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Battlefield 1 and the benefits of change

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I was not a fan of the previous Battlefield game, Battlefield: Hardline. Not only did I find it tedious, but also insulting. The game, released in 2015, glorified American militarised police and gun violence, an issue that is literally life and death for many people today. Instead of engaging with issues, as Mafia 3 did, Hardline used this as cardboard cutouts and remained immorally silent. There are no engagement and so little humanity.

Now comes Battlefield 1.

Set during World War 1, humanity has been poured into its single-player campaign in a remarkable way. Of course, the game’s story is precisely about the blood-soaked humanity lying on the battlefield, rolled over by tanks and guns – the game portrays a historical event, but it’s more apocalyptic than anything I’ve played recently. Ominous words dot the screen, detailing historical facts, mixed with a banal judgement on moral evils. This is perfectly encapsulated in some of the first words you encounter:

“What follows is frontline combat. You are not expected to survive.”

The sense of futility immediately hits you before you even fire a gun. It’s both a recognition of the war’s futility and a subtle nod to the people’s bravery on the frontline.

The single player campaign is designed to throw you into the shoes of various characters, for short bursts of story, within unique settings. They can be played in any order and each one requires different skills. It’s not hard to see this conveniently provides tutorial and training for the incredible multiplayer mode.

You begin in the shoes of a Harlem Hellfighter, the very ones not expected to survive, yet who fought hardest. The Hellfighters were the first African American regiment to serve with the American Expeditionary Forces during World War 1. The 369th Regiment were dubbed the “Hellfighters” by the Germans, due to their bravery and skill, never losing ground or soldiers to battle. An unnamed Hellfighter narrates the entirety of the campaign, too, putting into context what each story entails.

The Stories are short, but varied enough that you’re never confused what you’re playing. The most memorable missions, for me, involved being a tank driver. EA Dice manage to convey a sense of claustrophobia of soldiers being cooped up in a tank, and the gravity of the damage they’re dealing with. The landscape slides under the giant machines wheels, as it coughs and huffs its way along sometimes beautiful, sometimes devastated landscapes.

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Yet this mission wasn’t merely a tank battle. I was also tasked with scouting ahead, with the tank as support – sometimes I had to clear out entire garrisons, since the tank could not reach them. It was exhilarating, devastating and powerfully written. Characters I knew for all of ten minutes became quite fleshed out and had actual character development. Though the entire Story took probably forty minutes, it had more hearty, humanity and depth than the entire campaigns of most military shooters I’ve ever played.

The Stories, as I’ve said, are short. But their brevity allows for diversity – that is, not only do we have tank missions, we also get into gruelling, white-knuckle dogfights. One mission sees you play as an Arab female assassin, taking out whole armies by herself, without anyone noticing. Indeed, that you start the game’s campaign as a black soldier and end it as an Arab women is testament to diverse characters, too.

This is without a doubt one of the most beautiful games I’ve seen – powerfully narrated, with fairly rounded characters, telling an apocalyptic story set in early 1900’s. To say this is a rapid departure from Hardline would be an understatement (and, to be clear, Hardline was developed by Visceral, whereas Battlefield 1 is by EA Dice).

Further, this is the first military shooter where I’ve enjoyed the multiplayer. It offers large scale, 64 player games – which have actual mission parameters, map areas being conquered or lost, resulting in changing tactics. It’s frantic, chaotic, terrifying and exhilarating. I was terrible at it, but I enjoyed playing it. I imagine there will be remarkable stories you can tell that arise naturally from play.

Weirdly, the multiplayer offers you no way to play as a female character (even though the campaign does). It’s a weird oversight that is a severe sore point for a franchise that, in many other ways, has evolved.

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Battlefield 1 has my attention for its changes and its diversity – in characters, stories and play style. From tanks to airplanes, from the back of horses to the top of exploding zeppelins, the campaign managed to keep me enthralled the entire time. I’m uncertain, due to the campaign’s brevity, whether that is sufficient for the expensive price tag – certainly, if you enjoy multiplayer, this is ideal. But for those of us only interested in single-player, I’d be cautious.

Nonetheless, I’m excited that an established franchise managed to bring heart, humanity and maturity to the devastation of war stories – though imperfect, it’s a radical improvement that deserves praise.

The fact that it controls beautifully and handles so well only further cements how impressed I am with the latest in the Battlefield franchise.

Tauriq: Twitter / MWEB GameZone: Twitter | Facebook | YouTube


"without a doubt one of the most beautiful games I’ve seen"

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