Battlefield 1 ReviewPrice:
PC, Xbox One, PS4
The Battlefield series has been stuck in a rut for some time now. Battlefield 4 was a structurally acceptable entry in the series beleaguered by a host of game-breaking bugs, while cops ‘n’ robbers spin-off Battlefield: Hardline suffered from the double indemnity of a truly appalling campaign and a severely underwhelming multiplayer.
To find a way forward, DICE has gone back to the past. Shooters have always been most comfortable either in historical or fantastical settings, tucked safely away from the tricky balancing act of creating straightforward, visceral entertainment out of what are often ethically murky conflicts. But DICE didn’t rest in the comfy FPS featherbed that is the Second World War; oh no. They went back to what is arguably the murkiest conflict of them all.
Whether World War One deserves any special cultural attention compared to other wars is a subject of continued debate (a debate which we won’t get into here). What is certain is that, because of the war’s almost sacrosanct level of infamy, gaming has been extremely cautious about exploring it. Indeed, Battlefield 1 represents the first time a mainstream FPS has delved into the Great War in any considerable detail. As a virtual representation of World War One, the results are somewhat mixed. As a Battlefield game, it’s one of the best.
While the multiplayer undoubtedly remains the main draw, intriguingly, much has been made of this iteration’s single-player campaign. Ditching, the single-character focus of previous games, Battlefield 1 presents us with an anthology of stories which take players from the mud-churned fields of the Western Front to the sun-baked deserts of Arabia.
It has been lauded as the best single-player campaign Battlefield has ever produced. Frankly, I’m not so convinced. It begins impressively enough, with players assuming the role of members of an African-American regiment fighting on the Western front, fending off a fearsome German assault in a mission that’s impossible to survive. As one character is cut down, the camera switches into the eyes of another, and another, and another. It’s a stark, unflinching portrayal of the callous indifference of war, and sets the stage brilliantly.
Sadly, what follows bears only intermittent relation to that striking beginning. The five chapters that form the campaign are tonally and mechanically all over the place. Of these the first chapter is probably the best, centring around a British tank crew who, after taking part in the main assault of the Battle of Cambrai, find themselves isolated from their own line, and surrounded by enemies.