Battlefield 1 Isn't A Game, It's A History Lesson

Image: Kotaku

Battlefield 1 is not just a game. It's brutal scripture, a sermon against the concept of warfare as something to be enjoyed and consumed. It's a history lesson. It's a sobering reminder of a war that almost no-one is left alive to remember.

There is not much about Battlefield's single player campaign that you could call fun. It is bleak. It is gritty and raw, and does not sugar-coat the reality of the first World War to try and make it palatable for a wider audience. It is not something you can sit down and play through and not experience on a higher level than just clicking a mouse and tapping a keyboard.

There's actually a huge disconnect between the single player and multiplayer campaigns. Multiplayer, for Battlefield veterans who know their squads and stacks and strats, hasn't changed. It's consumable. It's fun, for a certain value of the word fun. Battlefield 1's multiplayer is exactly what you expect competitive online team-based multi to be. It's chaos, but fun chaos. But the single player campaign could not be more different.

The war stories, almost short enough that they could be vignettes, do not star a gun-toting BJ Blazkowicz. They don't even have a star, really. The characters within are, by and large, profoundly normal -- with no superhuman build or incredible skills, and with no great back story to speak of either. They're just people, and when they die, they're memorialised with a splash screen showing their name and years of birth and death and nothing more.

There hasn't been a high-profile first-person shooter about the Great War before. There haven't been many games about World War 1 at all. Where there are hundreds of games about World War 2, many of them good and some of them excellent, the first World War has mostly been represented in popular culture with sombre films like Gallipoli and books like All Quiet On The Western Front.

Battlefield 1 is a lot like Gallipoli, mixing occasional moments of levity with scenes of brutally powerful pain and destruction and personal loss. It's a lot like All Quiet On The Western Front, because for all the power that you have as a player, you're not invincible, and you're not the only soldier fighting, and you're just one individual whose death probably wouldn't even be noted in a history book.

Image: EA

The characters, too, are diversely represented -- Italian, Bedouin, female, African-American, Australian. There's no play-the-Hollywood-hero whitewash. That makes their stories doubly interesting, because they haven't been told in a game of Battlefield's size and scope and broad appeal before. They're not the usual stories you play in war games, and they're intensely personal.

And in Battlefield 1's war stories, the player doesn't win. There's no medal ceremony and kiss from a pretty girl for the player in the missions, most of which end with friends and comrades dead and dismembered on the battlefield, or cut down along the way -- in a very self-aware, un-game-like nod to the fact that wars don't play out like the movies say they do.

The cold open to the campaign is a front line battle. As you play through the mission, you'll die. More than once. Each time as a different soldier, utterly disposable as an individual and valuable as a lesson precisely because of that fact. Your time as each lasts as long as you can stay alive against opposing forces, but it doesn't trivialise these deaths, nor the destruction and brutal horror of the war.

I did not expect this from Battlefield 1. I expected waves of brittle enemies rushing to crash against the might of a single Herculean player, draped with guns and ammo and with the odds stacked squarely in his or her favour -- a modern video game for fickle modern players. Playing through the game's single player campaign was something I had planned as an escape from the real world over the weekend.

Instead, it's a fight for survival. A nearly constant fight throughout each mission in each war story to stay alive, and to push forward against what is -- a lot of the time -- unwinnable opposition. Your comrades and fellow soldiers have an impact on your success, and you can watch them get cut down by gunfire, but at the same time you become invested in their lives and take responsibility for their deaths.

None of this is fun. It's strange to think that Battlefield 1 is a multi-million-dollar title from EA Games, when the message that it intentionally carries is so honest and emotional. It's not twee or forced or fleeting; it's sombre, and powerful, and strangely enlightening. It almost feels like the multiplayer -- which many Battlefield 1 buyers, the Battlefield faithful, will flock to without a thought for the campaign -- was the price that DICE paid to tell those war stories.

I didn't expect to feel emotions and interest and an investment on the level that I did when I played through Battlefield 1's campaign. I've played dozens of World War shooters before, and beyond the Normandy beach landings in Medal of Honour: Allied Assault, nothing has come close to Battlefield 1 for evoking that sense of awe and disgust and upset that we should all feel when experiencing the stories of a war where 17 million people died.

I didn't expect to be writing this about Battlefield 1. I expected a lot less -- I actually expected a game. I didn't expect history.


Comments

    The death tolls during the first to WW's were....there isn't really a word to capture it. Horrible. Terrible. Tragic.

    Very interesting to see this being made a point in the game. I wonder if we will ever see a game where there are wounded, still alive characters on the battle field.

      I wonder if we will ever see a game where there are wounded, still alive characters on the battle field.

      Cannon Fodder on the Amiga did this. If you didn't finish them off, their pitiful moans would follow you around for the rest of the mission.

        Oh, the agonised cries just came floating back to me. Brr.

