There comes a time for many games where committing to it is essential to enjoy yourself. Sometimes the premise and presentation is so ridiculous that you feel like you’ll never be able to take it seriously - and, in some cases, games are just games and should be treated as such - whereas in others there’s such a push for photorealistic graphics and a compelling story that calling it ‘just a game’ feels like a disservice.
At times in previous titles it’s felt like a bit of fun to have a tank or jeep at your disposal, here most vehicles - especially the epic-scale behemoths which are the game’s standout feature - can significantly turn the tide of a battle. Sitting in a tank you really feel like an unstoppable death machine.
That’s not to say it’s unbalanced, tanks still explode left and right during matches, but with so many less tools to take them out it becomes a more substantial contrast being on foot to being mobile. There’s attention to detail throughout the game, particularly visually, but the awkward control of these early tanks is faithfully representative, as is the more clumsy and temperamental nature of weapons.
The single player campaign (War Stories) feels more like series of skirmishes than a cohesive story, deliberately following the stories of five very separate soldiers as they battle on their various fronts. From the word go the game hits home hard the helpless feeling of this war, making it no surprise that many stories don’t have a happy ending.
Characters get up to five episodes, with each section a fairly short mission, to make an emotional impact and it can be a bit hit and miss. You almost wish that we’d spent more time with a couple fewer characters so that we really cared about them at the end of their story. The full geographical variety of The Great War is captured, emphasising just how many fronts armies were fighting on, and offering different terrain.
The opening prologue section throws you into the horror, as a voiceover tells tales of the sacrifices and loss of life, making a harrowing impact and steering clear of any accusation of glorifying war at the same time. Soldiers’ names and years appear hauntingly at the top of the screen whenever you’re killed, making death feel all the more permanent - a touch, sadly, not carried over to the multiplayer.
Expect to die many many times in almost every match
Gameplay is the aspect which does feel the most familiar, with your soldier slinging grenades and reloading their weapon with ease, but traversing some of the levels is more awkward than others, thanks to tricky foliage or destroyed walls with odd-angles. We only encountered a handful of invisible walls, though the signature ‘Return to the Battlefield’ returned numerous times as we tried to outflank enemies, who are generally shockingly oblivious to their friends being stabbed with a shovel mere metres in front of them.
In multiplayer there’s a new mode - Operations - to really play on the series’ love of scale. It’s a showcase for destruction, in which DICE continue to raise the standard, and frantic mayhem as 64 players hurl themselves across vast war-torn areas.
There’s plenty of other modes to indulge in, including the classic Conquest and Rush modes and the part quirky; part contrived War Pigeons mode, which sees teams fight for control of...pigeons. Unfortunately, much like in Battlefront, the gametypes don’t serve to mix up the gameplay all that much. Expect to die many many times in almost every match.
The lack of variety doesn’t end there either. Despite the campaign finally embracing elements which make Battlefield Battlefield, such as controlling points and using vehicles, many missions still boil down to sneaking around an area, hoping you don’t get discovered, and then getting to another area and holding off enemies until something happens. For example, the best War Story is probably Through Mud and Blood, which puts you in the shoes of a tank driver, but more often than not you’re asked to scout ahead on foot.
In the end, Battlefield 1 is a game which ticks all the right boxes, but it all feels quite safe (as the bullets whip past your ears…). The team made a fantastic decision to return to the past, but arguably didn’t make the most of it, besides extremely faithfully recreating the era.
Whether it’s a must buy or a wait and see (there’s 16 more maps and lots of other content promised as DLC), depends if you have friends to play with. Sadly, the reality of modern gaming is that effective teamwork is rare between people who could potentially communicate but don’t, meaning most tactical maneuvers happen by chance as players happen upon the same area at once, rather than deliberate plans of attack.
While there are problems, there’s no denying that DICE are masters of creating a convincing setting, and there’s plenty to do within it, providing you are happy to embrace the game as is, rather than what it could have been.
Are you enjoying the game? Get a more hands-on look with our video review, and leave us a comment.