Yes, I am infinitely aware that this is not a gaming website. So, why are we taking time to provide a review for a video game? Easy. First, it’s been too long since our last post so something is better than nothing. Second, this is a website about guns and this is a game full of guns. Third, I like both guns and video games – so there it is – and here is my Battlefield 1 review.
Now that’s out of the way, a little background for perspective. I’m a child of the 80’s. I love video games. I’ve been playing them as long as I can remember. From the arcade at the mall to the first Atari to NES, Gamecube and now Xbox One – I like to play video games. I’m a grown man with a wife, a home and a job, however, so game time is few and far between. My game choices and the time I spend on them are limited. I’ll buy one, maybe two titles a year. For the passed 13 years I have been a pretty devoted fan and player of the Call of Duty series of first person shooter (FPS) games. Another series, the Battlefield series, has been the steadiest competitor to Call of Duty (COD) since the beginning. While just about always being behind in the sales department compared to COD, Battlefield has never wavered and has had its fair share of devotees and award-winning titles. I however, had chosen my preferred shooter in COD and never dipped into the other pot for a taste – until now.
Why I chose to trek into another FPS is a story for another day. For now, let’s dive into what worked and didn’t work for me in Battlefield 1. I preface the rest of this by saying that I am only reviewing the single player campaign – not the multiplayer experience in this review. So, here we go.
As the thirteenth installment of Battlefield, Battlefield 1 had a lot to live up to. The series has had incredible reviews especially in the last two installments: Battlefield 4 and Hardline. Taking the franchise back in time to the Great War had to be considered a risk. Afterall, World War I was, in a lot of senses, a very ugly war. Sure, there were the glorious images of early air combat and that bright red triplane of the Red Baron, but, overall, World War I was a war of mud and blood. The trenches stretched across the fields of France in deadlock for years. It was a brutal war, not one many people tell tales of or even make movies about. So, taking Battleifield back a hundred years was a gamble. One I believe that paid off for in spades.
Players who fire up Battlefield I don’t have a second to consider what they are getting in to. The game throws you, literally, into the gory business of war in the opening seconds. You awake as a soldier on the front lines in France. Quickly you either kill or be killed – and the latter happens often. You’re given the “pleasure” of living out a few men’s last moments in combat – shifting from one soul to the next as you expire in war’s terrible glory over and over. A predictable and somewhat frustrating series of events prevent you from surviving to bring you face to face with one irrefutible truth that war drives home – “in war, the only true equalizer is death”.
The opening sequence will take you anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes or so to complete depending on how good you are at it. The battle scene ends with a beautiful preview of what is to come in the single player campaign. This complete series is nothing less than cinematic excellence from every perspective. The visuals, the tone, the score and sound are all fantastic and exactly what I was hoping for after seeing the trailer months ago. I could only hope the game would follow through. I wasn’t disappointed.
Without taking you through each chapter in detail, let’s break down each piece of the game and rate them separately. There are a few specific factors to most games I will focus on here. They are: gameplay, graphics, sound and repeatability.
How does this game do in that department? Well, for me, this was excellent but also just about the only area that has some real weaknesses. I’ll get to those in a minute. First, basic gameplay is exactly what I want in a shooter. The controls are what I expect – almost exactly as they have been in COD for years. Left thumb moves, right thumb looks, left trigger aims, right trigger shoots. Simple (although apparantly not for Halo – but I digress). The controls are customizable and tunable. So, no issue there. But beyond the controller, there is the real gameplay – you know how your character reacts to the world and how the world reacts to you. There are different aspects of that so let me continue.
As far as the gun and shooting mechanics, everything feels real. Actually, very real. In some ways better than COD ever has done it. Something I noticed while firing from a tank that I never have in another shooter – gravity! Yes, the projectiles don’t fly straight. This is fantastic! I’m not sure how it affects sniping as I didn’t do a lot of that in the game but I’m told that gravity translates there, too. This is minor, I agree, but it does increase realism in the game so it’s a plus. The number of hits it takes to kill – and be killed (on medium difficulty) feels more real, too, than I’m used too. This is frustrating in some ways but honestly, it made it a much more authentic exprerience in my opinion. So, another win.
