Title: Battlefield 1
Platform: PC/PS4/Xbox One (reviewed)
Developer: EA DICE
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release date: Out now
tl;dr: You did good, EA. You did good.
Price: PS4: £55/$60/€50
Xbox One: £50/$60/€70
Family Focus: Click here for more information.
I was wary about this one.
World War 1 is not a subject to be taken lightly. It’s mud and blood and the utter despair of humanity. There were over 17 million deaths in those four short years, and they didn’t stop until the last second of 11 am on November 11, 1918. The eerie images of gravestones in neat white rows linger every time Remembrance Day rolls around.
Needless to say, I didn’t want a game making light of it. I played Valiant Hearts a few months back, and it wrecked me. Ever since I sat through that game, the idea of a glorified war simulator where we get to go and shoot some Germans, historical accuracy be damned, left a bad taste in my mouth. Was this really suitable subject matter? Should we create a casual shooter all of us know twelve-year-olds the world over are going to pick and play with their mates without a second thought, because they need something to do until the next Call of Duty?
I’m not going to lie; I was fully geared up to go on a massive rant about how disrespectful this game was being towards its subject matter. I wasn’t expecting in-depth, actual research into the historical context, or any sort of reminder about the men who fought and lost their lives in the “great,” war.
And I’m very happy to say, I was utterly, completely wrong.
Battlefield 1 kicks off with a surprise and keeps getting better from there. I’m used to seeing Shooty McWar Simulator #2234 come out every year around Christmas, and for the most part, they all look the same. Generic, white, male, personality-of-wet-cardboard and the depth-of-a-puddle, allergic to the words “character development,” or the idea of a persona beyond “bland player avatar.” I was pretty shocked to find out that we didn’t get one playable character, but six, and amongst that six were a member of the Harlem Hellfighters, a British chauffeur turned tank driver, an American who nicked a plane, an Italian Arditi agent, an Australian message runner, and a Bedouin rebel, to top it all off.
Think about it – when have you ever seen this much diversity in a AAA game, all at the same time? I mean, sure, you’ve got stuff like Overwatch, but that’s fantasy. You can get away with some zany designs, but for a game so heavily drenched in realism? I’d go so far as to call it groundbreaking. It’s a big risk for writers and directors to take, but the devs have said they wanted to “embrace the variety” of the people active in World War 1, and it gives Battlefield 1 a remarkable spin on what is a somewhat tired genre. Who do you picture when learning about all of this? Certainly not Australia and Italy.
Gameplay wise, this one handles smoothly. You can quickly dart from obstacle to obstacle, or sprint of the range of enemy gunfire without having to hold down R3, and stealth was surprisingly effective and useful. I did manage to get my hands on a silenced sniper rifle once, but that only lasted about ten minutes when I ran out of bullets, so I’m not sure if that was intentional, or just stupid.
Mostly, I relied on luring enemies out with ingeniously thrown bullet shells, then whacking them with my gun, or my trusty shovel, which for some reason became a one hit kill every time. That, or I resorted to my other, superior method of survival, which was frantically spraying bullets at everything that moved until it stopped. I found out later you can’t hit your own soldiers, which was appreciated, since everyone appears to be wearing the same colour.
All the other methods of play are surprisingly smooth too, so long as we don’t mention that awkward pigeon sequence near the beginning. The tank isn’t awkward to drive at all, and can merrily bulldoze its way through obstacles and not get stuck on the odd patch of grass somewhere. The planes, too, were easy and fluid to control, letting me breeze through Blackburn’s segment with ease, even if I did crash it into the ground. Once. But considering what flight sims and its ilk are usually like, this was pretty great. Really, my only gameplay complaint is that it’s difficult to find your grenades and secondary weapons – it’s all buried under menus, so I quickly gave up and went back to my trusty shovel.
Graphically, too, this one presents nicely – there’s a good range in the character models, and I’m fairly sure I spotted genuine British accents in there somewhere, so it passed my tests. The environments, too, are gorgeous, from the sun baked deserts to the smog choked skies of London. They all crumble, they all break, and they truly breathe. You end up fully immersed in these environments, hunkered down in the dirt and praying you snuck past fast enough so that soldier didn’t catch you darting out of sight.
The mini map, though, is a bit of a pain, since a lot of the map markers are the same shape, and God help you if you lose sight of an enemy. They don’t show up on the map, and you’ll end up spending a good few minutes wandering around, following the angry German shouting. In the same vein, you’ll struggle to find the next objective because of this, too. Different colours exist, use them! Us visually impaired lot will appreciate it.
The subtitles also translate some of the foreign languages, which is fairly amusing, and also kind of sad – you’re killing people, not just faceless mooks. They all want to go about their day and survive until the end of this anything but Great War, so they can go and see their families. It’s a great dose of realism in a game like this, and also a firm reminder – there are no winners in this. All there is, is mud and blood.
So aside from a more than slightly dodgy Twitter campaign? I’d say EA did good.
- A diverse cast of characters and stories
- A respectful, accurate, well researched take on WW1
- A war game with an original spin
- Lack of enemy targets on minimap/different colours for markers
- Weapons menu is a pain
- Honestly? The price for the length. Yes, it’s an anthology, but the stories are quick to complete, and over with in less than eight hours. Yes, there’s multiplayer, but for me, that doesn’t justify a £60 purchase.
It’s an 18 for a good reason. Blood, death, gore… it’s not something a child should play.