By Daniel Steele
On paper, setting Battlefield within the bleak trench warfare of the Great War is risky. How do you place a franchise known best for fast-paced modern combat in a century-old war marred by extended stale mates and antiquated weaponry? The answer: fantasize it.
Battlefield 1’s gorgeous alternate history take on WWI brought the hope of freshening the franchise and taking it out of the dull slump of the previous game. And it’s largely successful in doing so.
One way Battlefield 1 improves upon its predecessors is with its single player campaign, which has struggled in the past with boring stories and uninspired missions.
It tells the personal story of six different soldiers in separate parts of the war, where each character gets their own bite-sized campaign. One story features the female rebel Zara Ghufran who works with T.E. Lawrence (of Lawrence of Arabia) and his rebels to sabotage the Ottoman army, while another follows mischievous Royal Air Force pilot Clyde Blackburn. Each character’s campaign is only two to three hours; they tell concise stories that don’t overstay their welcome. This anthology method of storytelling greatly benefits the single-player as it frequently changes up the objectives and setting.
The structure of each mission––when not occupying a tank or plane––flips between stealth and all-out combat, and the variety of objectives keeps the game from feeling too repetitive. The player will capture enemy positions, sneak through occupied German and Ottoman territory, defend an allied stronghold and search for parts to repair a tank. Although these missions are standard for shooters on their own, the variety keeps the campaign interesting enough during each short story.
The stealth is lacking, however. Too many times the enemy would spot the character while looking in another direction. The distance from which enemies are alerted is inconsistent, which was frustrating at times. It was much more satisfying to curse the stealth and opt for the Rambo method––murder everyone with big-ass machine guns.
Battlefield 1’s single-player is decent and serviceable overall. It's great compared to previous game’s attempts. As for the multiplayer––the actual meat and potatoes of the game––Battlefield hasn’t been better since Bad Company 2.
The 64-player “Conquest” mode, where players fight for the highest score by capturing flags, is just as fun and hectic as it’s always been and shows what Battlefield has always done best––multiplayer warfare on a massive scale. It’s a blast to charge through enemy tank explosions on a horse, leap off to capture a flag and defend it with fellow players while picking off enemies with a lever-action rifle.
The biggest addition to the multiplayer is the new “Operations” game mode. This mode is a combination of “Conquest” and “Rush”––a mode where one side tries to blow up enemy positions while the other defends. In “Operations,” one side works its way down enemy territory by capturing two flags at a time, while the other defends them before they run out of lives. The defenders have three attempts to stop the attackers from capturing every flag. This mode is a great addition to the game and has been the most fun, even the most exhilarating, aspect of the multiplayer. Desperately holding the frontline from droves of attackers while reviving team mates as a medic is the closest the game gets to feeling like Saving Private Ryan.
Almost every soldier in WWI had bolt-action rifles, but the game takes plenty of liberties with its own array of fictitious machine guns and rifles. This means the dynamic of the gameplay remains largely the same as it’s always been, which is fine. The game's developer, DICE, doesn't want to deviate too far from its signature multiplayer gameplay. Rifles-only combat in miles of winding trenches is too far from the Battlefield formula. In many ways, the WWI era is a palette swap or skin change, but the older weaponry is a fresh enough change to the typical assault rifle used in so many modern military shooters.
The historic regression also brings beautiful renderings of 20th century Europe and Arabia. And seeing the destruction of these environments, from the classical buildings to the vast dunes of sand, is beautiful in its own way.
Battlefield 1 is the series’ most fully featured game in years. The new “Operations” mode is a satisfying addition to an already great multiplayer, and the game’s WWI setting is a welcome change to its typical modern era look. The single-player is a noticeable improvement, but still forgettable in the pantheon of first person shooter campaigns. They’re getting there, though.