Battlefield 1's Multiplayer Undercuts Its Dramatic Single Player Campaign

Diving into Battlefield 1 has been a surprising experience. Making a game that focuses on the absolute tragedy that was World War One seemed like a setup for failure. The single player campaign has genuinely impressed me, but when multiplayer is added to the mix, there's a fundamental tension that cannot be reconciled. Battlefield 1's campaign is sombrely focused on the magnitude of the Great War; from soldier to soldier, it highlights the War's absolute waste of life. Story missions might feature plenty of heroic moments, but they are ultimately bittersweet. There's always a cost to heroism. You will lose comrades and, if you survive, an ineffable part of your innocence is left on the battlefield. War sucks.

The multiplayer entirely undermines this message. Levelling up to get new weapons, nailing amazing headshots and winning yet another control point round are all experiences meant to be engaging but ultimately frivolous. Count to 10 and you'll respawn for another life. Lose a round, but in the next the map resets as if nothing was lost. Everything is consequence-free. War is a game.

In America, there is a particularly distanced and detached perspective on World War One that can be distressing given the truly horrific nature of its battles. It is glossed over in history courses in favour of the less ambiguous World War II. I wonder if that make it easier for some people to treat Battlefield 1 as just a game. This was a war that saw mass violations of the Hague Conventions. That is the reality. Because of this, there's something fundamentally uncomfortable about unlocking gas grenades for your multiplayer character. Or calling in massive artillery strikes. We cannot and should not ignore it.

Sometimes my stomach sinks when I play Battlefield 1. I have many reservations about the depiction of any war in video games. War games can feel like disaster tourism, fetishising weaponry and dehumanising the enemy in order to be palatable and consumable. See the spectacle! Marvel at the excitement from the safety of your couch! We have more beta players than the Ottoman Empire had soldiers! Take 'em out for King and Country!

The developers boasted of a successful beta by comparing player numbers to that of real soldiers and showcased the Battle of Amiens while Snoop Dog ragdolled about on the battlefield. At times, I wonder if they are taking their subject matter seriously or simply exploiting it for profit. But even in the face of questionable marketing, even as a highly polished commercial product that commodifies war, I believe that Battlefield 1 is operating in good faith. The campaign's gravitas does not read as emotionally exploitative, but rather as a genuine attempt to tell human stories. Despite the tonal contrast between the campaign and the multiplayer, this game has something to say.

Battlefield 1 says two different things. On the one hand, it wants to tell me that war is hell. On the other, it wants to tell me that war is fun. It wants me to mourn the loss of life but also wants me to unlock new guns and customise my arsenal. In isolation, each game mode has merits, but as a whole they clash terribly.

(Source: FilthyScratchKid, Gfycat)

The end result is confusing. Battlefield 1 is the most human and affecting entry to the series thus far, while also being surprisingly tactless in many ways. I don't doubt Battlefield 1's intentions, but I'm wary. Intent only goes so far, and the game's systems have an attitude towards war that is far removed from its dramatic narrative. The campaign paints a sorrowful picture of massive waste of human life, and it is a genuine shame to see a lot of that emotion melt away when some arsehole from the Central Powers teabags me.


Comments

    I will definately finish the Campaign before I jump in to Multiplayer. Like you said the contrast between Loss and Respawn are quite significant. If I jump between the two I'm afraid I would not get the emotional entanglement I would like out of the Campaign if I have already spent hours in Multiplayer constantly respawning and Ranking up.

    At times, I wonder if they are taking their subject matter seriously or simply exploiting it for profit.

    So your first time with an EA property then?

      Or Journalism :3

      I expect about 15 articles here after BF1 is released about its depiction of war.

      Last edited 15/10/16 12:48 pm

        Same lol. I have a bit of a laugh personally when people complain it's not depicting war accurately. I mean... seriously who the fuck wants a game to depict war properly? Do you WANT a game to? Really??? Do you WANT the actual horrors of war actually represented? The PTSD that follows you home after? The horror of seeing your friends killed? The disease and dysentary that leaves permanent marks on your body? The horrors of losing your family as they try their best to help but can't because the PTSD becomes too much over time? The potential physical abuse that stems from the PTSD that you can't handle? The abandonment by your government and ill treatment by a crap healthcare system that won't give you full coverage and treatment for your mental healthcare... right up to the moment you can't decide if you want to pop some pills, hang yourself or put a damn gun in your mouth and end it all?

        There's your *real* war simulator right there. Not shooty shooty bang bang.

        And yes I've got personal experience in ALL of this through family members who were at war, so when I see people complain a game about war isn't 'real' enough, I get all kinds of condescending :)

        I'll take my wargames hyper-fucking-stylised :) and wether it's about geographical locations, actual numbers of people involved or accurate representations of weaponry, *none* of that is accurate either. So none of it's worth people arguiing over realistically, unless we want to see planes shaking themselves apart from poor construction in mid air for example (which would be kinda cool lol).

        Last edited 15/10/16 12:57 pm

    Game experience may change during online play.

    Great to hear that the campaign sounds like a step up this time around.

    Is this a joke? What do you expect multiplayer to be

    Man I've heard nothing but positive things about the campaign, looking forward to getting my hands on this game even more.

    Bragging about the no. of players vs. no. of soldiers deployed in Middle Eastern theatre during WW1?

    Comment as much as you want about how emotionally affecting the campaign of this game is - especially that bird level - because the industry shows time and time again how incapable it is of handling subtlety or respect for history.

    Video games are gonna video game.

    I mean you could apply the same argument to other games that feature both single player and multiplayer components. Call of Duty does the same, Titanfall 2 will do the same and even Spec Ops The Line had a multiplayer mode that was at odds with its single player.

    Even the multiplayer only game Verdun feels odd, even though it is attempting to be more realistic.

    Easiest thing to do is separate the two as if they are different games. Save yourself the trouble.

    Last edited 15/10/16 12:52 pm

    Surely people can figure that multiplayer and singleplayer are different entities.

    War is hell. War Games are fun. Not overly complicated.

      I came here to write exactly this. Are you me, by any chance?

    There's no real way to make the MP similar to actual ww1 battlefields without it being constant charging against machine guns and artillery. It wouldn't be fun unless you start making concessions for gameplay... when it becomes WW2 with a 1916 skin.

    The multiplayer is essentially the same mechanics as BF1942. The single player is, as you report, a brilliant game. I don't quite know what else you expect from a Battlefield game than that?

      Exactly. The media moans and groans when the campaign is boring, shallow and doesnt tackle its subject matter in a confound way. And then a developer does bring forth a great campaign (by the sounds of it) they find something else to complain about. Its a video game. BF multiplayer is some of the best fps multiplayer around, why would they stray from that hallmark gameplay. And if they did make it more realistic, the articles would all be about how BF1 strayed too far from its roots. Its a video game. But i do understand your a games journalist. you need to write something right?

    "Competitive multiplayer mode is different to scripted campaign, just like every other FPS ever made" shocker.

    I don't necessarily agree with the sentiment of the article (though I don't fully disagree). But i'm here to say thanks for actually going to the trouble of writing something meaty and giving an opinion. It's a stark contrast to some of your colleagues one sentence + link to youtube vid articles.

      Yeah but look at all the comments so far. This is "one sentence + link to youtube" audience.

    So far it doesn't look like there's going to be a campaign seen from the German point of view. This is a pity for a game that is striving to show how tragic and senseless the First World War was, and how it affected everyone. Except for the losers, DICE appears to be saying.

    Sometimes i question the efficacy of these "wonder" stories, where the writer just ponders a random thought wondering if there's a reasonable conclusion to be reached.

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