Note: This will be a review of strictly the single-player campaign of Battlefield 1. I suck at multiplayer, and don’t feel that I would have much to add on the subject, so this way, everybody wins!
Battlefield 1 is a game about war. That may seem like an obvious statement, and that’s because it is. The game is set during the First World War, so of course it’s about war. But it isn’t just a game about the First World War. It is a game that is at war with itself as well.
This time around, the single-player campaign takes the form of several different vignettes taken from different locations and time periods around the world, known as War Stories. Five are available, allowing the player to take the role of a wide-ranging number of protagonists, including a young, fresh-faced tank driver; a salty Australian message runner; and even a Bedouin tribeswoman fighting with Lawrence of Arabia. These five different stories ultimately aim to come together to show that war is hell, and that the Great War in particular, was a hellish and ultimately futile experience.
However, no matter how hard it wants to tell this story, the game always struggles to show this. This is thanks to the constraints placed upon the story by the face that it is, in fact, a video game. Throughout the game, it becomes increasingly difficult to empathise with this message when most of the mission quickly devolve into the typical, bombastic, Battlefield-fare. The game wants to show how futile the fighting was, and how over-whelming the odds were, but then proceeds to tell ridiculous tales that in no way convey this. One of the war stories can perhaps be excused for this due to the idea of the narrator perhaps not telling the truth, but this just isn’t the case for the others. One of them involves an Italian soldier in metal armour, who effectively becomes The Terminator, dealing out death with little to no fear of death.
© Electronic Arts
Of course, this was always going to be a problem with a Battlefield game, particularly in this modern era of first person shooters. It was always going to be difficult to strike a balance between the gameplay that Battlefield fans want, and telling the tale that the developers wanted to get across. Sadly, it never really finds a solution to this problem, instead largely ignoring it, which effectively makes it feel like a re-skin of Battlefield 4.
Gameplay is incredibly similar to that of previous iterations of this franchise. The core of this involves typical shooter gameplay, going through a series of linear maps and taking out enemies, whilst occasionally mixing this up with vehicular gameplay (tanks and bi-planes feature prominently in the campaign).The FPS gameplay is competent, but nothing special. The guns don’t feel noticeably different from those featured in the modern games in the series, which means the game fails to stand out in this regard. In terms of vehicles, most are fun to play. It never gets old to control a tank and go around the map completely wrecking shop (despite the inherent ludo-narrative dissonance that this entails). However, it’s a different story when it comes to the planes, which are not fun to control at all. The controls feel too twitchy, meaning that the plane is often a chore to control. Most annoyingly, the collision detection is particularly shonky. Multiple times during the campaign, my plane blew up as it apparently hit the ground or the side of a mountain, when it was very clear that no part of the plane had ever touched the surface.
Confusingly, multiple sections of the single-player campaign are devoted to stealth gameplay, which is bizarre for a game that bills itself as being about ‘All Out War’ This would be fine, and a nice change of pace, if not for the fact that the stealth gameplay is abysmal- Dishonored this ain’t. Nothing about it is fun. Enemies’ vision changes from grunt to grunt, never staying consistent, meaning that you never have any clue whether the enemy will see you or decide to ignore you this time. It wants you to use a system of tagging enemies, lures, and melee takedowns, but none of this feels effective or satisfying. Most irritatingly, when one enemy notices you, somehow, the whole damn enemy encampment will now magically know where you are, despite the original guy never having had any chance to alert his friends. It makes the stealth gameplay feel cheap, and incredibly frustrating. If this was just one section, it would have been excusable, but the game decides to keep going back to this well, despite the fact that the well is clearly filled with poison and dead rats.
© Electronic Arts
In terms of the technical side of things, the game excels, and Dice have yet again proven that they are masters of the industry when it comes to this. The game looks absolutely gorgeous. It runs smoothly, and the locales look so good that at times, you would be forgiven in thinking that you were looking at a photograph, and not a game. Individual blades of grass sway in the breeze; sand blows across the horizon; and it all looks beautiful. This is helped by the degradation of the environment caused by the explosions and the weaponry. Buildings get torn apart in realistic fashion, and artillery shells cause craters in the ground that look exactly how they should.
The same high technical fidelity applies to the sound design as well. Following on from the outstanding sound design of last year’s Battlefront, the game again sounds just like an actual battlefield. Explosions sound realistic, and the constant thud of gunfire evokes the idea of an all out war. The sound engineering truly makes the battlefields of World War One come to life- it is nothing less than outstanding.
Ultimately, the single-player campaign of Battlefield 1 never manages to live up to its potential. It wants to tell the story of the futility of war and the hopelessness that came with it. This very serious subject matter however is hampered by the gameplay. It is difficult to get on board with this dark tale when, for the most part, the game has you going around causing wanton destruction without a care in the world. I will reiterate what I said earlier. Battlefield 1 is a game that is at war with itself. One side of it wants to be a serious tale about World War One, whereas on the other side, the spectre of previous Battlefield titles lingers, and everything that comes with that. The game needed to make a decision about whether to continue on like other games in the series, or try a new, darker style of narrative. Ultimately however, the campaign tries to do satisfy both sides, leaving an unsatisfying experience.