Battlefield 1: The Kotaku Review

Image: Kotaku

Matthew McConaughey once said that sometimes you need to go back to move forward. The team at DICE must have been very moved by that sentiment. Taking it to heart and pushing the Battlefield series nearly 100 years back into World War I for this year's release of Battlefield 1 was a gamble. It has largely paid off.

The Battlefield first-person shooter series has incrementally embraced modern warfare and its technology ever since 2005's Battlefield 2. Only smaller projects like Battlefield Vietnam explored the series' potential for diverse historical settings. By 2013's Battlefield 4, players may have been exhausted with all the attack choppers, AK-47s, and Abrams tanks. Suffused in the same military fetishization gleefully exhibited by its rival series, Call of Duty, Battlefield was wasting away.

Battlefield 1: The Kotaku Review

Battlefield 1 reinvents the tone of the series, retaining the bombast while emphasising a human element. The game shows the storming of the beaches at Gallipoli but also takes time to have a young soldier vomit with dread as he observes the mass of dead bodies. Battlefield 1 maintains an impressive balance between emotion and spectacle. All the better for a series that was starting to feel a bit too clinical.

This is the first Battlefield title to offer a campaign mode on par with the standards set by games like Modern Warfare. Players can play through five story episodes. Various Allied viewpoints from the war are available and highlight key theatres in the war. From the high mountains of Italy to the muddy trenches of Cambrai, the campaign goes to great lengths to show the global nature of the conflict. The strongest include a chapter focusing on plane combat unreliably narrated by an American volunteer and a story where players take on the role of a deadly Bedouin woman fighting alongside T.E. Lawrence.

Battlefield 1 uses these campaign stories to express the grand scope and devastating cost of the war. They play like a cross between a history channel special and a serial adventure episode, capturing key moments of history while adding fictional embellishments to tell stories of brotherhood, bravery, and blood.

Battlefield 1: The Kotaku Review

At times, the story missions do not earn the gravitas offered. One clunky episode rushes through the Battle of Gallipoli while trying to tell a tale about a grizzled vet protecting a young recruit. Another exceptionally short mission attempts to tell a tale of brotherhood between Italian soldiers but largely fails. We do not always spend enough time with these characters to see their relationship develop to a level where their interactions and sacrifices resonate. In these moments, the dreadful seriousness that dominates earlier campaign missions turns maudlin and manipulative.

Occasional attempts to explain the causality between the war and modern politics can feel similarly perfunctory. The campaign wishes to explore concepts like industrialisation and colonialism but we are only ever told of their long term effects and not shown. The game might take time to highlight the fact that Britain and France reneged on their promise for Arab independence after the Ottoman Empire fell but these moments play like mere footnotes when they could have been leveraged for great emotional effect. What does the Bedouin protagonist think of this? We never learn.

Educational opportunities are missed as well. The game is narrated by a member of the 'Harlem Hellfighters', a segregated unit of African American soldiers. He exists largely to tick a diversity box for marketing. The game does nothing to tell his story. The campaign eschews opportunities to comprehensively explore the setting in favour of a historical smorgasbord that falls short at times, presenting history without exploring it in full.

Despite these minor stumbles, the campaign is the most remarkable aspect of Battlefield 1. The Great War marks a turning point in how war was fought. World War One was a Rubicon foolishly rushed over in the name of arcane imperial alliances. It was a disaster exacerbated by the liberal use of chemical weapons and new, industrial killing machines. Battlefield 1 doesn't completely capture the horrors of the war but it doesn't egregiously disrespect its setting either.

Battlefield 1: The Kotaku Review

That's one side of the coin. What about the other? Simply put: Battlefield 1's multiplayer is the strongest in the series since Bad Company 2. It is full of grand feats of daring that are enhanced by the game's tremendous sound and environmental design.

The game retains series staples like the point-capturing Conquest mode or the limited respawn based Rush mode. The highlight is a new mode called Operations. It pits two forces against each other in an narrative experience based on real campaigns such as the trench battles of the Kaiserschlacht or the astoundingly bloody Meuse-Argonne Offensive.

Battlefield 1: The Kotaku Review

Teams battle for control of sectors, pushing back and forth to create a miniature story. It is a demanding game mode, with matches lasting close to an hour. They are an indispensable cornerstone of Battlefield 1's online experience.

The multiplayer benefits from less glamorous back-end improvements. It's much easier in this Battlefield to create custom games and browse for the maps you want to play on. Battlefield 1 ditches EA's absurd and convoluted Battlelog social platform, returning to an in-game server browser. Again, sometimes you need to go back to go forward.

There's a deliberate quality to multiplayer in Battlefield 1. The aged, ramshackle weaponry slows the pace just enough to give each action the player takes more purpose. There are plenty of loud, dangerous charges up hills and tight trench battles, but they are counterbalanced by Hail Mary sniper shots and gut-wrenching melee executions. Dynamic weather effects sometimes fill maps with heavy mist, torrential rain, or furious sandstorms without warning. The shifting tone helps prevents matches from feeling repetitive.

