In modern times war is something that for many is what they learned about at school, a concept they have no first-hand experience of. Through the ages the fabric of human history has been governed to the beat of conflict and 'The Great War' was meant to end all wars: it didn't.
From the very first games I played as a young boy, titles based on realistic settings have been used as a backdrop to entertainment and no matter how you slice it: it is difficult to justify. Imagine sitting down with a real soldier who has seen friends/comrades blown to pieces and explaining that you play through these experiences for fun. So when a game studio like Dice make the decision to use the First World War as the next setting for their popular war game series: I approach with caution and a sense of mindfulness.
I don't believe it is really possible to convey the horrors of war through a product that is designed from the ground up to entertain and while I am sure that EA wanted to remain respectful: at the same time they don't want to put people off ever buying a Battlefield game again. So it is something of a juxtaposition that I come to you now and try to tell you how fun it is to experience this new game in the Battlefield series.
I have to give Dice some credit here: they have clearly given the campaign mode some serious thought this time around. Battlefield games have never been genre defining when it comes to the single player portions of the package and I think it is safe to say most gamers jump in for the multiplayer only. Instead of going for one overarching story thread, Dice has opted for several smaller stories that are all separate and show the player a different aspect of the Great War. This was a smart move because the notion of one soldier moving across the whole war-scape unharmed would have been a stretch of the imagination. So are they any good?
Well, I am pleased to say I think Dice really hit a home run with the Battlefield single player campaign and while it is true that some areas of the gameplay are lacking the overall experience is very well delivered. The visuals are absolutely gorgeous, right from the first second to the conclusion of the last story: every graphical effect in the book is being used here to full effect. From deafening explosions, light flickering through the fine spray of earth cast into the sky by artillery, to the breathtaking vistas that have been painstakingly recreated for maximum immersion. The animation is also overall excellent and in my short time playing I've only seen a few ugly spots when enemy fighters have glitches while running over walls etc.
As I am sure it was intended to be, these single player episodes also act as something of an extended tutorial for the multiplayer game. Anyone who has played a Battlefield game before will not take long to find their feet. Mechanics like how to enter a prone stance, how to repair a vehicle or how to use fixed artillery are all offered to the player in a way which is fun yet still gets the basics across for new players. I actually found all the stories thought-provoking as they cover many of the challenges the young men and woman thrust into these hellish situations would have faced. Having to bond with a group of total strangers, the shock of losing them and even the acceptance of their own mortality. The cut scenes are characters are all fictional, of course, but still, do an excellent job both in terms of visuals and voice acting.
The only real criticism I can throw at these stories is that the AI is very 'light' and for some will be too simplistic. However, I'm pretty sure it was not Dice's intention to break the world of gaming AI wide open but instead to make sure the experience flows at a fairly good pace. At the end of the day, these small stories come and go pretty fast: some might think them to be too small but considering how much they get across in the time they have I think it is more than enough. While like most Battlefield players I come for the epic multiplayer, for the first time in a long time I can highly recommend that you at least take a look at these interesting perspectives of war (albeit fictional and dramatised).
Benny Hill meets Private Ryan
If you are a regular in the Battlefield games the chances are multiplayer is the star of the show and over the years Dice has learned their craft well. Battlefield 4 was, in my opinion, the definitive modern multiplayer battle simulator (after much refining) and while there are other more complex offerings on the table: Battlefield gives the casual player access while still trying to tread authenticity. Many people (including myself) had already dubbed this new game BF4 with rifles and horses: however, I will happily admit this throwaway summary doesn't fully represent the actual game I've been playing.
With the base game, we are given a decent amount of multiplayer maps with a total of nine and one more to release for free around December this year. Obviously, all these maps come in various sizes and configurations for whatever game mode is being played across it. Domination, conquest, Rush and team death match all make a return and work pretty much as they did in BF4. Operations is a new game mode that tries to simulate the scope of a larger campaign and requires players to take part in multiple matches which all lead to one final victory. The attackers get a set amount of resources to throw at the defenders who must hold them off until these have depleted. War Pigeons is an interesting idea and one I've found to be a nice thematic variation on capture the flag.
As you would expect for a modern war game in BF4 players were given tonnes of powerful toys to obliterate their foes with and while this could be fun: it often made ground troops feel helpless. So the most obvious change in BF1 (aside from the visuals) is that players have now lost much of this killer hardware and instead must rage war with a far more modest set of tools. With that said the amount of destruction raining down on you can sometimes be disorienting but that just adds to the flavour of the experience. Often you do get into an almost shell-shocked state with artillery landing all around you and buildings disintegrating beneath your feet. The destruction system in play here is also the best we've seen to date, houses, walls, bridges and pretty much everything else will crumble and break. This has also been well designed by always leaving something for soldiers to use for cover.
Apart from the overpowered sniper the classes of the game all feel good: from the assault class that is your standard shock trooper that can also carry high explosives to the support class that can keep everyone topped up in bullets and rusty pineapples. One change I do really like is how when you spawn in a plane or tank you are actually a new sub-class which becomes obvious when you bail out of your vehicle. These pilots and tank drivers do have weapons but they are by far inferior to the main classes of the game. This is good game design because it de-incentivises players from using planes and tanks as their own personal taxi system that gets you from point A to point B faster than walking.
