What began with the assassination of Franz Ferdinand at the hands of Yugoslavian nationalist Gavrilo Princip would finally draw to a conclusion some 4 and a half years later, engulfing a large percentage of the globe and leaving behind a death toll of almost 10 million. Those two fateful close range shots fired from the chamber of Princip’s semi-automatic pistol on the 28th of June 1914 would trigger a war of unprecedented scale; the war to end all wars – The Great War. Dating as far back as the eighties, studios have attempted to capture the action and emotions of life during World War 1 through the medium of video games with Verdun, The Snowfield and Darkest of Days attempting to recreate the harrowing battles of WWI. With Infinity Ward continuing to push the Call of Duty franchise off into the future with the soon-to-be-released Infinite Warfare, EA DICE opted to take the Battlefield series back to where it all began on the timeline, with quite possibly the grandest re-imagining of the greatest war in history to date.
Battlefield 1: Xbox One [Reviewed], PlayStation 4, PC
Developer: EA DICE
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: 21 October 2016
Price: £54.99 [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Publisher]
Previous Battlefield single-player campaigns left a bitter taste in the mouth, most notably the mediocre stories of predecessors Battlefield 3 and Battlefield 4 where the art of telling a war story took a lonely backseat to large scale multiplayer experiences. Engineering a balance between the two main features isn’t unheard of in series history with 2010’s Battlefield Bad Company 2 the nearest we came to a complete game. Bad Company 2 contained an unforgettable multiplayer experience to rival anything the series or any first-person shooter had to offer at that time and yet it also possessed a gritty, compelling campaign that pulled absolutely no punches in its desire to excite. That exact same feeling although significantly upscaled is felt here as a band of Harlem Hellfighters seek to hold station under a constant wave of attacks from German soldiers before breaking out to form an offensive of their own with help from the British. Battlefield 1‘s prologue “Storm of Steel” laid down a perfectly placed marker that also signalled a dramatic change of storytelling for the series.
A former chauffeur turned tank driver for the British army, a veteran message runner from Austrailia and an American gambler with a penchant for flying and bending the truth; Battlefield 1‘s protagonists are a varied who’s who of everyday heroes in a time where any man that could pilot a plane, decipher morse code or carry and point a pistol at their enemy were enlisted into war, thrown onto the front line, risking life and limb to fight for their country. By telling the story of World War 1 from a variety of angles EA Dice has bravely stepped away from the mainstream campaign in favour of multifaceted “War Stories” with Battlefield 1, in-turn developing a wonderful recreation of so many of the key battles, told from the perspectives of the soldiers, fighters and warriors that lived through hell and survived to tell those very tales.
Battlefield 1‘s campaign is a perfectly weighted, finely executed multitude of stories; flitting effortlessly between gorgeous cinematic cutscenes and brutish gameplay that will have you on edge for its entire duration. A seamless, engrossing experience and although its focus might lean heavily on 100-year-old history, its delivery is a real triumph of modern day gaming. While its many characters might be fictional, the detailed description of their pain, anguish coupled with the feeling of victory after each successful offensive play or battle won is very much real and hard to swallow. At times Battlefield 1 is a hauntingly accurate portrayal that unequivocally drives home the unforgiving nature of war.
A British built Mark V tank with a serious habit of being dreadfully unreliable attempts to power through heavy German resistance towards Cambrai, a quaint town in northern France near the Belguim border. Driven by young but confident Danny Edwards, a former chauffeur for the rich – turned tank driver/mechanic, “Black Bess” is a beast of a tank for sure but its stability is constantly called into question as the desperate band of British soldiers push through enemy lines to reach their destination in one piece.
“Through Mud and Blood” is a fantastic example of Battlefield 1‘s diversity and character vulnerability as players are forced to endure moments of loneliness outside the safe confines of Big Bess, halting movement in the soggy mud to clear out German filled barracks and trenches. Gameplay is at its finest as players patiently sneak through enemy camps, drawing a single soldier away from fellow allies with the delicate flick of a bullet shell. Paying homage to Metal Gear Solid and Hitman, EA Dice has made excellent use of the distraction technique often seen through the forays of Big Boss and Agent 47 to help players evade enemy sights. Much like the aforementioned games, the opposition is all too aware of a players position if they move too loudly or stay out in the open for long periods of time. With an enemy positioned comfortably away from others, players can ease up on the back of the distracted foe for a silent takedown with whatever comes to hand; be it a knife, shovel or hatchet.
