New Battlefield; same as the old Battlefield? No, no
• Publisher: Electronic Arts
• Requirements: AMD FX-8350 or equivalent, 12GB RAM, GeForce GTX 960 2GB or equivalent, 50GB free HDD or SSD space, Windows 7 64-bit or later, an internet connection
By many accounts the previous addition to the Battlefield franchise. Battlefield Hardline, was a flop. Interest quickly waned and at the time of writing a peak of just 1,500 players played (on PC) within the last day. But while it’s hard to understand what Hardline’s long-term goal was, Battlefield Vs brief is clear: Wash away doubts, prove worthy, deliver a triple A experience and – most stunningly – regard World War I with fear-addled awe. Early indications are it has achieved on all fronts.
Beyond the usual complaints on pricing (Ultimate Edition costs a painful £105), BF1 has taken on a subject with such gravitas and ideological depth that only current PC power and true developmental vision can do it justice. World War One, as we know, was a war of frightening firsts. Tremendous terror, mechanical monsters and hideously inhuman experiences. Dice knows this and provides solemn reflection in a title offering gaming excellence.
This is obvious from the very start; if downloading BF1 you can jump in as soon as it is 33% ready. This doesn’t allow you to go straight into multiplayer, as might be the first instinct of many. What it does allow is the opportunity to enhance an appreciation of the BF1 experience as a whole. Battlefield Vs Campaign mode (‘War Stories’) installs in sequence, and it’s the first playable option while still downloading ‘Storm of Steel’.
As a soldier rests in what appears to be a bedroom, an early jazz record can beard before the screen fades-to-black. Introductory captions appear and we soon get a sense of the historical horror being channelled. A haunting message appears and you are flung into frontline combat in a disorientating and breathless manner. This furious entry signals the start of a stunning, darkly real single-player experience – like no other I’ve witnessed in a first-person shooter.
As the War Stories unfold, the hopeless scale of warfare – and of first World War warfare specifically – resonates through DICE’S spectacular graphical work. Technically BFI is an achievement to be applauded, yet it is the combination of this excellence with the weight of the history on hand which creates something compelling and befitting serious contemplation. The truth be told, such was the uneasiness felt by me throughout pre-game promotional material, I wondered if I might enjoy the game at all.
Yet just enjoying BFI, especially the Campaign mode, doesn’t seem wholly appropriate. As the War Stories and tiny fragments of four years-worth of global warfare are represented, a real sense of experience is revealed. This in emphasised by incredible cut-scenes and juxtapositions of hope and hopelessness. A specific point featuring a war-pigeon is incredibly powerful, providing a light airiness in a mass of madness. These stories do contain traditional gaming elements. Yet beyond collecting war diaries and surviving, the ultimate reward is experiencing Dice’s bringing these stories to life. Yes, somewhere within the single-player fun and the detached escapism of gaming is found. But this always seems a secondary effect; something arriving after the breadth of emotions delivered by various characters engaged in their own battles.
While the campaign mode brings Dice’s sensitivity towards brutal histories to life, Battlefield 7’s multiplayer is a clear step forward from Battlefield 4. Some were concerned when the subject matter was revealed: what of weapons and unlocks? What of achievements and medals – the stuff of standardised multiplayer progression? With warfare so stripped of the usual tech gizmos and semi-real weapons and devices, there was a real sense that BF1 might prove…. not boring, but inferior. My impressions and those of my friends couldn’t be further from this fear. Although a fair bit of the gameplay in BF1 is likely historically questionable, there’s a sense that the inclusions of weapons, attachments and even vehicles have been carefully considered. These blur the lines of realism and playability. The emphasis is on engagement but being representative of the actual era isn’t completely disregarded.
In multiplayer, this balance delivers superbly. Although some balancing will likely occur in future patches, there is a very real sense of all-out war with era-orientated capabilities. Warfare is equally competitive and in some instances even more brutal – melee kills with clubs and shovels are certainly winceworthy. Squads and classes are Battlefield bread and butter and clearly these return to reinforce the team-work ethic fans have grown to love. There’s little extra here, but the ability to set three different configurations of one class and then picking the best for the fight or mode on hand, is something long-sought.
There are staple multiplayer game-modes of course. Conquest, Rush, Domination and Team Deathmatch are joined by the frantic War Pigeons (capture, keep control and release three pigeons to win), as well as the epic Operations. This mode offers the chance to play through representations of real-life battles, spanning several maps, as attackers look to gain ground and push defenders back and defenders seek to hold firm. Dice has revealed it wanted to introduce a multiplayer option “beyond an hour of playtime” and it’s a decision vindicated by a varied and highly enjoyable mode travelling varied landscapes and objectives.
What is a concern for multiplayer traditionalists is the current server situation: As EA decided not to allow individuals to host their own servers at launch, it is unclear quite what customisation options will actually be available. It’s somewhat pressing too, as cheaters have populated Battlefield 1 early. EA’s own anticheat technologies are in place on its servers, but these rarely prove 100% effective. As a result, a sizable portion of the Battlefield community wants for ‘community’ servers with favoured settings and active admins able to keep their own servers clear of trouble makers.
From a technical viewpoint, the self-hosted server omission is surely the biggest let-down, particularly when other technology driven aspects are so rewarding. It is here that I’ll repeat: BF1 is graphically stunning. However, to get the best from it, your system needs some solid gaming power. Generous RAM is recommended and a recent graphics card too. After all the latest outing for the Frostbite 3 engine can deliver 4K gaming at 60fps. With EA’s official servers run at a 60Hz tick rate, there’s plenty of speed and visual delight on offer. Honestly, some of the landscapes and effects are jaw-dropping. DirectX 12 and asynchronous multithreaded graphics support is yet another reason for the technically minded to invest!
So where does this land us? Well, a stunning, intense and sensitive BF1 experience is held within a slick menu system and this epitomises the great all-round work Dice has done. Although there is always more to do with online games, the developer has delivered a fantastic Battlefield title, a Hardline burier and perhaps it’s greatest release to date. Future expansions and updates will of course seal the fate of Battlefield 1, but this is a truly excellent beginning. Battlefield 1 may not be the FPS to beat all FPS games. But it is a true achievement of conceptualisation, of respect for history and of pushing wargames beyond the realm of enjoyment… into the intensely experiential, mm Kevin Pocock
Intense, contemplative, rewarding and excellent
Intense, contemplative, rewarding and excellent