While I am sure there are some glitches here, I didn’t notice any the first time through. Things appear to be overall pretty nailed down physically so there were no technical reasons for me to dislike the game from that perspective.
Here’s the first – and primary – negative to Battlefield I: the guns. I understand the generation of gamers out there. They are an impatient lot and used to “running and gunning”. But guys, really, World War I was not an automated weapon war! Heck, it wasn’t even much a of a semi-automatic war. In the opening sequence I mentioned, I think you die three or four times before you ever get your hand on a bolt action rifle. This is a tragedy and I don’t use that word lightly. The bolt action rifle was the workhorse of every major player in the War to End All Wars. One version or another of those wonderful weapons was the standard issue for every foot soldier from every country. The MG14 and the Lewis Gun were few and far between on those battlefields. This was the war of Springfield, Browning and Enfield powerhouse bolt action beauties and they are rarely found in the single player missions. This was a true disappointment.
I am sure there were discussions about this in the planning rooms for this game. The argument for fast-firing guns was probably considered a “must-have” for the multiplayer experience. Fine, then for Pete’s sake you should have left it there and not in the campaigns! Most machine guns and submachine guns seen in World War I were very new, often experimental and widely unavailable to the common soldier. They should have seen very little action in this game but rather they end up to be the primary weapons used. This choice really, really hurt this game. Honestly, it is just about the only thing that would keep me from calling this game perfect (there are two other glaring issues I’ll get to).
I am told that Battlefield developers listen to their fans. I am late to the party guys, I admit it. But I’m a fan now, a BIG one. I am begging you to make this change in the next installment which I pray is coming. You’ve made a fantastic and fantastically real game that takes us back over a hundred years to one of the deadliest conflicts in human history. You helped us relive the tragedy and the triumph our grandparents and great grandparents lived out. Please don’t cheapen it like you have by filling this world with weapons before their time. OK, begging is over.
Back to the review. So, I’ve said my peice about the guns used in the single player. Bad move. Really bad move. What else didn’t work gameplay wise? Two things: first the juggernaut and second, the flamethrowers. The Arditi is a great story. I am glad it is a part of Battlefield I from that perspective. However, the gameplay as the heavily armored “Daring One” felt anything but real. This felt much more like a berserker with a M134 minigun that fell out of a time machine. I know the Arditi and their armored soldiers were a real thing. But, there is little historical evidence to suggest that those guys could take a hundred hits and carriy 800 rounds of .50 caliber sized bullets shooting at 500 rounds per minute. Sorry, this was a stretch and rather un-fun. The mission was the most frustrating of the bunch and the story didn’t connect with me at all. I could have left it alone there if the Arditi didn’t rear their ugly metal heads again in the deserts of the Middle East. Once again, I think that some kind of anticipated excitement won out over facts and realism. The Arditi were such a small group and their heavy armor tactics were so limited that to find a similarly clad fellow in an Ottoman army in the dessert is not just a stretch – it’s straight up wrong! I am sure that having a “boss” to beat made things more interesting in someone’s mind, but, from a history buff – and anyone who appreciates realistic gameplay – this was another poor decision.
Last and not least on my short list of “wrongs” in Battlefield I is the impossible-to-kill-and-way-too-often-seen flame troopers. Like automatic weapons, flamethrowers were not very common on the battlefields of World War I. That’s not to say they didn’t exist, but they were not nearly as commonplace as Battlefield I would suggest. One here and there in Europe would have been OK. However, the minds behind this game seemed to believe that one out of every five Ottoman soldiers bore a flamethrower over say, a saber. Sorry, but it’s true. More men probably died from stabbings and even dehydration during the Middle East battles of World War I than they did from being burned alive by an Ottoman flame tropper. Maybe the developers got lazy when they got to this mission or they just ran out of time or ideas. Either way, this was another obviously big mistake. Having flame troopers often was bad enough, but having the only option to kill them be multiple shots to the tank on their back is just flat out ridiculous. I get that tough guys are a challenge, but this was too much and way too often for me to let it go.
