They say war never changes, but the people around it do. This message is beautifully, and quite maturely, illustrated in EA DICE’s Battlefield 1, their latest offering in the Battlefield series. By tackling World War I, a mostly untouched historical period in video games, Battlefield 1 has taken many bold steps forwards by going back. While WWI isn’t near the advanced combat seen in more recent wars, it was a hard selling point to make one of the most tragic past events in history an entertaining game while respecting the time period. Yet, somehow, DICE have created a spectacular, memorable balancing act of a shooter that strikes as many emotional chords as it does pack a visceral punch.
Enter World War I, a time when the world was on the brink of great change at the expense of truly horrendous acts of violence and resentment between nations. Battlefield 1’s campaign documents a handful of tales occurring around the globe at the time, each telling a personal war story of individuals caught amidst the destruction. While they’re not too lengthy, with each story taking anywhere between thirty to sixty minutes to complete, they do intimately capture the emotional weight of these brave individuals and act as a great, if not surprisingly educational, insight into the darker and more well-known aspects of World War I. None of this is glamorized as DICE cleverly tones down the bombastic tendencies of previous Battlefield campaigns to tell more subdued, personal stories of heroism and the traumatic effects of war. It’s a surprisingly well thought out and mature take on the war shooter, refreshingly breathing new life into the genre.
Players are immediately introduced to Battlefield 1’s stunning campaign, kicking off with trench combat told from various perspectives of the ground soldiers. The real punch is how DICE chooses to bounce between these perspectives, cleverly stating that you are not expected to survive. This theme is carried throughout the campaign in some gut-wrenchingly emotional ways as you grow attached to each protagonists heroic tale before facing the inevitable truth of death being the great equalizer in war.
While it may sound morbid, the campaign never shies away from its patriotic, almost glossy tone that is not without some great moments of humor in between. Each war story uniquely stands on its own, whether it be the brilliant stealthy desert tactics of Lawrence of Arabia or the gritty, testosterone-fueled ramblings of a tank crew facing unfavorable odds, the tone maintains a respectful art of storytelling while introducing us to strongly developed characters and tales that never breach the cheesy or predictable line.
Battlefield 1 may have a new coat of paint, but it also retains its solid core game play of immersive environments, intense 64-player battles in multiplayer, and unmistakably large-scaled destruction. DICE’s attention to detail when it comes to realistic weaponry is astounding, as WWI-accurate weapons tend to misfire or jam in the heat of battle while others may simply backfire without warning. It adds several dimensions to the combat mechanics and forces players to adapt and learn each weapon and class as they all function completely differently from each other. While the focus on automatic rifles is a bit out of historical context, the game tends to break certain factual inaccuracies in favor of entertainment, which is actually a great thing, making it more accessible to a wider audience also pacified by modern shooters.
Vehicular warfare make a comeback in Battlefield 1, this time purposefully malfunctioning for the sake of being historically accurate. Tanks, after taking enough of a beating, will collapse in the heat of combat, forcing repairs to be carried out by either the internal crew or another player fixing it from the outside. This adds a level of urgency to the action, putting another players life at risk on the battlefield for speedy repairs. Airborne battles blaze the skies above as players can seize control of various gun-mounted fighter planes and zeppelins for an upper hand. With enough fire power, zeppelins can be taken down in a blitz of explosions to level the entire battlefield, critically changing the environment into a rubble-infested wasteland below. While soaring through the skies is a sight to behold, the controls often work against your liking as they are clunky for the most part, although it is an admirable improvement over the stiff airborne mechanics from prior installments.
Any veteran Battlefield player can also expect a welcomed return to multiplayer, this time revamped to accommodate the WWI setting. Conquest, Domination and Team Deathmatch all make returns, while a few new modes mix up the action. Rush introduces a counterpart to Capture the Flag as rivaling teams compete to capture Telegraph Posts, while Operations allows teams to progress through a series of different maps as they work their way up the online rankings. However, the most baffling new mode, called War Pigeons, sees opposing teams using pigeons to call in artillery barrages as the other team attempts to track down the pigeon. This made for something unique, but ultimately not the mode most players will likely gravitate towards as it can be quite tedious after a few matches. The multiplayer is polished enough and fixes many of the launch issues and server problems that plagued Battlefield 4.
DICE greatly utilizes the new Frostbite engine to deliver an astonishingly beautiful game, from the rolling sands of the Arabian desert to the heavy morning fogs and muddy terrain of the trenches, the graphics are unparalleled. Cut scenes integrated with the game play provide smooth transitions, though it becomes clear that some creases needed to be ironed out. Graphical glitches are abundant, especially in multiplayer where the action bombards the screen and causes some hilarious mishaps, such as gravity-defying horses and the occasional soldier disappearing into the ground. Besides that, the game does run at a buttery smooth 60fps without any gaping issues.
Battlefield 1 oozes passion and a considerate understanding of the War without insulting its origins. The campaign, while relatively short, sinks its teeth into the emotional grit of the war, with a strong focus on individual relatable heroes tackling extraordinary feats. Multiplayer reinvigorates massive online mayhem and delivers more of what we’ve come to love from the series, with only the odd glitch holding it back from being the essential multiplayer game of the year. However, DICE’s acute attention to detail makes the game special in many regards. Battlefield 1 may not scale new heights in innovative game play, but it transcends the shooter genre as some of the finest and (shockingly) most passionate gaming experiences you’ll have the pleasure of playing this decade.