Reviewed on PC & PS4, PS4 copy supplied by publisher.
The second you boot up Battlefield 1 you’re introduced to a series of soldiers who lose their lives no matter how well you play. The quick succession of deaths and the chaos fuelled muddy setting is designed to do one thing, show you the horrors of war in one of the darkest periods of the 20th Century. It’s done incredibly well, but I couldn’t help but feel an FPS game is a weird platform to show this, after all Battlefield is a series which rewards the player for killing as many enemies as they can. The entire game has a strong conflicting theme running throughout, where it’s a reminder of the hopelessness of “the war to end all wars” and simultaneously a game where it’s fun to crush people with a tank. It’s jarring in a lot of ways, but it still stands out as one of the best shooters in years.
To start let’s take a look at the campaign, which is very much an integral part of this title. Previously I wasn’t really sold on the Battlefield series’ single player modes, they were okay, but nothing compared to the destructive multiplayer. Battlefield 1 is a massive exception, the stories feel like short films, complete with amazing soundtracks, solid voice acting and moments of sheer awe.
With an episodic feel, the stories you play out take place across the globe, but are usually strongly tied to a specific vehicle or decisive battle. You roll across France in a British tank, pilot fighter planes over London, storm forts in the alps, ride through the desert assisting Laurence of Arabia, and find valor on the beaches of Gallipoli. Each story is bite size in reality, but the major benefit of this is they don’t overstay their welcome in a way most other shooter campaigns seem to. If you’re objective is to storm a fort, that story is pretty much over once you’ve stormed the fort. The benefit of multiple protagonists also boosts the global feel of the game, afterall this is a world war. Transitioning from the Western Front to guerilla warfare in Arabia feels distinctly different, as does alternating between vehicle heavy stories and stealth combat segments behind enemy lines.
The main thing that caught me off guard with this game was how emotionally attached you become to the characters, seeing the cost of war impact them directly can bring you almost to tears. From an Australian perspective the Gallipoli campaign was especially brutal, but it was impressive seeing an iconic ANZAC battle in a AAA game. Also the Australian protagonists swear just the right amount for it to feel authentic.
The only major downside in the campaign is a serious break from realism in some cases. Like the time you play as an Italian soldier who I’m pretty sure is an actual Terminator, single handedly destroying a plane squadron from the ground and taking over forts filled with platoons of Germans. During all this your character doesn’t take hits because he’s wearing what looks like Ned Kelly armour. It was probably one of my favourite stories, but holy shit that’s not how armour works. The ground around you is literally erupting from shell impacts and grenades and you’re just chilling mowing down an entire army. I get that it was supposed to be a show of heroism, but it kind of took me out of the zone for a while.
The single player mode won’t take you long to get through, I did it in about seven hours, but it nicely pads out the real reason people buy these games, to shoot and berate strangers online. That being said the single player does have replay value, with chests to discover that give you cosmetic items for multiplayer.
Now let’s talk about the shooting strangers/berating people part. Multiplayer definitely honours these two things, it’s amazingly in-depth, and strangers are still massive jerks online. The first online game I played on PC had such a glorious flame war on it I would love to upload some screenshots, but the censoring would take years.
The usual Battlefield modes are available, with a couple of new ones thrown into the mix. Conquest and Rush are the same as you’ve seen before, with Conquest taking the form of large maps where opposing teams fight over control points, and Rush being attack/defend style gameplay where the defending team falls back to a new point upon losing one. Domination is a variation of Conquest albeit with much smaller maps/teams and no vehicles, which is pretty great considering how powerful tanks are in this game. One of the new modes is called Carrier Pigeons, where teams fight to pick up a carrier pigeon and successfully release it to score points. There is also your typical Team Deathmatch mode, but in Battlefield this seem antique when you have the full carnage of Conquest at your disposal. Nothing beats seeing tanks destroy houses and shells blow craters into the ground as you battle across giant maps.
To add to the scale of war, behemoths make appearances on Conquest. These massive vehicles take the form of airships, armoured trains and dreadnoughts. They can quickly turn a game around, as the losing side triggers them, and if handled well they can shift the landscape of a map by destroying buildings and flushing out strongholds. Disappointingly when airships deploy nobody slowly looks up as a White Stripes remix blares.
A new mode, Operations is something I would love to talk about, but in the weeks since release I haven’t been able to find a single game. It sounds cool, with matches sprawling across multiple maps, however, it always loads in with perhaps one or two people for me, and never actually progresses to teeing up other players. I’m not sure exactly what has gone wrong here, or whether I’ve been doing something weird, but it’s kind of upsetting given how well polished the game is in other aspects and how cool the mode sounds.
Speaking of well polished, one thing that is absolutely not well polished is loadout customisation. It’s actually easier to use the companion site or app to unlock new weapons and gear up your classes. From the main menu it is extremely unintuitive to do so, leaving the only real option to customise inbetween deaths in a game, or use the companions. It’s kind of baffling considering it all worked fine in Battlefield 4, but here we are.
Loadtimes can be a real kick in the pants online too, and weird moments where your party will load into a game but you’ll be left in a queue are relatively common on both platforms. Hopefully this is all fixed soon with an update. Oh, and whilst we’re talking about parties, Origin integration is fairly balls on PC. Grouping up has left me needing to exit the game and reboot it for an invite to work, and it almost always requires hitting Alt TAB to accept an invite through Origin rather than in game. With some ironing out this could all be fixed, but it is a Battlefield game, teething pains are to be expected.
The launch maps provide plenty of variation, with nine available right away, and one more free map to come in December. Beyond that we enter DLC territory, which is not my favourite thing to see. To boot Battlefield Premium (their wording for season pass) is indeed at a premium, costing AU$59.99 on Origin. That being said, we’re reviewing the vanilla game, and not the bloodthirsty industry, and fortunately vanilla is great, putting EA Dice’s last shooter, Star Wars Battlefront, to shame on launch content.
As for balancing so far, I haven’t managed to try out every weapon in multiplayer, but from what I’ve seen so far it all seems relatively balanced. Shotguns have a little bit too much pepper on them, and as I previously mentioned, tanks can really suck, but when you play the game online with a squad working together, these things can be overcome. Unlike other shooters, Battlefield is very much a team game, if you find your squad is getting decimated by a vehicle, you can strategise to take it down. For example if a tank is mowing you all down repeatedly, put together a dynamite/smoke grenade combo to blow it up. It can take some getting used to, but once you’ve nailed the Battlefield frame of mind you’ll be rewarded with crippling amounts of playtime and late nights.
Overall this really is a top of the range FPS game, and one that combines some great historical accuracy and realism with some not so realistic but equally impressive action segments (not sure I remember learning about a zeppelin armada crashing into the Thames). The multiplayer too is something to behold, and well worth the time of shooter fans.