World War I, or the “the war to end all wars” as it was referred to back then, is a blight on the history of humankind. Over the centuries, we’ve seen some truly horrendous, inexplicably violent clashes, but I don’t think any of them were nearly as cruel as this particular series of conflicts that took place early on in the 19th century.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime…
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
The first World War never popped up during any of my history lessons, but it did make some appearances in some of the poetry I studied at varsity. This excerpt in particular, taken from Dulce et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen (a poet who died in the war himself), has always haunted me. in just eight lines, it effectively illustrates the fear that gripped soldiers, and the disgusting conditions they faced – in this case, that of chemical warfare.
Battlefield 1 strongly reminded me of this poem in its campaign’s brutal prologue. Before it even kicks off, we are told that we are not expected to survive, which I’m sure, and I’m sad to say, is what leaders of the time probably conveniently forgot to tell all the soldiers they sent off to the frontlines over a hundred years ago, when the war took place.
In this prologue, we are placed in the mucky boots of the Harlem Hellfighters, and our objective is to defend a position – actual ruins – against a German assault. The regiment is surrounded, and surviving is essentially impossible.
True to its warning words, death is doled out generously in this opening, even to you, the player. Each time your soldier dies, their name flashes up, along with their date of birth and passing. Before you can even catch your breath and piece together what just happened, the camera pans and gives you control of another nearby person taking part in the same battle.
In mere minutes, I succumbed to a helpless church defence, took part in what I believed was a heroic tank assault, and I equipped a mask and sprinted through a healthy helping of gas to yet another inevitable death. My final soldier, the very same chap we see on the cover of Battlefield 1 itself, miraculously survives what he faces, and it’s right then and there, when he’s surrounded by heaps of corpses, that the gravity of the great war hit me yet again.
“They push – we push. Every once in a while, we push hard enough that the light breaks through the clouds, so the world beyond the war glimmers, just out of reach.
The war is the world and the world is the war, but behind every gunsight is a human being”
In the grand scheme of things, and looking back now even, it’s easy to forget that the very cogs that powered the war machine back then (and still continue to do so today) are soldiers. These are people with lives, families, and everything in-between, yet they are sent off to fight and die in battles that are not necessarily theirs. Battlefield 1’s single player component aims to tell the stories of some of these soldiers, and it does so to surprisingly great effect.
While it is excellent, the campaign is not entirely perfect. I get DICE’s decision to have six separate mini narratives in an attempt to show The Great War from several people’s perspectives and different parts of the world, but some of the magic and emotion of the story telling gets lost along the way I’m afraid. This is simply because by the time one gets to know a certain character, over the span of a short two to four chapters, their tale suddenly concludes and its time to move on. In one for example, we are introduced to Danny Edwards, a former chauffeur driver who now operates a tank for the Brits. He joins a new crew, and they head off to take part in the Battle of Cambrai.
Naturally, it’s not all smooth sailing ahead, and disaster surrounds them constantly. I found it hard to care for Edwards, let alone the crew with him however, not because they weren’t well written or anything, but because I didn’t feel like I knew them nearly well enough to do so. This sort of thing could’ve been remedied I feel with a lengthier chapter, which would’ve allowed for extra exposition and a spot of additional character building.
That being said, some of the other campaigns pulled at my heart-strings with almost no effort. Oddly enough, it was the shortest of the lot that had the most profound effect on me.
Avanti Savoia gives players control of a member of the Italian Arditi who’s on the search for his brother in a battle that rages along one part of the Dolomites. The campaign may only be two chapters long, but despite that, I felt myself inexplicably attached to its protagonist, Luca Vincenzo Cocchiola. I don’t know if this was because of my European heritage, or the fact that I have a brother I’m very close to myself. Irrespective, I enjoyed this slice of the campaign immensely.
