After its success with the galaxy far, far away, DICE turns its attention to a setting that’s a bit closer to home. Using the First World War as a focus, the Battlefield series feels refreshed, returning to the past and a time that’s never really been given its due by this industry. What’s also refreshing is the inclusion of a campaign that seems to be given as much importance and resource as the refined, content-rich multiplayer suite. It makes for a package that may well be the best Battlefield title since Bad Company 2.
Once you’ve loaded up the game you’re thrown straight into the trenches and given a short introduction to the game’s controls, mechanics and most of all its feel and setting. It’s very clear from the off that the tone of this title is one of realism and reverence. This introduction throws you into scenarios you are not meant to survive and as you’re gunned down by the enemy a name appears with birth and death dates below. It makes for a humbling experience, one that attaches meaning and gravitas to the FPS point and shoot gameplay that’s been recycled by so many other titles. Battlefield 1 manages to create the chaos and horror of World War 1 without ever hitting too close to the bone or becoming satirical, its respect for the source material is apparent throughout and the game strives to tell stories and create atmospheres that reflect the time, the people and the scenarios which resulted in so much death and destruction.
After the introduction ends you’re free to choose which aspect of the game you’d like to take part in. Both the Campaign and the Multiplayer aspects share narrated introductions, outlining certain aspects of the conflict that add context to the gameplay. It all makes for a cohesive experience that feels like the world is at war, and that you, as a player are simply taking control of soldiers locked in a world wide struggle for control.
The single-player campaign is split into six mini narrative arcs, spread across different parts of the world. With each having unique characters and objectives. It allows for a varied and enjoyable change to the standard start/middle/end style campaigns that make up most single player titles. These six mini campaigns are each filled with memorable characters, simple but enjoyable objectives and plots, and great set pieces that make the most of what Battlefield offers in its multiplayer modes. One campaign finds you controlling a Bedouin fighter pairing up with Lawrence of Arabia to fight the Ottoman soldiers trying to take control of the Middle East. Another chapter focuses on an Australian veteran storming the beaches of Gallipoli, trying to protect a young rookie that’s been assigned to his command. Each chapter represents an aspect of the war, and subtly tells the story of each battle and event, whilst also introducing fictional/and non fictional characters that are all well developed, creating a sense of instant attachment and emotional weight. In fact for someone who is interested in history and the events of this period, Battlefield 1 creates an incentive to understand and research the war and the battles that took place. It’s a shame that certain important forces like the French and the Russians are omitted from these campaign chapters, but alas, it’s a small gripe to make against a campaign that feels so intent on showing the war from many different sides.
The game-play in Battlefield is as immersive and adrenaline pumping as ever. The weapons you’ll use are all perfectly recreated, with the animation and sound effects making every shot and reload action feel all the sweeter. The sound in general is very impressive; charging battle cries, raining mortar fire, vehicle engines and explosions all sound incredible and add an extra dimension to the experience. During the campaign chapters the game does occasionally give you options when taking down groups of enemies or storming an enemy stronghold. You can scout the enemies and try and take them out stealthily, or just run in and gun down everything that moves. Since there are multiple ways to complete these elements it does add some replay value to the single-player elements.
Battlefield 1 has a variety of multiplayer modes and features, with the standout being the new 40- and 64-player Operations mode. The shooters of the modern era have all tried to replicate the sense of being on the front-lines in an all out war, but this mode and this experience is probably the closest we’ve got so far. The aim is to attack or defend all five sections of the battlefield with some matches taking anywhere between twenty minutes and over an hour to complete; it’s an epic affair. Once you’ve captured a section, you’re told to push on to the next checkpoint as a wave of battle cries bellows all around, the atmosphere and immersion created is breathtaking. The maps themselves are all suitably epic. Some start in gas filled trenches and proceed towards a small town or fort, where others start on the beaches as you fight towards the hills above. In addition to Operations you’ll find all the standard Battlefield favourites, and some smaller skirmishing modes. War Pigeons is of particular note as it’s a sort of Capture the Flag, King of the Hill hybrid. There’s certainly plenty to do, with dynamic weather systems changing how each match takes place. On top of that there’s a myriad of customisable weapons, dog-tags and other items that can be unlocked by ranking up and receiving special battle-packs. The customisation system can be a little confusing at times, and the many menus that need to be navigated to customise and control your rewards can get a little bit ridiculous; there is a simplified way of customising your load-outs but it’s only possible when in a match which is also frustrating.
Battlefield 1 is a real assault on the senses, its campaign is rich in storytelling and set pieces, brilliantly re-imagining events from the First World War. In fact we’re very interested to see what they come up with for the next Battlefront title, since EA has already teased its inclusion. If it’s half as good as these War Story chapters then we’ll have something to celebrate. On top of the great campaign is a honed and robust multiplayer experience that stunningly replicates the feeling of all-out war. If you’ve started to feel numbed by the constant array of shooters releasing every year and are not sure which to sink your time into, you won’t regret spending some time in the trenches with Battlefield 1.