All this into account, I give Gameplay a score of 8.0.
Battlefield 1 Graphics
Gladly, those are the only real issues I take with Battlefield I. Honestly. The rest is nothing short of fantastic. The visual details in the game are suberb. The instant the game comes alive you are there – no matter where “there” is. The forests of France, the mountainsides of the Alps, the skies above London and the deserts of Arabia are just absolutely stunning! The sand, the dust, the clouds, the smoke and singing bullets are all impressive to say the least. This is the best looking video game I have ever seen! Not since Bioshock have I literally just wanted to pause a game and look at it. Every sequence from the cutscenses to the “in your face” action are absolutely marvelous to look at. All games should take lessons from the team at EA and DICE on Battlefield I. It’s a truly gorgeous game. Visual score: a very big 10!
Battlefield 1 Audio
As amazing as the visuals are in Battlefield I, the one aspect that might be better is the sound. I mean, wow! The sound effects of battle in this game are so real you feel them. I mean “feel it in your gut” sound effects. From the delayed explosions of the target ballons to the earth shattering shells crashing all around you, the sounds are overwhelming – in a really good way. The bass is deep and rumbling and the details crystal clear. The gunfire, the engines, the wind in your ear and the deafening screams all bring the glory and terror of early modern warfare to the fore. If this game doesn’t get an award for sound editing it will literally be a sin.
What polishes off an already excellent game? The score. John Williams would be so proud to have scored this game! Again, from the first person fighting to the amazing cinematic scenes in between, the score is tragic, elating, epic and just wonderful! The final scenes with T. E. Lawrence really bring the whole thing together and tease that there is more to come (please, please let this just be the beginning). Music can cross languages and even cultures and the music from Battlefield 1 does just that. From the haunting middle eastern vocals to the triumphant drumbeats – every nuance of emotion is tested with a score that in itself is a character of this amazing world. Audio score: 10 and then some.
Battlefield 1 Repeatability
The last piece to evaluate is how likely and often one might play this game again and again. This is Battlefield 1’s worst aspect. The single player game is tragically too short. The first campaign was perfect. Not too long, not too short, just right. Not every mission needed to be as long, but I hoped they would be. The Arditi story was very short but since I didn’t like it as much, I didn’t mind. “Friends in High Places” – the only story where flying was part of the mission – was a complete blast with a truly epic finish. I have already replayed that story a few times and I would have welcomed more flying missions. The other two stories were average length and incredibly difficult even on “medium” difficulty. However, the stories were so well told and they played out fantasically, the diffuculty is worth it. I would have been happy if there were two or three more stories and if the existing ones were a bit longer. I also would have loved to spend some time at sea but I guess you can’t get everything. Maybe there will be more stories available for download. I can only hope. Repeatability score: 7.0.
Battlefield 1 Bottom Line
All told, Battlefield 1 delivered what the trailer promised – epic gameplay and immersive story-relling that bring The Great War to life. The variety of stories and missions are a joy and the game is as grand as any I’ve ever played. The shortcomings don’t spoil it, but they do keep it from being perfect. I really hope EA and DICE expand the single player game of Battlefield 1 with more stories in DLC. I also hope that Battlefield 1 is just the beginning of more titles they will bring us from World War 1. The way they brought the grit, texture, tragedy and glory of that terrible conflict is simply fantastic. It makes the most recent polished, shiny and sci-fi COD titles look almost cheesy. Battlefield 1 is a true war game – one that I WANT to play and will play over and over. Bottom line, this game is a 9.0 – superb!
Images property of EA and DICE.