Overall in fact, I think I can safely say that the single player is definitely worth experiencing, even with its minor narrative shortfalls. It’s not too long mind you, weighing in at around 6 or so hours long, but it’s something everybody should definitely consider playing to get a taste of just how horrific World War I was.
The dichotomy between Battlefield 1’s campaign and multiplayer is odd to say the least. On the one hand, we’re being sent a message that life lost during The Great War was a complete waste. On the other, well, respawning is a thing, and there is little to no consequence in dying over and over again in order to complete an objective. The brutal feeling of the war definitely permeates into the multiplayer however, and that makes it feel a lot more urgent, and to me, more enjoyable than previous entries in the franchise.
We’re no longer using cutting edge equipment after all. We’ve been downscaled back one hundred years, and been given weapons that are not nearly as effective as their modern day counterparts. What results is a multiplayer experience that feels a little smaller in scale, but unbelievably amplified in terms of realism and desperation.
Being a sniper for example, is a lot more stressful. Thanks to bolt-action rifles of the time, pulling off the perfect shot is more important than ever. If you miss, you need to take the time to lock in another bullet. By the time that’s done, your target has more than likely dashed for cover. If you do manage to find your mark however, the feeling that follows is unbelievably satisfying.
With regards to SMGs and the standard heavy machine guns, accuracy is essentially non-existent at long ranges. This encourages players to move closer to their targets, which results in more personal skirmishes (charging in with a bayonet is always viable). Couple this in with the consistent fire of artillery, tanks, and planes overhead, and you’ve got yourself one hectic, visceral experience.
This experience plays out over a variety of modes, including classics like Conquest and Rush. While they’re still incredibly fun, the real star of the show in Battlefield 1’s multiplayer is Operations.
Operations is a new mode that hosts battles of unbelievable scales, all designed to replicate the sort of frontline combat that actually took place during World War I. The giants maps, consisting of several small ones that have been stitched together, play out like mini-narratives, telling players what or why they need to overcome as an attacker, or who needs to be repelled as a defender in that historical battle.
So as an example, on the one map, you take part in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. As the attacking force, the United States, you start out on the West of Varennes, and it’s your goal to push on through the German defence. Capture the first flags, and the next part of the map opens up, and the frontline moves forward. Continue to do that, and before long, you’ll have claimed the entire land. The operation doesn’t end there however. The mini-narrative moves on to its next part – the battle resumes in the forest of Argonne.
The skirmishes of Operations are lengthy, taking no less than an hour to see from start to finish (it can go on even longer depending on how close the game is). If you’re looking to get lost in a huge chunk of Battlefield 1 multiplayer without a plethora of map changes and reloads, this is exactly where you want to be. It encompasses everything you could ever want from the shooter, in one gloriously long match. I can see it being a staple of the series moving forward.
I think DICE took a huge risk going back to World War I while their competitors flung further into future settings, but it’s a move that mostly paid off I think. It’s easy to write Battlefield 1 off as a shameless cash grab, and yes, while it is more of the same sort of gameplay that we’ve seen time and time again across the franchise’s other titles, one can see the amount of effort that has been poured in here.
DICE deserve a round of applause for the campaign itself, which blows everything they’ve done before out of the water. We’ve got something here that’s memorable, and well worth a play through.
The Multiplayer? Well, it’s more of the same really, with some new modes, and a brand new World War I skin. I don’t necessarily see that as a bad thing though. DICE are masters of recreating realistic warfare, and Battlefield 1 is more than up to the task. This older setting makes for one refreshing change.
As a side note, I just want to mention that my entire experience with Battlefield’s multiplayer took place on European servers. To be perfectly honest, the lag itself wasn’t too bad, but it was hardly perfect. Battlefield 1 is still very playable however. Here’s hoping though that we get some South African servers in the near future. If I’m not mistaken, EA’s rental service will go up early in November. Once it does, I’ll update this review to let you all know if we end up getting our own servers or not, and what the experience on them is like.
Last Updated: October 27, 2016