Reviewed By Steve Polak
For those familiar with the Battlefield series, Battlefield 1 represents a major rethink. This time around gone are the modern combat toys and high technology that we have become so used to. In its place the mud, steel, sweat and simplicity of brutal World War One combat.
Indeed the Great War setting has certainly posed some interesting challenges. The period is both one of the most horrific and seemingly futile eras in warfare, where the principal combatants ground each other to a crawl in the endless hell of seemingly un-winnable trench stalemates.
EA wisely overcome this, as tanks and planes and even infantry assaults, prove that those trenches aren’t as insurmountable as we suspect would have been historically the case. Indeed the game offers plenty of movement and variety, as you travel principally between Europe and the Middle East, exploring some amazing locations.
The visuals are often a mix of breathtaking and brutal as the superbly crafted landscapes features in the game are sullied by carnage and soak with human blood. The game is at times very far from pretty and EA have dared to deliver the gore of war warts and all at times.
The result a game that is thrilling, intense and always varied. This is the best Battefield we have seen for a very long time. You will be braver than Biggles, as you take to the sky and the next minute you'll be sneaking around the desolate desert with Lawrence of Arabia, attempting to outwit legions of heavily armed Turks. Battlefield 1 is beautifully play balanced and there is much fun to be had.
That said Battlefield 1’s single player campaign still does a remarkable job of communicating the sad futility of the ‘Great War’ by repeatedly seeing the player succumb to a premature death, marked by a poignant end of game animation that features your protagonist at that time and the byline of their birth and death years.
By continually hitting you over the head with your mortality DICE have injected a welcome dose of humanity into the combat experience.
Each campaign in single player mode is set in a particular theatre of war, with a unique protagonist and a story that stands out with its own sense of drama, technology and geography.
These individual story threads delivers superb scripting and some really dramatic moments. Moments when despite the fact that you are playing a videogame as instant action entertainment, you still manage to appreciate just how brutal, real and ultimately sad it would have been to have been experiencing the combat you have just played through in real life.
Battlefield 1 bravely manages to balance the entertainment value of the action with a real and solemn portrayal of war and sad, serious and shocking. Hats off to DICE for such an adult treatment here.
However, the narrative would have counted for nothing were it not for the fact that Battlefield 1 is also a superb action game. The combat vignettes are brilliantly designed. The pacing is such that you never feel like there is too much repetition and there are moments when play is interrupted by video segues that help add gravitas to the experience.
The controls are deliciously precise and you get to experience some truly amazing adventures. You’ll storm forts on horseback, fly biplanes in deadly combat and control the original tank, the MK1 as it stuns German troops and rolls over those seemingly impenetrable trenches with ease. You even get to fly a pigeon for what is probably the first time in an action shooter. Indeed the moment you do so is once again filled with poignancy and a sense of the drama unfolding below, as you effortlessly glide above a landscape devastated by mankind’s folly.
Battlefield 1 does take a few liberties when looking at issues of historical accuracy. Portable machine guns are being carried by troops everywhere, even though the Lewis gun and the Bergman MP18 developed in 1918 were the only vaguely portable machine guns and these were far from commonplace on every battle zone. There are other weapons too, often listed as ‘experimental’ bonus pickups, that are far more effective than gunnery from the era ever was.
Similarly tanks are far more effective and reliable than was really the case and biplanes can perform maneouvers that would have seen wings falling of the real world machines in the real world.
Still these conceits to gameplay aren’t really critical points, the game needs to twist realism to suits its ends for the sake of play value. This is something that Battlefield 1 never seems to lose sight of. In single play the action is relentless, dramatic and satisfying. All of this is true before you even spend one second with the game online in multiplayer.
When you do so the game reaches into a whole new box of magic tricks and excels yet again.
Being the first game in the Battlefield series to feature World War 1 the new release has given developers DICE ample opportunities to take a spanner to the formula that has underpinned the series. Accordingly Battlefield 1 features more basic weapons and as a result shorter ranges and a more visceral, basic and ultimately enjoyable combat experience. While you can still do a lot of damage and plenty of skill is required, the nature of the game demands you become particularly skilled at fighting at close range.
Many of the combat modes will be familiar to fans of the series, with the more tactically demanding ‘operations’ mode being the only new addition. This mode feels like a mini multiplayer campaign, as you must compete over a series of separate battles made up of rush or conquest based objectives. The approach works well, as long as you have time to stick with an online session enough to play all of thew way through. If you can’t the experience is somewhat disjointed, albeit fun nonetheless.
The way we see it Battlefield 1 is looking like the pick of the bunch for fans of historically based action shooters this year. The single player experience is better than ever before and excellent online play is something we come to expect from the series. Once again it is there and has been realised with real flair and an understanding for what works.
If you are even vaguely interested in this game Battlefield 1 is quite the gem. Did we mention the soundtrack is also evocative on top too?
Game: Battlefield 1
System: Xbox One