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Battlefield 1 Review
2016 was a year of new settings for the big shooter franchises. While Call of Duty headed off into the far future with Infinite Warfare, the Battlefield series has instead chosen to look to the past, setting its latest game in the First World War. This unusual choice creates a genuinely different experience than most shooters, though a few flaws prevent it from reaching it’s full potential.
Conveying the full scale of one of the largest wars in human history in a single campaign would have been difficult, so Battlefield 1 instead splits its single player mode into a series of mini-campaigns, each covering a particular theater of the war. These mini-campaigns, or “War Stories” as the game calls them, contain 2-4 missions each and generally last an hour or two. There’s a good amount amount of variety between them, with campaigns focused on aerial fighting, tank driving, and ground combat in several different situations. The scope is a little more limited than you might wish though, focusing entirely on Western Europe and the Middle East, and playing only from the perspective of the Allies. A German or Austro-Hungarian campaign, or one set on the Russian Front, would have made an interesting addition. The other problem with the War Stories set up is that each one is individually so short that we never get to spend much time with any particular character or situation. The war is broken down into a series of individual battles with little continuity or context, and it’s hard to care about what you’re doing when you no you’ll be moving onto something completely different in an hour.
Still, people generally don’t play Battlefield for it’s rich characterization or deep story. They play because they want to shoot things, and on that front Battlefield 1 delivers fairly well. The basics are much the same as in any other shooter: You move through the level completing objectives and shooting the bad guys until you reach the end. There are a few features that distinguish battlefield from the competition though. The most obvious is the weapon selection: Gamers used to an array of cutting edge weapons and high-tech gizmos are in for a shock in the battles of the First World War, where bolt action rifles are among the most common weapons and technology more complicated than a grenade or a set of binoculars hasn’t been invented yet. This has a real impact on the way the game is played: a handful of enemies clumped together would be easy prey in a more modern shooter, but how do you deal with them when your gun can only fire one round at a time and is hopelessly inaccurate at long distances? Quick thinking and an ability to judge situations are much more valuable here than a quick trigger finger, which is an interesting change for the genre. Automatic weapons do exist, but they are rare and precious resources to be deployed sparingly, rather than the default solution to every problem. It’s not necessarily something you would want to see in every game, but Battlefield 1 makes it work.
Another distinguishing feature is the level design, which is much more open than you might be used too. There are very few straight corridors or shooting galleries here: you’re given an on objective, and it’s up to you to decide how to pull it off. You can, of course, simply charge in guns blazing, but clever players will cut through buildings, skirt around groups of enemies, ambush patrols, and generally be as sneaky as it takes to get the job done. It’s a fun idea, and it’s nice to have so much freedom, but it would have worked better if a little more thought was put into actually building the levels. It’s occasionally possible to avoid conflict altogether simply by sticking to the edge of the map, making the Great War seem more like the Mediocre Skirmish, while in other cases (particularly in urban environments) it’s a little too easy to be taken out by enemies you never saw. Aside from these rough spots though, the design philosophy works nicely in creating fun, emergent, experiences, and challenges you to put in a little more thought than the standard corridor shooter.
Ideally, your own ingenuity would be matched by that of the enemy. Sadly, the AI leaves much to be desired. In a straight fight, they are bold, numerous, and effectively employ a gamut of weapons ranging from standard rifles to flamethrowers. Use your wide-ranging freedoms to adopt an unusual approach, however, and they display all the initiative of a particularly dense plank of wood. It’s entirely possible to wipe out an entire squad of enemies by picking them off from hiding one at a time, without a single one of them ever realizing something’s wrong. In fact, they’re so outrageously unperceptive that you can literally walk up to one, approaching from almost directly ahead, and bash him in the head with a shovel before he can react. Admittedly, this does prevent the game’s stealth sections from becoming too difficult, but it’s a little unsatisfying to outwit enemies who are so devoid of intelligence.
If gunning down the enemies not-so-elite troops on foot ever gets boring, there are several other types of mission to entertain you. Air power played a major role in World War 1, so naturally one campaign gives you the opportunity to take to the skies. The flying missions are basic but fun, mostly revolving around getting behind the enemy planes and gunning them down. If you’re hoping for a simulation of early military aviation, this isn’t for you, as planes handle more like the spaceships from Infinite Warfare than like actual biplanes, but it’s good fun swooping around and chasing after enemy bombers. The tank sections are distinctly less fun, featuring lots of slowly grinding forward and not very much in the way of white-knuckle excitement. A few missions also give you the opportunity to ride a horse into battle, which while not that great handling-wise is certainly interesting.
As you can see, there are a fair number of interesting ideas in Battlefield 1. Unfortunately though, the game doesn’t have time to fully explore them. There are only five War Stories, not including the prologue, and two of those are taken up by the tank and plane sections. That leaves the old style infantry fighting that you probably came for relegated to only three campaigns, giving you only a few hours of gameplay total. Unless you’re really into the multiplayer, which admittedly does have a solid array of game modes, there just not much content here, which is a terrible shame. Hopefully later games in the series will develop the ideas here into a more complete package.
One thing that certainly isn’t in need of further development is the game’s graphics. Battlefield 1 is as good looking as a game about World War 1 could possibly be. Sure, there’s not much in the way of visual flair or unique stylistic flourishes, but both the character models and the environments are high-detail and well animated, and the explosion and fire effects are simply beautiful. The game also features a whole lot of destructible terrain, and there’s nothing better than watching a building collapse after you set off a few sticks of dynamite inside it.
Overall , Battlefield 1 is a potentially great game let down by poor AI, occasionally questionable level design choices, and its short length. It has enough unique features and new ideas though that it’s well worth checking out if you’re looking for a shooter that’s a bit outside the usual mould, and you’ll be hard pressed to find another game that brings the Great War to life with such impressive graphics.
Battlefield 1 was played on Xbox One