Battlefield 1’s move to the trenches of World War I may very well prove to be as significant a move for the franchise as Call of Duty 4’s transition to contemporary battlefields back in 2007.
Despite some reservations about how the Swedish code house would go about portraying the events of the conflict, Battlefield 1 pleasingly eschews much of the Hollywood-esque trappings of most first-person shooters, instead presenting a bleak, gritty, and at times gut-wrenching set of tales that succinctly convey just how brutal the Great War was for the millions of combatants involved in the struggle. It’s by no means a complete overhaul for the series, but Battlefield 1 is perhaps the best thing to happen to the brand since the Bad Company 2 days.
Surprisingly, the main campaign is actually one of the biggest highlights of DICE’s World War I shooter. Split into five separate ‘War Stories,’ the single-player offers concise, action-packed narratives that tell the story of a different character, from the roguish Clyde Blackburn who takes to the skies in ‘Friends in High Places,’ to loyal family man Luca Vincenzo, who takes part in the Italian conflict during the fall of 1918 in Dolomites.
While fairly brief—I recall blasting through one of them in just under an hour – although that wasn’t including fully exploring for all collectibles- War Stories still manages to provide believable characters that you ultimately care for, as you witness the camaraderie and desperation they face under seemingly insurmountable odds.
You’ll get a nice taste of different theatres of war, too. The biplane segments are brilliantly realised, offering action-packed dogfights that are easy to grasp thanks to the user-friendly controls and stellar aiming. It’s not simulation by any means, so there’s no need to worry about all the nuances of flight mechanics that you would in something like, say, War Thunder.
Whether you’re shredding biplanes with machinegun fire or shooting off rockets at behemoth-sized German blimps, these sections feel solid and are more importantly great fun to experience. Battlefield 1 also handles other vehicles just as solidly; the tanks segments feel weighty and pack a mighty punch as you crack enemy armor and mow down troops, and there’s an underlying layer of strategy to be found as you maneuver into your enemy’s vulnerable six while avoiding incoming fire.
Equally stellar is the grunt work as you venture on foot into the trenches, dense vegetation, and abandoned towns across war-torn Europe. The meat-and-potatoes of gunplay is as solid as ever; weapons feel punchy yet never overpowered, and snapping into cover and popping out to cap an unsuspecting foe in the noggin is as satisfying as you’d expect.
In fact, the WWI-era weapons actually feel refreshing in wake of the fully automatic killing machines we’ve become used to from the Battlefield series up until this point, and there’s definitely a palpable sense of realism to the proceedings when your character is knee-deep in mud, scrambling along the floor as bullets whiz overhead and you’re only armed with a bolt-action rifle. If anything, you can’t accuse DICE of glamorising the conflict, even if there’s the odd time when some of the heroes feel like caricatures. Fortunately, this is few and far between.
Battlefield 1 is a stunning-looking game, that much has been obvious since it was first revealed. However, it’s only when you are playing it and have time to appreciate its beauty do you see just how much DICE has squeezed out of the PS4. Locations are positively oozing with character, whether it’s the dilapidated farm houses that are packed with remnants of a once happy family life, the sumptuous fire effects that illuminate the horrors of warfare as you methodically push through the trenches, to the almost majestic Italian hillsides ravaged by the machines of battle. While not massive, each area is also packed with opportunity to explore, as each chapter contains five files to collect, so there’s enough incentive to venture off the beaten track and poke around in every nook and cranny for collectibles and hidden details.
Of course, as compelling as the single-player action is—and it’s certainly one of the best campaigns we’ve played in the FPS space for a while—you’ll likely be spending much of your time on the multiplayer side of things. Battlefield 1’s comprehensive online mode channels the squad mentality at the heart of every Battlefield title, and loses none of its cinematic value in the transition to online-based combat. DICE’s map design is top notch and offers a diverse range of locations, from war-torn city streets, sprawling deserts, ruined forts, labyrinthine bunkers, and more, ensuring your are constantly adapting depending on what stage you’re on. Earning XP will eventually allow you to level up, but DICE has made it so you’ll nab experience for doing just about anything, from scoring kills, landing headshots, to inflicting damage against tanks or seriously wounding an enemy soldier.
Meanwhile, War Bonds are essentially currency that you’ll use to unlock additional weapons to customise your loadouts. Each class has a unique set of weapons to select from as you’d expect, and there’s enough variety to ensure that whatever your prefered play style is, you’ll be able to find something suitable. Somewhat annoyingly, you can’t tinker with your chosen class and loadout prior to starting a match, as you’re forced to waste precious seconds doing so before respawning. Still, it’s not a deal breaker by any means. Outside of the usual Team Deathmatch, Rush, and Conquest modes, there’s the new Operations, which is a thrilling slice of action-packed teamwork as you push forward to capture 2-3 points while the opposite team attempts to repel you.
Battlefield 1 also manages to freshen things up with behemoths. If one side is taking a battering, they’ll be able to call upon a massive vehicle such as a zeppelin or armored train, which rain down destruction upon your enemies. These aren’t game changers by any means, but help to mix things up and keep you in the fight that little bit longer if used correctly. In fact, Battlefield 1’s multiplayer is so robust and downright fun to play, there’s very little at fault here; still, it must be said that the servers have been hit by some annoying downtime during our review process, which obviously put the kibosh on our online skirmishes.
In many respects, Battlefield 1 has put the long-running series back on the map. With stellar gameplay mechanics, top notch map design, and an utterly brilliant multiplayer component, DICE’s latest outing has raised the bar for console first-person shooters and will no doubt nail down a solid template for the franchise going forward.