Review: “Battlefield 1”
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“What follows is frontline combat. You are not expected to survive,” a title card says, seconds before the player is thrusted into the shoes of an American soldier in northern France during World War 1. The player has one impossible objective: hold the line. The German Empire’s desperate advance inevitably overwhelms the player and the soldier they control, regardless of how many enemies that go down with them. The game switches perspectives to another soldier further down the muddy allied defenses only to meet the same fate. The chapter concludes after an artillery barrage, with the two lone survivors of opposite allegiances aiming their rifles towards each other, only to lower them out of exhaustion from the battle that just concluded. “Battlefield 1” establishes its grim and gruesome tone before the player reaches the main menu.
While the majority of the first-person shooter genre suffers a sci-fi hangover, “Battlefield” developer Dice breaks new ground by exploring World War I, a conflict rarely portrayed in popular culture. World War I is a war without the cinematic heroes of World War II, such as Captain Miller from “Saving Private Ryan.” “Battlefield 1”’s campaign mode responds to the lack of heroism with “War Stories,” short episodes and narratives set across several fronts of the Great War such as northern Italy, the Ottoman Empire and northern France.
After playing three “War Stories,” I found each suffered from a lack of engaging storytelling. In the War Story “The Runner”, the player controls Frederick Bishop, a battle hardened Australian scout in the Gallipoli Peninsula. He is tailed by a young soldier that aspires to be just like him. Bishop becomes a father-like figure towards the overly-innocent soldier in the middle of warzone. The sudden relationship contradicted Bishop’s established character and made me feel disconnected from the story. Narrative aside, the short missions are fun while they lasted, like the mission where I defended London from several massive German zeppelins which rip and explode in a satisfying way. But all of these epic experiences lasted me a combined five hours and only made slight improvements on the typical “filler campaign” I expect from the series.
“Battlefield 1”’s multiplayer is the best online experience I’ve had this year. While past iterations like “Battlefield 4” lost focus on the series’s squad based objective gameplay in favor of flashy levels that looked good but were not fun to play, “Battlefield 1”’s multiplayer revives what made the franchise legendary. The showcased gamemode is “Operations”. A single match spans multiple levels which attempt to recreate historical battles, albeit with less “trench” and more “warfare”. My favorite “Operation”,“Kaiserschlacht”, tries to recreate the historic 1918 Spring Offensive. The battle begins by forcing the German Empire team to run through a “no-man’s land” while the British team tries to hold their defensive position. I found both sides enjoyable and the battle was very immersive. I was compelled to stick close to my squad mates as we moved through the trenches, artillery and machine gun fire raining down on both sides. Signature game modes like conquest and rush return, with the latter suffering low player populations presumably due to “Operations” being such a hit. While every game type feels solid, there is currently only six to choose from.
Every time the action picks up, so does “Battlefield 1”’s fantastic musical score that gives Hans Zimmer a run for his money. Before every round, cellos play quietly while the teams look down on the untouched battlefield. When the attackers gain the advantage, frantic french horns and accompanied by the orchestra signal retreat for the defenders.
Along with the beautiful visuals and epic original score, “Battlefield 1” makes strange gameplay changes in order to fit the time period. Dynamite replaces lock-on missile launchers, bayonets for laser sights and biplanes for supersonic jets. Prototype automatic pistols suffer from bullet inaccuracy while cumbersome light machine guns overheat. I unlocked nearly every weapon and piece of equipment in the first 15 hours. I was disappointed at the lack of unlockable weapons and gear, but it makes the game more accessible for more casual players. The infantry firefights, while not realistic to the time period, are the most polished in the franchise. The game does a great job of making each millennia old firearm feel and sound imperfected without diminishing how fun the guns are to use.
Vehicles in larger game modes like conquest feel more balanced than previous entries in the “Battlefield” franchise. Tanks are more powerful since infantry rocket guns are weak and inconvenient to use. However, they can be disabled with a few well placed grenades if the tank operator is not aware of their surroundings. Planes actually make a difference since they travel slower and have more effective weapons. Some of the most fun I had while playing “Battlefield 1” was when a friend and I worked together to fly an attack plane. My friend would pilot the aircraft and attack ground targets while I used the rear-mounted machine gun to combat enemy fighter planes. Even when things went wrong, like when we crashed into the same flagpole twice, it was hilariously fun.
The biggest gimmick in “Battlefield 1” is the “Behemoths” which enter the battle late in the game to support the losing team. The colossal vehicles can vary from an armored train, a battleship or a zeppelin. I found that they were frustrating to be killed by. Especially the airship, which can park itself over a team’s base and continually rain down bombs and machine gun fire until it explodes. But overall, the “Behemoths” succeed in making every battle feel special and significant due to their massive presence.
“Battlefield 1” is one of the strongest additions to its franchise so far, with immersive and memorable multiplayer battles tied in with polished gunplay. “War Stories” only made me want to play the multiplayer more, which I happily did. More content is on the way for the game, like an expansion that adds the Russian Empire, but “Battlefield 1”’s current offering is worth the $60.
“Battlefield 1” is available on Playstation 4, Xbox One and Windows.