank, piloting planes and sniping from windmills, to swinging a sword from horseback and dragging an injured friend through No Man’s Land – you’ll rarely feel bored playing the single player campaign. The developers have managed to do something most have failed at in the past by fusing their strongest multiplayer facets into the single player portion, slowly introducing you to control schemes that will leave you in good stead when you inevitably make that leap without them feeling shoe-horned in for the sake of it.
Needless to say, the environments look stunning and work superbly well with DICE’s adeptness at creating an action soaked theatre of war within them. There’s not much that can’t be totalled by grenades or artillery and that sense of destructiveness opens so many ways to play, as well as influencing decisions you’ll make in game. There’s an eeriness to fog and sandstorms that engulf maps, a false sense of security in the beautifully serene grassy hill tops; it’s a glorious landscape to fight in and it can’t be said enough how well and constantly DICE hit the nail on the head with production throughout the series – Battlefield 1 being no exception.
A lot of the single player locations form the maps for the multiplayer segment of the game, with smaller versions trimmed down to host modes such as Team Deathmatch. The main draw of the series has always been its large-scale battles, though. Conquest remains its feature game mode where 40+ players battle it out over territory points. The maps feel at their most dynamic in the larger game modes knowing that buildings you were using as cover will most likely be piles of rubble come the end thanks to armoured vehicles and artillery guns being thrown into the mix.
You won’t find Battlefield 4’s buzzword ‘levolution’ featuring here, either. The mid match set pieces are gone in favour of a more natural evolution of maps over time depending on how players choose to play – a much more palatable experience all round. The loadouts suit the design, obviously dictated by the time-period, but create a more precise feel to the fighting. It’s less chaotic, but more tactical and equally as deadly. You won’t be rushing through an open map too often in fear of being sniped, and you’ll quickly learn to make every round in your rifle count as there will be no quick reloads once you’re empty. Of course, you’ll have to make quick decisions still but the slower pace is utterly refreshing and will ultimately remind veteran players of the good ol’ days.
A new mode, and by far my new favourite is ‘Operations’. It plays out as an attack vs defence mode where there’s five sections of two capture points that need to be taken one at a time. The defence wins if they can kill a certain number of enemy forces before the points are taken and the attacking team gets three attempts. Each time the attacking team fails they’re backed up with extra help such as tanks or scarily large zeppelin blimps that can change the course of a fight and rain down destruction on the defending side. It’s perhaps the most fitting mode for the time-period and hearing the charge of your squad charging in over the hill tops towards a new point with explosions happening all around is simply majestic.
Whilst there isn’t a huge selection of weapons to choose from there’s still plenty to level and aim for. You’ll have the normal choice of classes to play from Assault, medic, support and scout, each effecting the battlefield in their own way by reviving dead soldiers to spotting enemy troops from a distance. As always you’ll be able to gain points from assisting your team with these extra facets rather than just relying on kills to up your tally and they play a massive role in determining your team’s victory.
Despite receiving an overhaul the menus are still a pain at times. Load times are long and some strange choices remain, like not being able to adjust loadouts outside of the multiplayer games themselves. Oddly, quitting to the main menu in between games is also an absolute chore that if you don’t time your leaving quickly you’ll be dragged through an unescapable loading screen into the next game before you can access a menu again – it actually took me a while to figure out how to quit out period.
In essence, though, this is the same Battlefield you’ve being playing for a while except that it has remembered what it does best and ran with it more often than not. The risk of taking on a World War I scenario has been tackled excellently within the single-player and multiplayer modes, leaving a refreshing experience that sees Battlefield return to its absolute best.
Throughout the entire time I’ve been playing Battlefield 1, the series’ arch rival didn’t come into my mind once – and that’s probably the biggest compliment I could pay it. Battlefield is once again comfortable in its own skin, and I, for one, couldn’t be happier.