In a time when first person shooters seem to be obsessed with high tech gadgets, robots and futuristic augmentations, it’s sometimes a dose of real life that can make a game have its biggest impact. Rewinding time by 100 years is certainly a good way to eliminate the toys and technology offered by the likes of Infinite Warfare and Titanfall 2, and by dropping the action back in the First World War there was two directions Battlefield 1 could have gone: it could either be a boring generic shooter with underpowered weapons and bland environments, or a breath-taking version of events from one of the most horrific periods of human history.
The good news? It’s the latter. Very much so.
From the very first minute of the game, Battlefield 1 makes it apparent that this isn’t going to be the story of a lone wolf winning the way for the plucky good guys. The opening tutorial style level begins with a black screen and the words “you are not expected to survive” – indeed if you manage to survive the opening gambit with all of your limbs in the right pace then it’ll be a considerable feat. Instead you’re more likely to get killed, and each time you do the screen that appears isn’t “game over” but a memorial screen to that soldier who you just guided to their inevitable demise. Every fighter has a name, a date of birth, an age when they were killed, and whether that means you’ve just put an end to a 40 year old or an 18 year old the effect is very powerful. You feel mortal, as if messing things up and sprinting out of cover into a tank’s direct line of fire is actually a stupid idea instead of a Rambo-esque moment of heroic genius.
Each campaign mission is based on certain moments in the war too, giving you the chance to try out and go up against a wide range vehicles and weapons as you battle your way through some truly terrible conditions. It’s easy to find information and quotes that explain how bad things were in the First World War, and while this game won’t replicate spending years standing in the same flooded trench with no gains other than a strange disease, the fighting itself carries an intensity that is hard to find in other game of this kind. Everything feels right; the weight of the weapons, the clunky and unreliable vehicles, the weapons which sometimes need to be manually reloaded just at the wrong time… and all of this under the added pressure of feeling like it’s an individual life you’re playing with. It’s ridiculous, everyone knows this is just a game, but it still feels far more personal than the endless clones which you can plough through in other FPS games without giving two thoughts about what it means.
Online doesn’t carry quite the same feeling of loss when you get killed, but considering how often that’ll happen that’s probably a wise decision. The game modes are pretty much what we’ve come to expect from a Battlefield game and offer some enormous and epic battles using large maps and 64 players to give the feeling of chaos that would surely have been present in the open battle grounds 100 years ago. Any kind of kill streak is a minor miracle, but as is always the case in this series it’s not always those making the kills who swing the battle in one team’s favour. Medics do their usual job of healing and reviving injured or fallen teammates, engineers fix up vehicles when they’re taking a beating, and when everything comes together and you’ve got a team of people working together, splitting up into squads which work with each other to focus attacks on a specific target the game feels immense.
In terms of how the game actually feels to play though, anyone who’s read my reviews of titles like Titanfall 2 will know that I like to feel some weightiness to weapons; there’s nothing that kills the feeling of realism quite like a character who can sling huge heavy weapons over his shoulder as if they’re plastic toys. The good news for people who share my feelings for that is that Battlefield 1 makes it plainly clear that these weapons aren’t there to be easy to use. Everything back then weighed a tonne, in fact many soldiers in the war drowned purely because their equipment on their backs was too heavy, so it was an important move to make sure that the weapons had the same feel to them. Every bullet looks and sounds like it would leave bruises on the guy with the gun just by firing the thing against your shoulder, there’s the typical thwack of the bullet hitting you from distance and the reloading which looks more complicated at times than solving a Rubik’s cube. It all just feels right, which is vital if you want your game to feel like it belongs in its choice of theme.
So Battlefield 1 is, undoubtedly, a fantastic game. Where it sits in the current big 3 is up for debate, I think I slightly prefer Titanfall 2, but generally if you want something a little different from your shooters then this should be right on your radar.
Reviewed on PS4