Winds of Change
So with plenty that has carried over from previous games what is new for this chapter of Battlefield? One heavily advertised vehicle on offer is the player driven Zeppelin that will appear to save the day when one team is floundering. In fact, every map can have its own version of a behemoth vehicle that becomes available to the losing side in order to give them a fighting chance. In one map this is a huge armoured battle train (thematically nuts) which I have to say is bloody awesome and works surprisingly well. Now your opinion on these huge fortresses of death will depend on whether you've been on the wrong end of their guns or not. In my play time, I've seen them swing the battle back the other way or just not make much difference. I must just say, seeing the Zeppelin come roaring down from the heavens as a mountain-sized fireball is one sight to behold and many just stop to gawk (to the delight of snipers).
Horses are also a first for the series and I love the way they have been implemented. You carry a single shot rifle, sabre, supplies and a few anti-tank grenades. Judging by how often horse spawns are left untaken compared to tanks - players are still warming to horses but take a tip from me: in the right situation they can be devastating and negotiate the battlefields many obstacles with ease.
While choppers are great in BF4 I always felt like the planes felt a little sluggish and cumbersome because to make them playable Dice had to slow them right down. The awesome thing about the planes in World War One is that their flight speed fits perfectly and the developers have done a fantastic job. One of my favourite roles in a battle is to get a bomber and take out enemy tanks/entrenched infantry. When you score a direct hit on a tank full of troops and see your kill streak light up for me this is one of the best feelings in BF1. The sound effects are all superb and just the very act of flying over these battles as they rage below you is sublime. As I have already mentioned the controls are not the best but they work and you can be effective with practice.
One of the main problems with large scale multiplayer shooters is that they are only ever at their best when people work together. Unfortunately, most of the time players treat Battlefield games like single players shooters: tending their own set of goals and only really interacting with their squad to called them 'noobs' on a lost match. Occasionally you see flashes of cooperation here and there, when it happens so does the magic. There is a VOIP system built into the squad setup and despite meeting a few players willing to speak in the open beta, since launch I haven't met one. Luckily I am part of a decently sized gaming community and so organising a squad of friends is relatively simple.
Thankfully Dice did listen to some of the criticism levelled at the beta and tanks were scaled down in power. They have also made medics far more viable now with an easy way to see who needs a revive: in fact, at this time I'd say the medic class is the most powerful on the field. Snipers are still a royal pain and often matches can devolve into a line of sharpshooters on either side of the war zone. I hope at some point in the future Dice make it so sniper spots are limited to a few or even better make them like the other powerful weapons kits you can find on the battlefield (rare). Most levels can get affected by weather that limits visibility and this is when snipers must try another class for a few minutes giving the rest of us the chance to play. These are balance issues that do need addressing but so far Dice is making admirable strides.
Is it PC?
As I have mentioned already the graphics in Battlefield 1 are a true spectacle and certainly one of the best looking games to date on PC. The options for the visuals are excellent and cover pretty much everything you might want. The game is wonderfully optimised and is running like a dream on my GTX 980 with all the settings on ultra. Mouse and keyboard also suit this game very well with no problems rebinding keys to your heart's content and getting your favourite setup in place. While flying planes I have been using the mouse and keyboard so far and as any tanks who face my bombers wrath will attest: I'm a pretty good shot. However, full controller support is there for those who prefer analogue sticks. It's worth noting that while the flying is enjoyable the flight controls for some will be a little too basic and players will find doing certain manoeuvres impossible due to the overzealous flight correction.
The audio here is a truly excellent effort in both the sound effects and musical score. Most of the melodies you can hear as you fight really add to the atmosphere and as veterans will know the music is also a way to gauge when a round is near its end. Good sound design also lets players know what is going on around them: from the unmistakable squeaking on tank track bearings to the loud war cry of an enemy soldier charging you with a bayonet. There are also lots of small details here and there such as the way to attacking troops in Operations all start yelling as they run together when a sector is taken.
The First World War has rarely been visited by developers and so Dice took a risk with this Battlefield game. However, I am very happy to say that I think they have really done themselves proud and gone beyond my expectations in almost every area of the game. The visuals throughout both the single and multiplayer are absolutely stunning with very little bugs or glitches. The multiplayer is possibly the most unsurprising aspect because it is as excellent as it has always been with all the nice little additions I have mentioned above. Of course, these games are never perfectly balanced upon release and already Dice are making sensible changes to make the flow of combat better for everyone. I have to say the biggest surprise for me this time around was the story missions. Each one takes the player through an aspect of the game and while not groundbreaking in terms of gameplay mechanics: I was moved by some of these fictional characters.
So if you have an interest in multiplayer shooters or if you love this time period there is no reason at all why I can't recommend you buy BF1. My main issue with buying the game is the same I have with most EA games: the price. Considering they make a lot of money from expansion packs and in-game DLC I would have rather the base game be around £35: but of course, that would make most EA executives choke on their morning coffee. Always try and find a cheaper option, I find Green Man Gaming to be well priced and reliable. My only other piece of advice is to try and play the game with friends: however, you can occasionally find a decent squad that will call out orders and then follow them. With Overwatch's massive success and Titanfall 2 looking like a sequel done right the bench for competitive shooters is getting a little crowded this Christmas but at they say: variety is the spice of life.
Thank you for reading my review of Battlefield 1 on the PC, if you don not already you can follow me @riggedforepic Please come back soon for more PC game reviews and if you get chance please mention my site to your gaming friends.