While Call of Duty appears to be comfortable with its inexorable march into the distant future, DICE has taken things the opposite direction with its venerable Battlefield franchise, with the aptly-named Battlefield 1 taking to the trenches of World War One. Our hands-on session with the first-person shooter behemoth lasted all of 15-minutes (not by choice, we might add), but still managed to demonstrate succinctly that the Swedish developer is onto a winner come October 21.
Our hands-on with the Alpha build saw us lobbed into a huge multiplayer scrap called Conquest. Here, we found British and German forces scurrying around a war-torn battleground in France in an attempt to pinch key strategic points of interest—Capture the Flag meets the Great War, if you will.
There was no chance to customise any weapons beforehand; the match setup gave us a bird’s eye view of the combat zone, a choice of class (we plumped for the Support, giving us a machinegun and pistol) and then an option of where to spawn. Once that was done, we were plonked right into the thick of things.
Teaming up with the rest of our squad, we inched forward through the muddy trenches and dilapidated houses, ever mindful of the threat of enemy snipers and vehicles. The atmosphere is a palpable thing. Whether it’s the zip of bullets passing over our heads, the distant boom of explosives or the whirl of planes dog fighting ahead, Battlefield 1 absolutely nails the feeling of being in the middle of a war zone with a cacophony of blood-pumping effects.
The map is also massive, taking us a few minutes to get to any point of interest, in this first case an abandoned village where skirmishes were taking place in and around the battered house. We split up and investigated a couple of rooms before wandering back outside and claiming our first kill: an German footsoldier, who had just capped one of our teammates only to receive a hail full of machinegun fire to the back in kind.
Venturing out into the field, we get a taste of some of the game’s gorgeous real-time destruction, as armored cars and tanks cut through concrete like a knife through butter, dynamically changing the battlezone in seconds. After snuffing it, we respawn into an armored car and get a taste of its meaty machineguns, providing cover fire for our ground troops as we penetrated deeper into enemy territory. As you’d expect from a series of Battlefield’s pedigree, the meat-and-potatoes of control are intuitive and punchy, and we had no problem moving seamlessly between aiming down the sights and legging it across open terrain as gunfire zipped past. Weapons feel incredibly balanced and give the desirable feedback you’d expect.
Battlefield 1 isn’t afraid to throw a spanner in the mix either. If your team is getting their arse handed to them, they’ll call upon a Behemoth, a massive airship that is capable of bombing targets and laying waste to enemy positions. Of course, if you’re on the receiving end of this flying fortress, you aren’t completely defenceless. Sustained fire from a plane or tank will bring it crashing to the ground in a massive explosion, levelling anything in its path. It’s just one of the many set pieces that Battlefield 1 brings, thank to the dynamically-shifting environment, that’s at the mercy of your destructive firepower.
One thing that became abundantly clear to us is how bloody stunning Battlefield 1 looks. Characters are richly detailed and look as if they’ve witnessed the horrors of war, with their pallid features being drenched in claret and mud. Meanwhile, the battle-scarred environments and stunning particle effects combine for a truly immersive, gritty experience, with the Frostbite engine flexing its ample graphical muscles like a well-oiled bodybuilder. Elsewhere, real-time weather effects will batter the combat zone, with rain and fog all affecting how you carry out your objectives.
So, a brief snippet of DICE’s hotly anticipated shooter, but one that definitely left an impression on us. If there was ever any doubt that a shift to World War One would somehow dampen the frantic, adrenaline-fueled antics the series is known for, then take comfort in the knowledge that this is quintessentially Battlefield in every respect. In fact, despite the step back in time, the franchise feels for the first time in a while that it has well and truly grown up.
Battlefield 1 is due out on PlayStation 4, PC and Xbox One.