    On my way to work, I was listening to a podcast covering the reveal Nintendo Switch, it talked about the 'failure we had to have' re the Wii U.

    Keating-isms aside, I think Battlefied as a franchise is kinda in the same boat. Battlefield: Hardline notwithstanding. the War FPS games probably had to reach some sort of denouement overall before bouncing up to this sort of standard.

    What's old is new again, literally. It's just that this time we're seeing the measured care and craftsmanship we should have seen from the get go.

    I'm about as cynical about the COD-craze as you can probably get, but I'm not immune to it either. I think I'm probably going to have to buy both BF and COD after usually buying either one, or neither and just playing better stuff.

      we're seeing the measured care and craftsmanship we should have seen from the get go.

      Indeed, it's just unfortunate we had to endure 3 rather average to crap games to get a measure of quality again. I haven't enjoyed a BF game since BF2. Now I'm enjoying BF1 on the level I enjoyed 2, it's a pure delight to be playing an online mp game this fun again.

        I pissed around with BF3, but coming from a COD background, I was not that prepared.

        What should I know going in, from a fresh perspective?

          It's massive scale, really massive scale. Very different to a COD game. You get what you put into it essentially. I'm loving the lack of tech in it, the reliance of sight, rather than satellite maps etc.

          Last edited 24/10/16 5:04 pm

    I like the facts on the loading screen in between tips.

    Last edited 24/10/16 1:11 pm

    Because running up a hill with lead armour and a portable machine gun and taking out anti-air guns with a plane is historically accurate.

      The gun and armour technically exist or could exist, that's enough for DICE.

      What are you talking about? It's completely real!

      I remember my grand father telling me tales of WW2 when the Germans shot the hell out of them. They would take cover for about 30 seconds and their health would completely regenerate.

      Actually you should be aware that what they're showing in the game isn't far from the truth. In WW1, lots of different attempts at bullet proof armour was tried, right down to armoured suits.

      Here's a great site showing many different suits:

      http://flashbak.com/world-war-1-body-armor-1914-1918-32670/

        That's true, but some of the uber heroism depicted in the campaign is nonsense.

        I get it, it's a game, but so much of the campaign was "SNEAK INTO THIS AREA, NOW KILL EVERYTHING ON YOUR OWN" when so much of WW1 was "Okay everyone, form a line! Now, run into the machine gun fire!" The artistic license went way too far.

          Well yeah, but that's just the standard take on glorifying war now isn't it. I mean if they REALLY wanted to present a realistic take on war, we'd have the hero cowering behind doors, crying, shaking, probably shooting 2 or 3 people in the whole time of the game, returning home a broken man, taking up alcoholism, living a broken life... doesn't sound as fun lol

            Oh I'm not asking for Trench Simulator 1916 (Press X to stand in mud!) but rather for something that at least bears some resemblance to WW1. The mass infantry actions the war is known for are pretty much ignored in the campaign. They could have easily put in some trench assaults to show the true horror of WW1, but instead it's sneaking around hitting people in the back of the head with shovels, and sometimes taking on an army on your own.

            It's silly, and I have no idea why anyone would think it's a history lesson.

              They purposely avoided the trench warfare to try show all of the other stuff that went on that most people don't know about. That was the whole pitch from the get-go.

      Look up the armoured bicycle with machine gun. This was the early 1900s. They tried all whacky things.

    Battlefield 4 being so bad at launch meant they had to get this right or the franchise was in major trouble. If we had to go through crashing systems when buildings fell to get this masterpiece, so be it.

    The single player intro is heavy but for the rest of the missions you are the Italian terminator or some other ridiculous embodiment of death incarnate. COD1 did a far better job as you actually had other soldier around and felt like shit as they died, this game has very little in the scripted SP game outside of move to flag, capture flag, enemies ahead, engage overdrive murder mode.

    Not to mention the fact that the ANZAC mission I was looking forward to was just an Australian guy at a battle we didn't even attend (once again doing ridiculous solo terminator shit).

      Agree. I really enjoyed the first part of the single player but after that it became pretty samey and boring for me, I finished almost all of it (still need to do the last mission for LoA) but IMO Bad Company 2 is still the best BF single player (and even that had it's boring sections).

    Saw a few gameplay videos... yea, not gonna buy into another BF game's "amazing campaign". Sending your plane to take out AA guns... marching up a hill as the only soldier outfitted with regenerating metal armour... sure. But don't call it representative of the struggles of the average soldier during the war.

    I have no problem with the use of creative license to put bums on seats. The majority of the hardware they issue in BF1 wasn't available until late in the true war, or at all (prototypes etc).

    What I liked was that the source material is treated with the respect it deserves, and is a "pleasant" change to the heroic bravado usually associated with war shooters. For me, the brutality of this conflict as captured by DICE can be summed up with one small piece of the game: the bayonet charge. Those kill animations get me every time, and it's a not so subtle reminder of the horrors these men faced during this dark period of human history.

