Battlefield goes to The Great War.
Battlefield 1 on PS4
For the number of times video games have dropped us into the battles of World War II, there’s been a serious lack of titles taking us to the warzones of the first World War. Maybe it’s because of the brutality of the war, or the primitive technology, but there’s only a handful of titles set in this historic period. Battlefield 1 splits off from the modern settings of its predecessors in favor of a setting right in the heart of World War I, and for the most part it manages to nail its setting. The two parts of the game, campaign and multiplayer, feel very different and almost like two separate games at points, but each succeeds in its own way.
Battlefield 1 has a distinctly different look and feel from most shooters we’ve seen over the past couple generations. True to reality, the weapons and machines of World War I are far more primitive and visceral. This translates to oftentimes crude looking guns, ramshackle tanks, and of course longer reload times on weapons. If there’s one thing the game really nails, it’s the setting. Barbed wire and decimated buildings dot every battlefield in the game, soldiers wear the proper uniforms of their country, and as battles progress, the field becomes ever more twisted and unrecognizable.
It’s clear that DICE wanted to convey the horror of World War I not only in its story and themes, but even by how battles look. Explosions leave gaping holes in the ground that you can seek cover in; as battles progress it kicks up smoke, ash, and dust, making conditions that are incredibly hard to see in. It’s the little touches like these in Battlefield 1 that really make it stand out.
Before being able to hop into anything in the game, you play through an incredible opening segment. Here, you’re introduced to the brutality of combat in World War I, and take the role of different soldiers fighting for their lives. Inevitably, quite a few of the soldiers you play as will die, as a name and life bar pop up on screen, then the camera zooms out and shoots you down into the shoes of another soldier on the battlefield.
It’s a masterfully thought out segment that highlights the sacrifice made by so many soldiers, while simultaneously teaching the player the different aspects of gameplay. It ends with an informative voice over on the war that also tries to end things on a more hopeful note. This opening manages to hit some emotional notes that surprisingly pop up again at various points in the campaign.
From the main menu of the game, you’re greeted with separate tabs of home, multiplayer, campaign, soldier, store, and more. The home tab fills you in on tips and tricks for success, while the others should be fairly self explanatory.
Battlefield 1’s campaign is structured quite a bit differently from previous games in the series. It doesn’t tell one concurrent story set during the war, rather opting for five episodic kind of tales that each focus on different soldiers throughout various points of the war. All five of the “war stories” as they’re called are incredibly varied in both their gameplay and story, switching things up with different styles and characters of different nationalities. One has you taking control of a soldier in a tank crew, while another has you assume control of an ace pilot. The pacing can differ between each of these stories, as well as the length, although overall they’re all pretty short and clock in at only two hours at most.
Separating the campaign turned out to be a great decision for the game however, as it allows Battlefield 1 to tell some emotional character stories without getting bogged down by an overarching plot. Some of the war stories are definitely better executed than others, but they’re all short and sweet. My personal favorite has you taking control of an insurgent in Arabia named Zara Ghufran, helping the famous Lawrence of Arabia battle the Ottoman Empire.
This particular story has you sneaking around enemy bases to kill commanders, and it’s surprisingly open, allowing you to approach situations with stealth or combat any way you see fit. The pilot war story also ends with an unforgettable aerial battle above London. Battlefield 1 does a surprisingly consistent job of reminding you how the war changed people, and keeping things realistic and emotional, which by and large succeeds. It’s a far cry from the campaigns of previous Battlefield games.