World War used to be the go-to setting for shooters, when I was first getting into multiplayer games, but it was almost always the second. The Second World War has an obvious and inarguable “baddie”, a familiar foe. It’s the war that everyone knows about, and by all metrics the deadliest conflict in history. The Great War, however, was full of complex and messy political conflict, and was right at the transition between classical warfare and modern, vehicle-based warfare. Battlefield as a franchise is known for its presentation of massive large-scale battles on huge maps with about fifteen thousand things blowing up at any one given time; a far more effective and intense portrayal of warfare than anything its primary competitor Call of Duty has ever offered.

But it’s been a long time since a mostly-multiplayer FPS game such as Battlefield has really tackled a single player campaign, and even longer since one did it well. In a stroke of genius, Battlefield 1 manages to avoid the old trope of the lone war hero that has persisted in FPS campaigns for decades by spreading the story over a number of uncomfortably harrowing stories, protagonists, and settings. The presentation of the “War Stories” themselves are far more clever than I’d ever expected; after the hard-hitting introduction in which every character you play as ends up dying, you’re never sure if a mission is actually going to have a positive outcome or if it’s all futile. It’s always made abundantly clear that your character is not some superhuman hero, and is almost always overwhelmingly outnumbered by enemy forces. Apart from Spec Ops: The Line, I don’t think a military game has ever handled the horrors of war quite so well. Interestingly, Battlefield 1 eschews the typical evil-foreign-speaking archetype that shooters have classically used to make the player want to shoot the baddies; in these campaigns, the people you’re shooting are never portrayed as less human or less real than the player character’s faction.

These screenshots really are a terrible representation of the game. Couldn't work out why FRAPS didn't work for the life of me.

These screenshots really are a terrible representation of the game. Couldn’t work out why FRAPS didn’t work for the life of me.

These short-but-sweet campaign stories ensure that the player won’t get burned out on the disbelief of a standard military shooter campaign, and help to portray the reality of World War I far more effectively than a lone hero protagonist would have ever been able to. For all intents and purposes, the War Stories exist to slowly ease a player that’s probably used to modern-era shooters into the World War I setting and its inherently archaic weaponry and equipment, but that doesn’t take away from its ability as a storytelling medium. I don’t think I’d recommend the price of entry if you’re only going to play singleplayer and completely ignore the multiplayer section, but it adds far more value than many of its contemporaries have been able to boast.

As expected, the guns are far worse than anything in Battlefield 4–this game is set in the 1910s, after all. That’s not to say that automatic weapons aren’t available–they are, likely thanks to a bit of artistic licence–but there are still plenty of single-round, and even bolt-action, rifles. The Scout class only has bolt-action guns available to them, so even if a headshot results in an instant kill, a miss means you’re wasting valuable seconds with a target in your crosshair, unable to fire. It’s a welcome change that means you aren’t automatically dumpstered if an enemy gets you in their line of sight–one miss and those valuable seconds give you time to get away. Guns are much harder both to use and to get used to here, which gives Battlefield 1 a far more skill-focused feel than many other military FPS games. Unlike the very uniform weaponry available in other games, Battlefield 1’s curated collection of period guns ensures that every weapon feels highly distinct. Limitations in the view of gunners in most vehicles, reflective of the incredibly cramped conditions of war vehicles in WWI, results in tanks not being as incredibly overpowered as one might expect.

Battlefield is known for its large-scale multiplayer conflicts, and Battlefield 1 is no exception. The flagship game mode of Conquest returns, pitting teams of 32 players against each other on maps spread out across Europe and North Africa. Each map is incredibly distinct from one another; the tiny Suez map lends itself to a very frantic battle, the mountainous terrain of Monte Grappa is a sniper’s heaven and facilitates heavy vertical warfare, and the expansive Sinai Desert forces squads to work together, as a lone ranger has almost no impact whatsoever. Weather also affects maps every now and then (it’s not predictable), so there’s times where you’ll be unable to see more than a few metres in front of you because of fog, or get battered around by a sandstorm, and have to adapt accordingly.

That can be both a positive and a negative to Battlefield 1, depending on how you like your shooters. In other games, an exceptionally skilled individual player (not me lol) can just about single-handedly carry a team to victory through excellent play. Not the case in Battlefield 1. An exceptional squad can carry a game, and there’s nothing quite like joining a squad in which everyone is communicating, working together to take objectives, and being given orders by the squad leader, but individual talent without any teamwork won’t get you anywhere. With that in mind, I’d strongly recommend you encourage some of your friends to pick up Battlefield 1–only a handful of times did I find myself in a communicative squad. In most of my games, everyone was out doing their own things across the map, which led to me feeling a little bit useless in impacting the outcome of the game.

Origin doesn't even have an inbuilt screenshot function. It's improved, but it's still not Steam.

Origin doesn’t even have an inbuilt screenshot function. It’s improved, but it’s still not Steam.

Star Wars Battlefront came out last year. At the time, it was the prettiest game I’d ever played, by quite some margin. But then a week or so I first got my hands on Battlefield 1, and that all changed. While Battlefront makes you feel like you’re actually in a Star Wars film, Battlefield 1 makes you feel like you’re actually in the First World War. No, not all the gruesome horrible bits, or the physical or mental torture the soldiers went through–but graphically, if you look out onto the Monte Grappa map, you really might as well be looking at a photograph, or out there yourself (apart from the whole monitor and everything). Visually, it’s stunning. Textures are beautiful, and, as one would expect from a DICE game, the sound design is immersive and flawless. Sound queues play an important part in Battlefield 1, and you’ll be relying on them frequently to locate approaching foes and reach cover while being targeted.

Battlefield 1 feels like the most complete and enjoyable package that an FPS has offered since Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. The singleplayer campaigns, here presented in vignette format, are highly compelling and unique, paying attention to an area that has been largely ignored in multiplayer-focused FPS games in recent years. Multiplayer offers a wide variety of game modes, with a heavy focus on the larger-scale (and best), Conquest and Operations. There’s free content on the way. And if you manage to find a squad that works together, Battlefield 1 offers one of the most memorable multiplayer FPS experiences in history.

9/10
Amazing

Select Start Media was provided with a copy of Battlefield 1 for PC.

For some reason FRAPS doesn’t work with Battlefield 1 (nor did it with Battlefront), so screenshots included are taken from the EA press site.

About The Author

Matt has been playing video games and listening to music for too long. He accidentally started a website and now has to pretend that he’s got an idea as to what he’s doing. He neglects the games he’s meant to be reviewing and instead plays Dota 2 and Football Manager. Shameless Nintendo fanboy. Direct your complaints to @mattmcleod27.