Battlefield 1: The Kotaku Review

The AAA commercialization of war is among the video games industry's worst traits. It packages the blood, sweat, and sacrifice of our ancestors into a "fun" consumer product or else cynically speculates a future defined by unending war. With Battlefield 1, DICE managed to create an experience that generally sidesteps poor taste in favour of something respectful, if sometimes a bit too romantic. There is a fundamental tension between the single player's gravitas and the goofier components of multiplayer but in spite of this Battlefield 1 is a compelling and refreshingly honest AAA title.

There are some small annoyances. The lack of a French campaign or Central Powers story mission is a disappointment given how comprehensive Battlefield 1 wants to be in covering the war. Missing features like a gun practice range or even the simple ability to alter your loadouts from the main menu begin to devalue the multiplayer experience.

The game is nevertheless a remarkable overachiever. Battlefield 1's creators could have taken the easy road. They could have omitted a campaign. They could have hastily assembled its multiplayer like the atrociously conceived Star Wars Battlefront. They didn't. In this day and age, that makes all the difference in the world and it made all the difference here. Battlefield 1 could have been a disrespectful mess. Instead, it rises above to deliver an outstanding historical shooter.


Comments

    Clunky episode? Honestly? I felt that one had a lot of heart and soul in it. The episode with the American stealing the plane was fun but played out like a stock standard yank action movie, but that aussie episode was a genuine treat. I enjoyed the heart and sentiment it brought with it, rather than just the bravado and bullshit flagwaving mentality honestly.

    I will agree though, a few campaigns based from the Turks sides would have been good to see, even if it had you fighting the Australians, maybe on the germans side even? There's no reason we can't do it now in our age of critical thinking. These people weren't monsters, they were men and women, boys and girls like us who were terrified to be on those battlefields, it's' about time this was explored.

      There's no reason we can't do it now in our age of critical thinking

      You certainly don't seem as though you're from around these parts, boy. I rightly recollect not taking too kindly to your 'open mindedness' type, Mr 'Critical Thunker'. Hell, check this walkabout for any signs of a concussion, y'all - he isn't offended enough! I DON"T TRUST HIM!

        Pretty sure you are just trolling, but I am still gonna bite.

        Apparently having complicated opinions that fall neither left no right is something we make jokes about. A lot of people here tend to fall somewhere middle of the row (with either slight left or slight right leanings), it does not mean that they aren't decent people; it just means that they don't fully subscribe to either side.

        Just because some of the community on this website live in echo chambers, doesn't mean we all should.

          It was a joke about society at large, definitely not meaning 'around these parts' as the community here. I just get a little weary of how so many people are out looking for a band-aid for their emotional sensitivities to what is often fairly innocuous material and/or opinions. I think there are very intelligent people who are capable of critical thinking, but it certainly ain't the 'age of it' (and God bless you, Weresmurf, for giving people that much credit) ... we got a LOT more evolving to do as a species in order to claim that mantle. I'm glad it amused some people, though :D

            There's a comment I heard once, might be a movie, might be a book, can't remember where...

            "Individuals and small groups of people are intelligent, sophisticated beings capable of great progress and elevating humanity beyond its current state sending us to the stars and beyond. However, these same people in large groups are panicky idiots who revert to an almost imbecilic state who send us back fifty thousand years and act like the cavemen they truly are."

            It's a contradictory term that I always remember for some reason, that fits the human race so well lol.

              Pretty sure it was Men in Black.

                Yeah men in Black had a variant, infact I THINK the person I heard state the above comment was paraphrasing MiB lol

        All good I got a laugh out of this post lol.

          The above exchange is awesome. This is the kind of critical analysis and banter I would love to see more of on Kotaku. Huzzah!!

          Disclaimer - I am not being sarcastic.

      Especially I think with WWI it's easier to do something from the German's side. I still think it would be a stretch to do something from the German's perspective in WWII (the notion of the monstrous Nazi's is still all to real) but WWI was fought by terrified people on both sides, dying because people in power were trying to gain more land and money. It is a lot more grey than WWII is in that regard. At least in the minds of a lot of people it is.

        World War 2 would be excellent to explore from a German Soldiers point of view imho. Have it from a standard troops point of view, not a Nazi soldier, and show the oppression even basic foot troops were exposed to, how the Nazi soldiers treated even them during the war. There was a lot of this occurring on basic german troops who abandoned their posts during the later times, were subjected to death at the hands of the Nazis. I will never, ever defend a german who chose to become a Nazi, ever. However, I will defend the fact not all German soldiers were Nazis and not all German soldiers were bad, they were fighting for land and country quite often and got dragged into a war by an evil man. In that sense, taking on that angle, I believe an *amazing* story could be told, one of loyalty, compassion, patriotism, betrayal and horrific reality as you realise you're fighting for the wrong side in the end...

