Battlefield 1: A Newcomer’s Perspective
I’ve loved Call of Duty my entire life. I was fiercely loyal as a customer every November, ever since Finest Hour. Recently however, ever since Ghosts, I’ve been left with a bitter taste in my mouth at the intense focus on future, and now space warfare. So this month, like many Octobers and Novembers before it, I decided to once again open my wallet for a first person shooter and I didn’t think it’d be anything worth writing about.
After having played for the last week, I am happy to say EA DICE have proven me dead wrong.
While Activision blasts off for space and beyond, EA DICE have taken something of a risk this year by stepping back in time to World War I and it really paid off. Battlefield 1 delivers an enormous, visually beautiful, even overwhelming first person shooter experience. Overwhelming at least, in the eyes of the newcomer. For players like myself, who have decided to make the switch from Call of Duty, the switch can feel a bit like a nightmare. Almost as if we had been thrust into a war without being told what to do or where to go.
Nightmarish is a good way to describe my first few tries at the multiplayer. While it took me quite a few matches to settle into my best suited class, and after having died what seemed like repeatedly, I started to get a grasp on it. The maps for the most part are extensively large, which in turn adds to the load time before each game, but the increased detail and destructible environments to boot are well worth the extra 25 seconds. I quickly had to abandon everything I knew about FPS multiplayer. Instead of going for as many kills as I could, I learned I had to do what was best for the squad, and the team as a whole.
Gone were the people bouncing off of walls, double jumping to avoid fall damage and even consistent environments. In their place were experimental weapons, barbed wire and just the clothes on my digital soldiers back. Where once stood a church and a small village which I assumed once belonged to a few French families was reduced to nothing more than rubble by the end of a match. Where there stood a gorgeous Italian mountainside was littered with craters and dotted with crashed biplanes and tanks, none of which had been there a half hour prior.
I very much enjoy the destructibility of the environments. Offering constantly changing angles to gameplay and strategy, forcing the player to adapt and overcome in order to reach (or defend) the objective. I’d argue this is most prevalent in the map St. Quentin Scar. With varying types of locales; from a small town center, to a small farm next to a windmill, and even what looks like might be the remnants of a church, involved in a past battle.
“What follows is frontline combat. You are not expected to survive.” Upon starting the game for the first time, these are the words you are greeted with onscreen before you are thrown into the shoes of an African American soldier with the famous Harlem Hellfighters, and no, you can’t skip it. Your soldier is on the front lines defending against a relentless German offensive late in the war. Try as you might, your ammo is limited and you quickly run out and as expected, you do not survive. Instead of cutting to black and the main menu, the name of the soldier you were controlling and his years of birth and death are shown on screen, accompanied by a narrator telling the story of how the war was supposed to be a great adventure for the young men being slaughtered by the thousands. You immediately jump into the boots of another soldier, and another, and another, only to see more names and dates flash before your eyes.
The campaign is great. That is if you can call it a campaign. Written in the format of six shorter anthology stories, it is a nice change from the status quo of one player controlled character being the hero for one long story. These anthologies, with the exception of the opening story of the Harlem Hellfighters, can be played in any order. Each anthology focuses on a different individual soldier and their story of what they went through on the battlefield. One has you step into the shoes of a British chaffeur turned tank driver doing everything he can to get his crew to their objective behind enemy lines. Another puts you in the shoes of an old Italian special forces operative telling his daughter the story of his desperate effort to find his brother in the Alps after a last effort by the Austro-Hungarians to halt their offensive. Yet another places you in the Arabian desert as a rebel fighting against the Ottoman Empire with Lawrence of Arabia.
Each story paints a beautiful and moving, albeit brief picture of what happened to each of these soldiers. Right from the get go, the game takes a drastic change from your usual shooter campaign. Making every effort to humanize your enemy, with reminders that behind every gunsight is a human being, forcing you to actually realize what each pull of the trigger means. You no longer feel as if you are just shooting at digitally generated, nameless foes. I found myself at times wondering about who my enemies really were, behind those gunsights.
As much as I love and enjoy this game, I occasionally find myself with a bittersweet feeling after playing for an extended period of time. I know that at the end of the day it is just a video game with no real world ramifications for my actions. However unlike the majority of the shooters in the genre today, this game is based on true and horrific events that actually occurred and undoubtedly helped shape the world as we know it today. While it is true that there have been countless shooters based in World War II, and they too have been based on true events, none of those games have been delivered in such a realistic way, or portrayed the confusion and panic of war quite like the way this game depicts the Great War.
I can, for the first time, officially say that with this entry in the Battlefield franchise, EA DICE have captured my loyalty as a gamer. The step back in time and the much more realistic combat was the refreshing aspect I needed to stay committed to what has always been my favorite game genre. Call of Duty will undoubtedly still make its sales and continue to be successful. This holiday season however, I will be urging all of my friends to pick up this game and become a part of the War to End All Wars.
Battlefield 1 is out now for Xbox One, PS4, and Microsoft PC.