The first-person shooter genre has evolved quite a bit over the past few years to suit a more futuristic style of gameplay. When you pick up the latest Call of Duty or Titanfall, for instance, you expect jetpacks, unbelievable tech, and wall-running. DICE, however, has chosen a different route with Battlefield 1 by taking the latest installment back to the basics and back in time to the World War I era. The good news is it works brilliantly.
DICE clearly put in a lot of work making sure the gameplay felt authentic to the brutality of war, while still adding epic set pieces we’ve come to expect from AAA games. The campaign consists of six different stories, all from different perspectives and protagonists that also highlight the introduction of new technology into the war, like the tank. Since this war consists of so many different moving parts, it’s actually the perfect mechanism to give us completely diverse gameplay moments that make sense in the context of what’s going on. Apart from that, a few of the stories are incredibly powerful, delivering some heartbreaking moments, and really highlighting how terrifying war actually is.
One of the most moving moments in the game is a mission where you’re put on the frontline, going headfirst into what is surely your death. Without pulling any punches, you indeed do die because you’re vastly outnumbered by the enemy. When you fall, a name, a birth date, and date of death are displayed onscreen, and then you become another soldier; this goes on until the end of the mission. It’s a powerful reminder of the cost of war.
Similar magical moments are sprinkled throughout the campaign between fire fights and your standard first-person shooter action. Another highlight is crash landing on enemy lines, sneaking through their trenches, and then having to cross through no-man’s land (filled with fallen soldiers) while your own allies shoot at you without realizing you’re not a threat. There’s also a moment where you play as a pigeon, soaring over the bloody destruction below and soaking it all in. Even the more absurd moments feel much more grounded when compared to recent first-person shooters.
It also helps that everything in this game looks incredibly gorgeous. Cut-scenes, buildings, maps, and every little detail looks incredible. (I was playing on a console and was still blown away.) The impressive visuals also add to the feeling of watching classic war films. Hell, one of the stories played out a whole lot like David Ayer’s Fury.
Don’t get it twisted, though—this isn’t a depressing title. There are great moments of triumph as well. You dive into the legend of Lawrence of Arabia, and get a shot at taking down a massive armed train. My favorite story in the game involves a pilot who survives one insane moment after the next. DICE should really be commended for taking this route, and handling its material with such grace. It’s so refreshing to get a take on war that is so brutally honest while still finding a way to make it a fun game.
Gameplay wise, everything feels sharp and tight. It uses standard first-person shooter mechanics, and DICE is always pretty good about giving weapons a realistic feel when it comes to sound and weight. Even flying a plane (which I usually hate), driving a tank, or riding a horse is easy and quite enjoyable. The plane moments specifically are a whole lot of fun thanks to how easy it is to maneuver around the skies with the right analogue stick being used to control the direction of flight and the right for speed.
On the other hand, there’s the AI. There are moments where taking a stealthier approach is the most conducive method for your success, but the AI will be alerted to you from a mile away. At other instances, you can be right in front of someone and, because their alert meter isn’t filled, they won’t spot you. In short, it can be silly.
Unfortunately, the full campaign is rather short, but standard for a first-person shooter. Expect about six hours of content, but add a few hours more if you want to find all the collectibles.
All that said, the campaign is just the cherry on top. What most people really care about is the multiplayer. And let me just say, Battlefield 1 provides an experience that its most notorious competitors can’t, a traditional first-person shooter multiplayer. Before proceeding, however, I need to point out that I did not get to play on every single map, nor did I play on stressed out servers. The people online consisted of early access gamers, so the servers didn’t have to handle as many people as I’d suspect they’ll have to after release.
There won’t be people flying around the maps using jetpacks, running on walls, or using insane weapon sights. The scariest weapon you’re likely to face is someone armed with a flamethrower. But don’t mistake this for a dated experience.
As you’ve come to expect from Battlefield games, most game types, including Conquest, are massive and incorporate destructible buildings, powerful vehicles (like those damn tanks), require teamwork for the best results, and take place on massive epic battlefields. None of that has changed, but it has been enhanced. The physics of the battlefield have been refined and most things in the world react as they should when struck. Buildings crumble more naturally, planes feel heftier, and gas and fire physically react to the wind. Even vehicles sustain damage more naturally, and will start to fall apart depending on where they’ve been struck.
Dynamic weather also shakes things up. You’ll be in the middle of desert, and a sand storm will cover the map, making it impossible to see eight feet in front of you. Fog will roll in, obstructing your vision as well. Add this sudden weather change to the already hectic crumbling rubble everywhere caused by heavy artillery, and you have yourself one crazy battle.
Whether you’re in the middle of a forest, a small town, or in a castle-like stronghold, nothing looks the same by the end of a match. The amount of destruction you can cause to the maps is impressive; this emphasis really hasn’t been seen since Battlefield: Bad Company 2.
A few new game types have also been added to vary the multiplayer fun. One called “War Pigeons” has you duking it out to secure the pigeon so it can send off a message with instructions to call in a strike. It’s silly fun, and an interesting way of introducing the pigeons into the multiplayer.
However, the most impressive new mode has to be “Operations.” This new mode will have you either overtaking or defending a couple of points of interest; simple enough, right? Well, once a round is over, the game isn’t. This mode spans over multiple battles and maps. It’s all one giant map made up of several multiplayer maps. You either hold your position or move forward/back depending on whether you’re the defender or attacker. The final goal is to be the one who wins the war, not necessarily every battle. You can even see the other maps you played on in the previous round in the distance. It’s Battlefield on an even more epic scale.
As per usual, vehicles reign supreme in “Conquest” (and now “Operations”), but there’s a new vehicle type that introduces another layer into the game: Behemoths. The armored train, airship, and battleship are the largest fully player-controlled vehicles in Battlefield history, and can single handedly sway the battle. These things are massive, and pack a lot of punch with heavy machine guns and other heavy weapons. Each one is available depending on the map. Taking one of these bad boys down is no simple task, but it is possible. In order to balance this out, there are heavy guns on the battlefield, plus anti-tank artillery that you have to use to take these out. But again, it takes a group effort if you don’t want to get destroyed.
What I ended up appreciating most, however, has to be the weapon selection. Like I mentioned before, you won’t be finding anything too fancy here. These weapons are straightforward, but feel powerful and more than adequate enough to get the job done without needing to equip some futuristic arsenal. It’s refreshing. A flamethrower in most first-person shooters is an afterthought, because it’s slow and less threatening than it should be. In Battlefield 1, it can cause some real havoc, and running into a room with someone using one of these bad boys is absolutely terrifying.
And really, what’s so magical about the Battlefield multiplayer are those epic unscripted moments that you’ll experience in matches. Whether it is taking down a Behemoth, making a building crumble, or riding a horse across the battlefield taking down strongholds, the unpredictable “holy sh**” moments you experience are still the driving force of the multiplayer.
Battlefield 1 is hands down one of the best games in the series. It’s crisp and beautiful. Its campaign is moving, terrifying, and provides a refreshing perspective on the cost of war. But what will keep you coming back is the fantastic multiplayer that still provides an unmatched scope in size.
RATING: 4.5 OUT OF 5
- Gorgeous visuals.
- Moving campaign that tells several stories, instead of just one.
- Multiplayer is still epic.
- Behemoths are powerful, and real game changers.
- Operations mode is a great addition to the multiplayer.
- Physics! Everything reacts the way it should.
- Wish campaign was a bit longer.
- Stupid AI.
This review was completed using an Xbox One copy of Battlefield 1 provided by EA. The game will hit shelves on October 21, 2016 for the PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4.