          You just have to pick the right battle and front. The battle where the German army (not SS) fought to keep open a line to allow their forces and civilians to surrender to the Western Allies over the Soviets in the last days of WW2 could be done well. Mostly because you aren't fighting to win, just to make sure you surrender to the more tolerant side.

          There are even reports during that time of German Army fighting their SS counterparts who wanted to fight on.

            Yep indeed there were. I believe that making a game from the German point of view could infact produce one of the most complex, indepth and challenging ww2 games we've ever seen.

    I feel like the first battle should really have been from a French point of view. They really did deal with the hardest parts of the war and tend to get forgotten or placed in the background whenever western media depict WW1.

      After playing over the weakend I lost a lot of love for the game. There are a lot of bugs that werent there in the beta, some of the ones I have experienced are;
      -View locking up when I get in vehicles, this also stops me from firing.
      -There are also times when I have become stuck in fixed position guns, unable to dismount until I die.
      -Being locked out of ADS, game acts like I have a gas mask still on if I put on and then quickly remove it.
      -The bayonet charge system is unreliable, I seem to either charge straight through the center for them or stop charging when I touch a leaf on the ground.
      -Hit reg is odd at times, I feel like I can see my bullets strike the enemy model, but I get no feedback.
      -Planes routinely displace if the pilot has a ping above 150.
      -Being revived results in me facing away from where I was looking, often causing me to die instantly again.
      -Cavalry and mechanics spawning on foot.
      -Menu options do not display at times.

      Other than that the usual gripes about class balance (on pc).

        I'm having the same issue as you in regards to vehicles/things locking up when entering them - Try this little workaround i discovered.

        When you enter a vehicle/gun and it locks up just alt tab and then go back into it, seems to work for now.

        View locking in vehicles can be fixed with a strike of F1. Dunno why, but it works!

          I got around it by alt tabbing, but that would definitely be easier.

          Thanks.

    My only complaint so far, too many automatic weapons that fire too fast.

    The Gallipoli story was way too romanticised and really didn't do the story justice. What I would have really loved to see in the campaign was the Battle of Beersheba! The charge of the Australian Light Horse would have been amazing to play out in the game!

    I am hesitant to buy the season pass, only because I am sick of paying $70 for a game, then having to pay another $70 for the rest of it and get disappointed. I would love to see some more War Stories added though. Multiplayer is good, but if they wanted to make a war story for every significant event of the War, I am sure people would pay good money for it!

      That's actually a really good idea, and I'd put money down for re-enactments of famous War Stories.

    Enjoyed the campaigns more than I thought, they're simple yet refreshing in how the stories are kept short, I felt emotionally invested which is a feat considering they don't have much time to suck you in.

    Multiplayer is off its head, so glad its not like Battlefront!!! I'll be playinf Bf1 for the next 2 years.

    Game is great so far. What actually sucks are the menus and UI overall. Slow, clunky and unintuitive. I actually had to get somebody to tell me how to unlock guns and gadgets because I could find it in the menu. I could go to the "My Soldier" bit which would show me what I could buy and how many points I had to buy it with, but wouldn't actually let me buy any of it. It seems you can only unlock stuff and change loadout etc whilst in a game, which is a pain in the arse.

    But on the positive side, we have a major online game being released and all I've really got to complain about are the menus rather than the game itself or the servers. I have to acknowledge that as being a step forward.

      I haven't found anything to change loadouts either, whilst not in a game. It's weird, they moved away from Battlelog and lost functionality because of it...

        Even with Battlelog, though - I shouldn't need to use a separate app just to be able to do this kind of basic stuff that should be easily accessible right there in the menus.

          Don't get me wrong, I agree with you completely. It's why it's jarring that they now have the benefits of having everything in the in-game menu but it appears I can't do as much with it.

    I enjoy it waaaaaay more than BF4.

      It seems less complicated to me. I think it's nice to have something without a MILLION options to choose from. I am really enjoying the change.

    I am having a great time with the game. Only thing is I really want to play the Operations mode but the servers are always empty so I cant play it, has anyone else found this problem and/or a solution?

      To be fair, I haven't played much in the way of Operations, but I've had a lot more luck with the 40 person matches rather than 64.

      They also have the advantage of being MUCH better balanced. Attackers have a better chance to win, but not overwhelmingly so. Whereas the 64 man servers I've seen attackers win maybe 5-10% of the time. The 40 man games are also much less clusterfuck-y.

    Matthew McConaughey once said, "Alright, alright, alright."

      "That's what I love about these high school girls, man. I get older, they stay the same age".

    Spent the majority of the weekend playing BF1 - PC.
    I wish i had a month off to play this amazing game!

    Last edited 24/10/16 12:33 pm

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