And I’m not complaining.
When DICE and EA announced that their next game in the oversaturated military shooter genre would be set during World War 1, the internet exploded in a collective nerd-gasm. But I was skeptical. Anyone who knows anything about WWI knows that the weapons and technology employed were, in many cases, bolt action rifles, ramshackle bi-planes and massive, but ineffective blimps. Not to mention clunky, accident-prone tanks and silly uniforms.
I hadn’t played a military shooter since Battlefield Bad Company 2 on Xbox 360. To say the genre has become stale is an understatement — the annual release cycle hasn’t left much room for innovation. Where Call of Duty keeps forging ahead into science fiction territory, DICE made the bold move to choose a decidedly less sexy time period. And man, did that bold move pay off.
A little bit of context: I wasn’t going to buy Battlefield 1. I had about $60 trade credit at Gamestop and wanted to buy a couple of older games to beef up my library. This particular GS store didn’t have Valkyria Chronicles or a pre-owned copy of Overwatch (which I still haven’t played…I know, insert boos), so rather than leave empty-handed I took a gamble and bought Battlefield, hoping my impulse buy wouldn’t backfire. Wonder why I haven’t posted in a week? You can blame Battlefield 1. (and a colonoscopy knocking me out for two days, but that’s another story.)
SOLDIER IT ALONE
Let’s get the single player campaign out of the way first. DICE did something really interesting for BF1. Instead of playing through a painfully linear 5 hour campaign with the same protagonist, the single player story mode is split into six missions. Each mission has 2-4 levels that tell a more intimate story. The focus is on the people, not the battle. Some stories are more compelling than others, and slightly border on melodrama, but it’s one of the stronger military shooter campaigns I’ve played. I really hope they keep this same approach for the next Star Wars Battlefront game, which is supposed to have a single player component. I can see this style meshing perfectly with the Star Wars universe and it’s system-hopping battles.
I’ve completed three of the six missions and will probably go back and finish the rest up just for the trophies, but what makes Battlefield 1 so spectacular isn’t the single player, it’s the phenomenal multiplayer.
17 MILLION SOLDIERS DIED IN WORLD WAR 1
Never before have I, in a multiplayer shooter, had to literally stop and catch my breath. When you first drop into multiplayer, you’re going to die…a lot. And then you’ll die some more. That’s when the fear kicks in. Here’s my dramatic re-enactment of a typical encounter in Battlefield 1:
A dense fog permeates the front lines. You just survived a 3 second firefight, but your opponent left you with a blinking fraction of a health bar. You crouch behind the low cover of a stone wall blanketed in a strangely beautiful green moss. The encounter has depleted your weapon’s magazine so you must reload. Your hands shake from the adrenaline and you spend more time than you can afford reloading your weapon. Seconds can make the difference between life and death on the battlefield. After a deep breath, the magazine slides into place and you’re awarded a brief moment of respite. The moment is short-lived.
Your temporary serenity is interrupted by the distinct patter of boots. You can tell by the time between each footfall, the man wearing the boots is sprinting — “clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap”
Then they stop. Have the boots found you? Instinct screams for you to move from a crouching to prone position and your body obliges. Did they see my helmet? Did I make too much noise?”
These thoughts do nothing to help you. You notice you’re holding your breath. The silence is deafening. Distant pings and retorts of gunfire in some far-off area have become so familiar they barely register. Seconds crawl by…Until the silence is shattered by the pop and zing of a bullet that may have been meant for you or may have been meant for a fellow soldier in the distance. Do you run from cover to the wooded area nearby? Maybe you can flank your attacker…or maybe he’ll fill you with bullets the second you stand up.
The moss on the rock wall offers no advice, but it makes you feel safe. This spot has kept you alive for the past 15 seconds and right now, it’s the only home you have.
Fuck it, this son of a bitch isn’t going to get the jump on me.
You pop up, snap to the right and lean over your home. You’re pretty sure the shot came from between those two trees, but this cursed fog plays tricks with your vision!
Now you’re exposed and need to move from this wall that treated you so well. As you turn to run to the wooded area a scream erupts from over your shoulder. There’s no time to turn. The bayonet skewers your flesh, emerging from just under your ribcage. You stupidly attempt to wrestle it free from your body with the strength of an infant, but the man behind you trusts so hard, you feel the barrel of his rifle against the small of your back. This is how your life ends. Everything sounds like it’s under water. You don’t get a look at your murderer, he’s gone by the time you fall to the ground. The last thing you see before slipping into the cozy unknown is the moss, happily resting on the rock wall.
That scenario plays out multiple times during online battles. While dramatized here, part of me knows that somebody died that death at some point in WW1. And it sticks with me.
I know this is a game, but those tiny details are in there. DICE seems to have done their research on The Great War and it shows.
I’m not going to go into the finer mechanics of the actual gameplay too much, but essentially you choose from various classes (Assault, Medic, Support, Scout with some bonus classes for horses, planes and tanks) and play to level up both your class and your character. The leveling system is pretty slow if you’re just in for a casual experience, but there’s a good chance Battlefield 1 will suck you in. It did for me. In fact, writing this has me so jazzed to go play it once this is published.
There are unlockables by way of battle chests that are (randomly) assigned to players after a battle. These chests contain cosmetic skins for your weapons and some other bonuses, but I haven’t really gotten into the scrap and unlocking systems. They don’t appeal to me, honestly, I focus on leveling up my class so I can gain access to better weapons — but even the default guns for each class aren’t terrible. I’ve wracked up plenty of kills without using any weapon modifications or purchases.
One of my favorite features of Battlefield 1 is real-time weather. You’ll be sprinting around a massive battle outside a castle stronghold and a fog from the ocean will obliterate your field of view. Torrential rains play tricks on your vision while in the desert levels, sandstorms transform the battlefield into a close-quarters kill orgy where players fire at anything that moves.
I never thought I’d say this, but I might actually buy the season pass for a game for the first time in the history of ever. That is how much I want to keep playing this game.
I have to applaud DICE and EA for trading in glorified sci-fi bullshit for honest depictions of actual combat. Sure, many of the weapons and vehicles have been “video gamed” and you’re still going to come across the occasional tea-bagger on the battlefield, but BF1 generates real tension for the player. It’s a shadow of the actual experience of war, but when a game can elicit an emotional response, I’m reminded why I love playing games so much.
Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a war to go fight.