    I believe, it will only truly be a game about war and the brutality, when we stop conveying the perspective of just 1 side. In this respect we keep getting the side from allied nations. I want to be able to see the perspective from the German and Ottoman Empire. I know maybe there is a decision to not have a game where we kill the winning side, but at least you can maybe do a story on how it feels to be on the side of a nation that ultimately in the end loses.

    I have always wanted a German perspective in a world war 2 game on the Eastern Front where millions shed blood. Sure we do not have to play SS, but we can definitely play from a perspective of a simple wermacht soldier who does not hold the similar ideals of SS. Maybe they could soften it up with a campaign that shows both sides of the line. Sure you can have the allies ultimately win in the end. But at the same time, these so called "enemies" were people too with families. It would be interesting to see the trials and tribulations of ultimate loss instead of always having some bittersweet ending for the ally nations where the hero dies, but he does something that saves the rest. How about a story where, there is not even the slightest hint of victory. Just literally full blown senseless slaughter and the story ends with the characters side being overrun or them just dying of starvation or freezing (example stalingrad ww2) or getting trenchfoot (ww1) where they need it amputated and they go home without a limb.

    In any case. At least DICE is moving in the right direction and I am ultimately impressed by the BF1 stories as it is indeed refreshing.

    Last edited 24/10/16 2:06 pm

      I suggest you look up Valiant Hearts. It tells from soldier level on both of the major sides. It's more of an adventure game, but don't let the art style put you off, it's a very powerful game.

        Yep......Valiant Hearts was a fantastic game.

        Yes exactly. That is the type of story i would like in a battlefield game or any FPS game for that matter. That game had a nice perspective on everything as well as a story that really did leave a sombre note on you.

          Valiant Hearts should be pretty cheap come these holidays too.

    I didn’t expect to be writing this about Battlefield 1. I expected a lot less — I actually expected a game. I didn’t expect history.

    You must have dozed off during history class...because that wasn't it.

    Finished up the campaign last night and wow - even though it was short it left a mark on me more than any of the past Battlefield games and even the past COD games since MW2. I would now love a WW2 game from Dice in the same vein as this for Battlefield 2? Battlefield Scorpio?

    I thought the single player campaign felt pretty sanitised, actually. People get shot, fall over, die. It's all very clean and tidy and bloodless. If you're expecting something with the visceral impact of the Normandy landing in Saving Private Ryan, you won't get it here.

    I hope that sales are strong enough to encourage more of this sort of thing. I'm so tired of everything multiplayer games have to offer.

    BF1 is a good game - but it's a crap WW1 game. The campaign has too many one-man-army moments, such that the true horrors of trench warfare is completely lost after the first mission. Occasionally it's entertaining - like the tank missions, or the pilot missions - but then they immediately break this by making you sneak around murdering everything in sight, effectively eliminating entire platoons on your own. Apparently DICE looked at some photos of WW1 and then didn't bother doing any more research.

    The MP is solid, good fun - but it's basically a fixed, refined BF we've played for the last decade or so with WW1 flavouring. Automatic weapons are way too prevalent, it's very mobile, and basically has only a tenuous link to WW1. It's still a fun game, and I enjoy playing it, but it's so far removed from history that it might as well not even be set in WW1.

    Was really looking forward to this, not expecting it to be realistic.

    Fired it up to see an australian campaign, was overjoyed, for years have wanted a game that let you play as aussies at gallipioli or the french campaign.

    You play as a "runner" which was generally a young kid, except your an old man (fair enough).

    The first level had you sitting on a boat casually looking at the landing, then just casually hopping off the boat and running and gunning up the trenches (this was on hard mode).

    Starting off with a bolt action rifle (mostly correct), but a shotgun as well? I know gallipioli lasted a long time and it had most of its movements at the start and was then a stalemate for ages before the retreat.

    The game has you blazing through 2 trenches, yup two. By the end of the second trench I had a carbine that likely would not have been there and a danish MG that deffinately would not have been there.

    Second level was taking a town which fair enough, but then being assaulted by turks in clean uniforms and full body armor...... no. Final level involving single handedly laying siege to a turkish fort with flamethrower troops all over.

    I wasnt expecting historically accurate but gallipioli could have easily made a 4-8 hour story of brotherhood, mateship and fleshed out good characters from australia, new zealand and england.

    Instead it feels like it was just glossed, over, a not a bloody kiwi remark installed, then a 14yo has told them it needed more smg's and flamethrowers and a siege. Then boom over, whole campaign dusted in 24 minutes.

    I've yet to play the other campaigns but have to say, all my excitement to be playing a campaign inspired by the anzacs..... fell away as soon as I ran through the second trench one handed blasting turks with a machinegun....

      It already was made in to a story of brotherhood and mateship. In 1981.

    Yea look like fake lesson, were they win the gallipoli war, because they won in the game.Cliche murrican fantasies create fake history

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