First, a quick disclaimer: far too much of this past weekend was spent playing the latest flag-capturing shooter from DICE, and not nearly enough time was dedicated to writing about it. The result is less wordy bits to read here, meaning there’s very little padding and fluff, fewer smart-looking but terrible-sounding sentences, and more solid information about what you can expect. It’s a win for everyone really. [I have no idea what you just said. But it seemed pretty inspirational or whatever, so I’ll leave it alone. – Ed.]
This is Battlefield 1, which means it’s really almost exactly like Battlefield 4 but with different maps, weapons and vehicles. If you’re okay with that then get excited. There’s been some negativity aimed at Call of Duty: Infinite War for its lack of imagination, but they’re really just doing the same thing as DICE is doing here. Underneath the new setting and time period lies the same game, just made slightly different. The fact that DICE decided to reach far back in time for their new aesthetic and ideas means they’ve won the marketing war (for now, at least) that’ll decide which is the best shooter for your festive money.
Personally, I don’t understand why the prospect of a World War I-themed game has gotten everyone so excited. That said, if you think about it, one of the more fun Call of Duty games was World at War, which was set in World War II, or more correctly returned the series to World War II. These developers are going to need to think hard about their next batch of sequels and franchise-servicing efforts. If they travel back in time too far we’re going to be using bows, arrows and swords. [Wait, I’m confused again. Are you saying multiplayer games with bows, swords and arrows don’t/can’t/shouldn’t exist? Sometimes I worry you know next to nothing about games that aren’t Call of Duty, Battlefield and Ark: I GOT ME SOME DERNOSAURS AND PAINTED MY FENCE GREEN. – Ed.]
So Battlefield 1 is set in World War I. The beta lets you play Rush or Conquest on the game’s Sinai Desert map. Rush gives more direction to the fighting while Conquest is really just random madness punctuated by random accidental teamwork. The setting is appropriately desert-like, as you can see in the screenshots. Sandy browns, sandy oranges and black rocks make up the landscape, which is littered with the odd dusty settlement here and there. The desert setting looks really snappy, and the map is ringed with mountains on one side and endless desert sand on the other. It’s not like anything you’ve seen in recent Battlefield games and right from the start feels like something different, new and special. [Wait, more confusion. So does Battlefield 1 feel the same, or different? WHAT IS GOING ON? – Ed.] To make things more complicated the occasional sandstorm blows through the map, reducing visibility to almost zero. This is good for sneaking around because getting caught moving between distant desert objectives on foot without the sandstorms for cover often leads to a quick death.
Modes of transport include biplane fighters and bombers in the sky, and tanks and trucks on the ground. There’s also the much-anticipated horseback warfare. [I now feel like they really missed a fantastic opportunity by not calling this game Battlefield: Horseback Warfare. – Ed.] It offers up a glorious vintage collection of things to play with, and in so doing it makes me marvel at how far we’ve come. [Maybe insofar as our ability to conduct warfare is concerned. I’ll only believe the human race has made real, meaningful progress when we genetically engineer the first talking goose. Or when I can walk into a public bathroom without feeling like I just entered a receptacle of pure despair. – Ed.] Everything feels clunky and laborious, there’s no ABS on the brakes or heat-seeking missiles. It’s very much point-and-shoot while worrying about how flimsy your armour seems. Considerable research has gone into the locations of doors [… – Ed.] and the look and feel of everything.
It’s really great to be playing in this time period and seeing how your modern military-shooter knowhow translates into kills and point capturing back in World War I. [A second ago you weren’t sure what the big deal with World War I is. Stop sending me mixed signals! At this point, it’s like you’ve fed me dodgy-looking sushi and it’s got me questioning whether or not I feel all… food poison-y. – Ed.] Just don’t expect to hear people shouting modern-military lingo like November, Alpha or Golf over the airwaves. This is a time before the standardisation of the NATO phonetic alphabet, so the game uses the RAF radio alphabet. Which means it’s B for butter and G for George. You learn something new every day.
My overall, end-of-the-weekend impression is a good one. There’s a little something special for everyone in Battlefield 1. If you like charging into battle on horseback and cutting down the enemy with a sword, you can do it. If you want to use a biplane to do a strafing run on a group of soldiers shortcutting across the desert, you can. All the mechanics of a Battlefield game are in there and work well. It feels good, it’s loads of fun and for a change it offers up something really different. [I honestly don’t know how to feel anymore. I think I need to lie down. – Ed.] Good on DICE and EA for taking a bit of a gamble with the franchise. This first-person, History Channel-inspired shooter is going to make smarter soldiers out of all of us.