The sheer diversity of Battlefield 1 means that a stealth-minded approach can quickly be switched out for moments of action with the use of the games wide range of weaponry. Dotted around its gorgeous landscape are wooden boxes packed like a child’s toybox with weapons fit to turn a quiet, sombre locale into a chaotic bullet-strewn playground as soldiers trade shots with one another across brush green open plains or constricted alleys in the shadows of dishevelled, crumbling buildings. Carefree in its arrogance, Battlefield 1 doesn’t hold back in its efforts to show you all that ‘The Great War’ had to offer. For the wannabe Rambo’s in all of us you have the Madson MG Light Machine Gun designed to knock down anyone foolhardy enough to stand in its way like a delicately balanced human domino, for those more suited to scaling tall windmills for a high vantage point in which to pick off enemies with all the swagger of Karl Fairburne there’s the SMLE MKIII Sharpshooter – a British bolt action rifle allowing players to play the patient long range game. The detailed depth that comes with every piece of artillery at the player’s disposal is a true testament to the unparalleled research of DICE. Battlefield 1 boasts more authenticity than an episode of the Antiques Roadshow.
Of course, looks aren’t everything. Realism boils down to how each individual handcrafted object of destruction handles and like a gleaming Rolls Royce out for a leisurely spin in the countryside, Battlefield 1‘s control scheme drives like a real dream. Improved hit detection leaves enemies trailing in your wake when compared to Battlefield 4‘s often unbalanced, unpredictable firing, that would often leave a bullet-soaked enemy still angrily wailing his gun in your direction. And it’s not just the feel of the weapon in your hand, the cacophony of sound that rings out during each battle is a beautiful thing to behold. Shells bounce off the soil at your feet, the crack of dynamite as it rips an armoured tank apart is deafening, the sound of your enemies cranium shattering under the weight of a shovel, Battlefield 1 is an orchestra of noise and what a symphony it is.
But it wasn’t just on the ground war was being fought. High in the sky and darting between the opposition in a Bristol F2B twin seater plane is Clyde Blackburn, an American pilot who along with gunner George Rackham must ensure British bombers safely reach a German munitions station while avoiding the attention of Halberstadt CL2’s that litter the sky. Battlefield 1‘s ariel manoeuvres don’t quite match up to that of Star Wars Battlefront with slow abrupt turning key to evading shadowing enemies they are, however, a pleasure to fly and with breathtaking scenery to bask in and magnificent Zeppelins to take on at later points in the game Battlefield 1 feels like the pinnacle of video game technology. Synonymous with vehicle warfare and with the array of power on both land, sea and in the air Battlefield 1 truly feels like a homecoming and that flows over into its multiplayer.
Multiplayer has always been a major focal point of any Battlefield game and with all the tools at its disposal DICE has excelled here, with architecturally stunning map design that makes for one of the greatest multiplayer experiences this series or any other has seen. All out war of unrivalled scale ensues as teams contest close fought tactical battles throughout the winding labyrinth of bunkers and brush wooded lands of Argonne Forest to wide open warfare as mounted horses collide with armoured tanks across the plush tropic scenery of Suez. At times multiplayer borders on outright frantic as swarms of enemy opposition converge on your location frequently. The stealth element triumphantly celebrated in its campaign feels like a distant memory with very little place to hide or find solitude and destruction of property an almost certainty.
One of the strong points of Battlefield 4‘s multiplayer, Levilution enabled massive pieces of landscape to crumble and fall with the right combination of firepower and willingness, with Battlefield 1 almost anything can and will most likely topple throughout the duration of any given match, which leaves that sniper you see camping high up on the rooftop of a town building more vulnerable than ever before. With destruction actively encouraged its a different type of ball game, often forcing players out into the open or into sneaking around the outskirts to avoid the carnage at the centre of a map. Sometimes it can be a little overwhelming or claustrophobic and although you may find yourself spawning into death a fair portion of the time, you’ll actively and happily respawn over and over again.
Battlefield games have always been open to varied types of gameplay and it’s no different this time around. You have your basic Battlefield classes ala Medic, Scout, Support although slightly re-imagined, while entry into armoured tanks or fighter planes see players transformed into an entirely different class altogether, widening the spectrum of gameplay whilst also making for an interesting conundrum should you vacate that particular vehicle further down the line.
To throw further spice into the proverbial mix we also have Elite classes which can help to turn the battle in your favour. Rising from the ashes, Flame Troopers scorch the land, turning humans to dust with a single unerring burst of its fuel cannister, Sentries shower bullets direct from the hip while able to withstand considerably more damage than any other soldier; making them a formidable foe. Last but certainly not least, a weapon capable of stripping a vehicle apart like a game of operation; Tank Hunter stands as tall as a man, able to remove machine guns and cannons from an armoured tank. Combat feels overly enriched with an assortment of options that cater to every style of gameplay. Simply put, there is something for everyone.
EA DICE’s bold decision to turn Battlefield 1’s campaign into segmented “War Stories” has massively paid off, with a variety of battles from many countries both captivating, heart wrenching and enthralling at the same time. Uneasy load times aside, Battlefield 1 delivers the greatest single player campaign in series history with a multiplayer element that brilliantly compliments it. The sheer depth of research pours out of every foreseeable orifice while the Frostbite 3 Engine excellently helps to paint a beautiful picture of such an unforgettable time in mankind’s history. This is truly the turning point for first-person shooters and I for one hope DICE continue with this theme in the future.