Battlefield 1 was a revelation when it was first announced earlier this year. A modern-day AAA FPS title that is set before the year 2000? Inconceivable! Well, the inconceivable has finally launched, and with it comes a myriad of positives, negatives, and a looming cloud of boredom that overshadowed my entire gaming experience.
To start with the positives - this game looks and sounds amazing. It really does capture the aesthetics and sounds of The Great War, ranging from the rolling deserts of Fao Fortress to the bombed-out remnants of Ballroom Blitz. Shards and debris fly all around the screen as the world is literally destroyed all around you, mixed in with the rhythmic tap-tap-tap of machine gun, rifle, and tank fire. Sounds range from the aforementioned gunfire and explosions to the cool, clipped tones of the narrator, whose almost unnatural calmness provokes a surreal contrast to the death and destruction playing out on the screen.
To further elaborate, the soundscapes are incredible in Battlefield 1. Playing with a good pair of headphones or a sound system is almost required, as EA Dice puts in its best effort to throw you ears first into the maelstrom that it is has concocted. Literally everything sound and visuals wise is exceptional, and I cannot find any criticisms to level at the graphics and sound of the latest Battlefield title.
What I can level criticism at, however, is pretty much everything else to do with the title. To begin, the campaign is erroneous. These are short, obligatory missions that try and fail to cram a history course’s worth of information for each portion of the battlefield that you are fighting on. For the uninitiated, it will only serve to confuse and annoy, as characters pop up and disappear at a moment’s notice, asking you to care about their situation when they give you no reason to.
The gameplay isn’t much better, as it exists in a weird no man's land of playing like a bro-shooter and existing in a realistic hellscape, with the player saving the world multiple times while embroiled in a hazy shroud of suffering and turmoil. There is so much gray in the title that it feels as if the surroundings are sad themselves as if shaking their metaphorical heads at the destruction that humanity is unleashing on one another. As a whole, it feels weird, like it doesn't know what it wants to be. Is it a raw depiction of the savagery of war, or is it a $60 title that is using World War 1 as a backdrop in an effort to revitalize a series? Mostly the second.
It’s not like the mechanics are anything outstanding either. I played on the hardest difficulty, and the only difference was that the enemies know exactly where you are at all times, giving me painful flashbacks to the same experience in Call of Duty 4’s campaign over nine years ago.
I could go on, but if I were to summarize the campaign, it would be perfunctory. It’s there because it’s expected to be there, and that’s it. It’s just another box to tick off for a Battlefield game, tear-jerking dove scenes aside.
On a brief side note, I would love to see EA Dice make machinima films in place of the campaign if Battlefield 1 and Star Wars: Battlefront’s campaigns are a hint of what is to come from EA’s FPS offerings. Everything is already there, and I would have preferred a bunch of short films or even one long film over the derivative campaign that we were given.
It’s taken me a while to get to Battlefield’s combat, and that is for a good reason. The first (and last) time I played Battlefield was back in 2013 when Battlefield 3 was released on the PC. I didn’t last very long, as my impressions from then stand up to now. Simply put, it's dull.
I find the Battlefield series to be too arcadey to take it seriously, despite the overlying seriousness that especially permeates this title. I’ve always found it to be a more complex Call of Duty with bigger maps and vehicles, and Battlefield 1 doesn’t really change this despite its admirable move of going back to World War 1. You essentially run around like a chicken with his head cut off, murdering as many Germans, Ottomans, British etc. as you can. It’s the same controls as any other FPS on the market, and there really isn’t much to say here. It’s fun, but not enough for me to give a strong recommendation, especially when it’s already been done a million times before. As a WW1 FPS, the game can't compare to something like Verdun, which isn’t nearly as polished but actually features trenches.
What I wanted most from this title was an exploration of World War 1, which we didn't get from the campaign. There is just so much raw potential from the conflict that while playing through the entire campaign I felt an overwhelming sense of regret from the missed opportunity that EA Dice bungled. It feels wasteful, really. While I appreciate that all of the campaigns covered a different facet of the war, they are so brief and formulaic that I couldn't help but ask why? Why even bother with these flitting missions at all? They go by so quickly that by the time start to settle in you are whisked to a different part of the world, whether it be in the desert, air, or Western Front. This delicate tip-toeing around the entire conflict just made me shake my head when I wasn't tearing at my hair because the game was crashing every five minutes during the campaign.
Battlefield 1's crashing issues are still unresolved at this point, at least in my case. Despite upgrading my computer's graphics drivers and back and forth emails with EA, I was unable to finish the campaign for this piece. However, given that I've already played two-thirds of it, I don't think much will change with the last portion, but who knows? Maybe my mind will be theoretically blown by what remains. I sure hope so.
The multiplayer works well enough, although I found that there was also an annoying stutter that would pop up at random times during random matches. It was as if there were a frame rate drop and a massive latency spike that would cause me to lurch around like a wounded animal trying to get a kill. It isn’t a deal-breaker, but it appeared with enough frequency to annoy me.
The new gimmicks, such as the slightly slowed combat (due to the setting and equipment) and the massive zeppelin that appears from time to time is interesting, but it’s still bland. It’s like if you went to go see the newest Transformers movie. Sure, it’s a feast for the eyes and ears, but the mind is left with nothing to do but ponder its situation.
I did enjoy flying around in a plane, and I did like utilizing the unique weaponry that World War I offers, but it’s just a different coat of paint with the same trappings. It’s fun, but already the shine of it is rapidly wearing off. I’ve already abandoned the bigger maps and modes to play the Capture the Pigeon mode, but even then, I’m starting to get bored. Where are France and Russia? Where are the trenches? Where are the dedicated servers?
I have discussed the lack of France and Russia's presence in this title before, but to summarize I find that the removal of the two nations in a World War 1 game to be morally repugnant. For a game that apparently tries to present a convincing and accurate portrait of World War 1, not having those two nations in the game at this point in this is beyond laughable. It would be like taking out Japan and America out of a World War II game. Don't do it.
I cannot overemphasize how disappointed I am with this game. The way this game has been presented from the very beginning is how different it will be from the rest of the FPS titles on the market. Did I overhype it? Probably, but the fact that there is a big-budget World War 1 shooter is still surreal to me, and there is so much that can be done with the setting.
Overall, I still emphasize the fact that for those who expect a Battlefield game, that is exactly what you are given. At its core, it's a competent shooter from a company that knows what it is doing, but it really should have been so much more. Perhaps shifting eras will be enough for most, but it feels like EA Dice went through the motions here. From the ho-hum campaign to the by-the-numbers multiplayer, it feels like a manufactured product rather than a game that developers poured their hearts and souls into, and that's a real shame.
Battlefield 1 was played on PC via Origin with a code provided by the publisher. It is also available on Xbox One and PlayStation 4. The reviewer ran into severe technical issues that prevented late progress in the campaign.