The Battlefield franchise has taken some unusual turns lately. Last year, it stepped away from modern warfare to become the unusually entertaining if politically complicated Battlefield Hardline. And this year it’s tackling the intimidating setting of World War I with Battlefield 1. Does it deliver?
Battlefield 1 (PS4, Xbox One, and PC, October 21st)
It’s not surprise that DICE has turned out an attractive game on its Frostbite engine, and this is no exception. Everything from the rolling fog of French forests to the crystal air of the Alps is gorgeous. The voice action is quite sharp as well, which is especially important since the game leans heavily on its actors. Storywise, it’s not terribly complicated. After an absolutely brutal opening segment where the game informs you that you’re going to die, repeatedly, and then chucks you into the mud with bullets flying, it settles into five different tales the single player unwinds, and they’re all pretty straightforward plots from the trenches. But the game does use it for positive ends, gameplay wise.
This doesn’t stray too far from the Battlefield formula. You’ve got your backstabbing melee, you’ve got your FPS running and gunning, you’ve got your vehicle-based warfare. Mostly it works best by shifting emphasis between the different mechanics as you play, and welcomely you can jump between different stories to better play the way you want to.
Really where the game excels is in the execution. You start out, in the single-player campaign, with an overall world map and five different stories to play out, each with a different protagonist in a different part of the world, focusing on different gameplay types. You can sneak into enemy bases under the guidance of T.E. Lawrence, jump into a British tank in France, storm the beaches of Gallipolli, lead an attack as an elite Italian mountaineer, or take to the skies as a shifty American pilot and con-man.
All the stories take place in real locations and in real battles, something the game uses to vary up its mechanics and gameplay styles. The Italian sequence, set in the Alps, for example, starts out with you donning a suit of armor, picking up a Gatling, and plowing your way head first through the German defenses:
As a game, it plays out superbly. Each set of missions has something different to do and keeps the game from getting stale, while making it easy to switch away to other areas if you get annoyed with a section. Still, the game necessarily never quite hits the heights of that bloody, violent opening, when you shoot until you’re out of ammo and then die horribly, with your soldier’s name and dates solemnly fading up on screen. Battlefield 1 never really puts all of this carnage you wreak, or have wrought on you, into any larger context, which robs the stories of some of their power. Granted, explaining just why the hell the world lost its mind and killed 20 million of its own citizens across the globe is no easy task, but it’s one you wish the game would tackle.
The campaign will keep you busy for a good 10 to 12 hours, while multiplayer fanatics will find much to love in the usual Battlefield hijinks online.
Also unchanged is the usual deal of Battlepacks, DLC, and paying even more money to play the game. Of course, you can earn almost all the cosmetic stuff in-game, but the DLC, which is the usual maps, weapon skins, new armies, and the like, that’ll run you $50. The game’s fun without the DLC, of course, but some may not be a fan of this approach. Although we suppose it beats the version Amazon is selling for $130 that doesn’t even include the game.
Battlefield 1, in tackling the bloody geopolitical nightmare of World War I, has shown some admirable ambition to step up its game. And the game itself is likely the best entry in the franchise in years. Still, hopefully as the franchise goes forward, it will embrace the opportunity to do more with history than use it as a playground. Video games have the ability to help us explore and grasp history in a way they’ve yet to fully explore, and we owe it to the very real people who died in conflicts like this to try and capture just what happened, so it doesn’t happen again.
Verdict: Clear Your Calendar
This review was conducted on an Xbox One with a preview copy provided by the publisher.