Battlefield 1

battlefield_1_cover_art

This review only focus on the Battlefield 1 single-player campaign.

I don’t usually play competitive FPS games, on account of their time-guzzling nature and the fact that I’m somebody who really only plays games for immersion and story. Having heard that Battlefield 1 had an atmospheric, well-crafted single-player, however, I decided to try it out.

The campaign is not a cohesive one as such, but more of a series of unconnected war stories or vignettes: self-contained stories featuring combatants in the many different theatres of this global conflict.

Even though the core mechanic is singular – point a gun at the enemy and shoot – the different stories introduce some degree of variety into the experience, enabling the player to explore different modes of combat and immerse themselves into different historical milieus.

There is tank warfare in the later war years, aerial combat over the Alps, intense, meat-grinder style fighting between Italian shock troops and the Austro-Hungarian army in the Dolomites, storming the shores of Gallipoli, and guerilla warfare against the Ottomans as a member of Lawrence of Arabia’s insurgency.

Of these five main stories, Through Mud and Blood and Friends in High Places stand out as the most well-told and well crafted. The former is the tank warfare story that sees a tank crew caught behind enemy lines, trying to navigate their way through enemy territory to get back to the Allied positions. I found this story the most evocative of the awfulness of war at the personal level, but also of its capacity to bring out the heroism and self-sacrifice of the human spirit.

The latter is set in the skies, and uses volumetric clouds and lighting to paint one of the most beautiful settings for a single player campaign that I’ve ever experienced, accompanied by a rousing, triumphant battle score composed by the underrated Johan Söderqvist.

For some strange reason, the stories all feature Allied characters and Allied-centric plots – despite the fact that WWI didn’t have the moral clarity of its successor war. In the first World War, countries rushed into war but found themselves bogged down in an interminable grindfest due to the fact that their battle doctrines had not caught up with their technology. There is no compelling moral or ethical reason not to feature some stories from the point of view of the Central Powers. But there you have it.

Some of the stories also make the soldier out to be an unkillable action hero, which also detracts from the initial premise, evoked in the game’s tutorial, that you are just one of many soldiers pushed into battle, with a life expectancy of a few days. But I suppose that boils down to the fundamental requirements of a satisfying single-player experience.

So, does Battlefield 1’s single player do a creditable job of depicting the ambiguity, pointlessness, horror and heroism of World War I? I think there are brief flashes where the clouds part and that essence shines, and for a moment there is that feeling of empathy and understanding of what it must have felt like to be a soldier on the front. By and large, however, the campaign is still, at its heart, an (albeit beautifully crafted) arcade romp through set-pieces designed to still give the player a sense of agency and empowerment. And there’s nothing wrong with that – but, if the objective were to provide a level of immersion and narrative insight into the lived experience of combat, Battlefield 1 could do more.

I give the single player campaign: 3.5 out of 5 doves

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