When it comes to the long-running Battlefield series, the thought of multiplayer immediately springs to mind, and with good reason. For well over a decade, developer DICE has strived to perfect their unique take on the multiplayer shooter, and depending on who you ask, Battlefield stands as the king of online shooters, despite their lack of annual releases (which one can argue is a part of the series’ success).
Earlier this year, DICE and publisher Electronic Arts pulled back the curtain on Battlefield 1, which turned more than a few heads. Interesting naming conventions aside, the decision to turn back the clock to World War I was peculiar to say the least. As most first-person shooters continue to move into the future (both near and far), Battlefield 1’s setting stands in stark contrast to where the industry is headed as a whole.
I’ll be the first to admit that I had written off the World War I settings as nothing more than window dressing; an aesthetic choice that was meant to generate buzz and water-cooler talk. During my (brief) hands-on time with the game at E3 this year, it was hard for me to discern exactly what the game’s setting brought to the table, as I was mostly focused on staying alive and working with my teammates to secure victory.
Last week, however, I had the opportunity to go hands on with the game’s single player, which up until now, has mostly been teased through snippets of information and brief teaser trailers. To put it simply, I walked away from my time with the game’s story mode thoroughly impressed, which is a rarity (for me) when it comes to the franchise as a whole.
The game’s prologue, titled Storm of Steel, only clocks in at 15 minutes or so, but as a precursor to the game’s War Stories, it leaves a very strong impression from the get-go. As per a discussion I had with one of the game’s producers, DICE is aiming to deliver a more personal tale with Battlefield 1; one that focuses on the individual combatants and their struggles and plights, as opposed to recreating key battles and moments from the perspective of a throwaway soldier.
Anachronisms aside, the game opens with a soldier struggling to sleep peacefully in bed, as a recording of “Dream a Little Dream of Me” plays in the background. The game quickly reveals that this is a façade of sorts, as said soldier is actually in the middle of a chaotic battle, with friends and foes dropping all around him. Before long, you’re given control to move around and shoot freely, though it’s worth noting that the visuals and attention to detail is what stands out the most here.
Sporting a physically-based renderer and some incredible lighting effects, Battlefield 1 boasts a significant visual upgrade compared to its predecessors. High-resolution textures are used throughout (I was hard-pressed to find any low-res art), and alpha and particle effects (such as fog, fire, and explosions) are liberally used, lending a more authentic look and feel to the battlefield.
An incredible amount of work has been done on the in-game character models as well. As evidenced by the cutscenes, character models look incredibly realistic; more impressively, motion capture and animation looks spot on, as you can see how the game interprets motion and transfer of weight and energy as characters walk and run.
As I mentioned previously, Storm of Steel is a fairly brief affair, but it does an excellent job of introducing players to the basics of running and gunning, as well as a brief section of tank gameplay. You’ll also catch a glimpse at ‘elite classes,’ which are essentially more powerful loadouts that both allies and enemies can take advantage of. In this particular section, enemy soldiers are occasionally outfitted with armor and flamethrowers, which can prove problematic should they flank you or if you get within range of their flamethrower.
To their credit, DICE’s adheres closely to their goal of crafting a more personal tale with their war stories. As the prologue progresses, you’ll switch between controlling a handful of soldiers as they each are tragically killed, with the screen flashing each soldier’s name and date of birth/death as they pass on. It might be simple and gimmicky, but it does an excellent job of reminding us of the consequences of war; a far cry from most video games which have you control a preternaturally-talented soldier who manages to survive bullet wounds and explosions without any permanent damage. The prologue also finishes with an excellent cinematic, which teases some of the locations and characters you’ll be seeing in the game’s many War Stories.
During my hands-on time with the game, I also had the chance to play through the game’s first ‘War Story’, titled Through Mud and Blood. In a nice change of pace, this story in particular focuses on piloting a tank, as you control a British soldier who has just arrived on the war front (his experience as a chauffeur is the justification for him driving a tank; take that as you will). The game’s use of destruction and visual effects help to convey the chaotic nature of the battlefield, but it’s the focus on gameplay and mission variety that kept me engaged for well over an hour.
This particular war story is broken up into four parts, with the first section focusing on recapturing a few key areas on the map. Interestingly, the game’s user interface borrows some elements from the multiplayer mode; this is most evident when you’re capturing a specific location. After your tank is heavily damaged, the game focuses on stealth, as you are tasked with taking out enemy outposts to ensure your tank remains intact as you progress slowly through a foggy forest.
There’s also a nighttime mission, which has you sneaking around a local village and salvaging spare parts for repairing the tank (which I should mention, is charmingly named Black Bess). Although you can choose to run in guns-blazing, it’s infinitely more rewarding to take out enemies without sounding any alarms. I was lucky enough to stumble upon a silenced sniper rifle, which made this section a tad easier. The last part of Through Mud and Blood has you re-capturing a local railyard from the German army. Unfortunately, my time ran short during this section, but for your pleasure, I went out in an explosive fashion.
While I didn’t get the chance to play through all of the game’s War Stories, my time with Storm of Steel and Through Mud and Blood has certainly left me wanting more of Battlefield 1, which rarely happens to me when it comes to first-person shooter campaigns.
This game was previewed at an EA-hosted review event at DICE Los Angeles, on provided PCs with Intel Six Core CPUs and AMD Fury X graphics cards. Be sure to check back on October 16th for our preview of the game’s multiplayer portion, and on October 17th for our final, scored review.