As a student of martial history, and an avid life-long gamer, I’ve always wondered why no one has ever created a game that features World War I as its primary backdrop. I distinctly remember asking just that question to friends and family years ago, only to be met with mouths agape and eyes wide in befuddlement, at least most of the time. The few that had any sort of answer at all chalked it up as the Great War not being as sexy as World War II. As in, there wasn’t the same clear cut good vs. evil angle—and as well, the trench warfare in WWI just wasn’t glamorous enough to be depicted, in any attractive way, to mass audiences.
Well, Dice, along with Electronic Arts, beg to differ—in a big way. First off, I must state that as you may know, the Battlefield series has been vying with the Call of Duty series for supremacy over the first-person shooter market for quite some time now. Each franchise has been trying to one-up the other by featuring installments that feature faster and faster gameplay along with increasingly futuristic weapons and backdrops.
In a surprising move, developers Dice have simply slammed on the breaks, but not in a bad way. In an ingenious power play of strategy, they’ve regrouped and taken a step back, and at the same time, taken several steps forward. What exactly do I mean by that? Well, instead of moving ever further into the future, they’ve gone backwards into history—quite a number of years in fact, back to World War I. While other FPS franchises are now approaching the surreal environs of robots and lasers, Battlefield I brazenly trades those fancy-dancy motifs in for mud, bolt action rifles (well, at least some of the time), and grisly, unglamorous combat.
World War I was a grim affair indeed. BF I drives that point home splendidly, almost a little too well in fact, with its gripping prologue. I still remember firing the game up days ago and being completely blown away by it. You are instantly thrown to the wolves—in other words, into the front lines of combat. Each time that you die, you are transported into the well-worn (and possibly trench-footed) boots of another soldier. Each death is punctuated with that soldier’s name, birthdate, and year of death. These factors, combined with how harrowing each highly kinetic encounter plays out, can make one ponder the horrors of war.
After the fantastic prologue, you are presented with five very disparate tales covering soldiers from equally different backgrounds. These War Stories, as they’re called, are chock-full of narrative nuances and complexity, and skillfully imply that WWI had many grey areas to it, as opposed to the easily identifiable good vs. evil aspect that we’re all so used to with WWII games, as well as other popular forms of media. The writing here is also excellent, and really compels you to want to play out each soldier’s heavy-hitting, rather than heavy-handed, story arc. In all, I completed the entire campaign in around six hours.
As impressive as the single player aspect of Battlefield I is, the game’s robust multiplayer component is where it really shines. BF I’s various MP modes are framed by an overarching character persistence. However, the game’s four classes can only gain experience individually. So, for instance, if you play the Assault class a lot, don’t expect to gain experience with the Medic class at the same time.
BF I’s MP suite cover your standard Conquest and Team Deathmatch modes; Rush, which is a sort of objective-destroying contest; War Pigeons and Domination, close quarters infantry-centric affairs; and my personal favorite—the new Operations mode. Operations can be described as a large scale clash over several maps. Each map is divided between several sectors which must be either attacked or defended successfully in order to advance to the next contested area. During each map’s beginning and ending sequences, players are greeted with a brief historical reference as to why the area in question is being fought over. Operation mode’s scale and sense of immersion makes it my favorite Battlefield series game mode to date, and one that really underscores the epic-ness of the First World War.
When it comes to the amount of hardware on hand that there is to play with, Battlefield I really delivers. There are a veritable plethora of rifles and pistols to utilize, as well as other weapons of war available depending on your chosen class. Whether you need the vehicle-destroying weapons of the Assault class, the squad healing and medium range firepower of the Medic, the various useful gadgets of the Support class, or the long-range capabilities of the Scout, there are plenty of arms to take up as well as unlock.
But although BF I is a fast-moving first person shooter, don’t think that this is your usual point and kill gaming experience. The developers really captured the essence of WW I weaponry. For instance, most rifles have obstructed iron sights, due to the nature of trench-centric warfare (the weapons weren’t usually bottom-loaded), so getting a clear shot of enemies requires quite a bit of skill.
Add to that, the fact that there is quite a bit of bullet drop and bullet drift since these are old, antiquated weapons by today’s standards, and BF I’s pacing can be a slower paced affair than what Battlefield veterans are used to. This is not a bad thing, and there is still ample room for lots of close quarter mayhem. However, each engagement requires a little more tactical consideration, overall.
Take for instance the first time I hopped into a biplane and manned its mighty 20 mm frontal guns. The rounds themselves are so large that they are a little slower than your standard rifle rounds. In that regard, I had to really compensate for their considerable drift, as well as factor in the relative movement and angle of the plane itself—quite a bit to take in. But, after a few runs (and a lot of practice) I was mowing down entire squads with showers of explosive-shelled, metal death.
BF I also introduces Behemoths, gigantic airships, battleships, and armored trains that come into play whenever one of the factions becomes disadvantaged and needs a little (or in this case, a huge) boost. The sense of scale that accompanies these enormous game-changing titans of war can really embolden a losing team, while their immense firepower can quickly whittle away enemy reinforcements.
BF I’s graphics are probably the best I’ve ever seen of any shooter. For example, I’ll never forget the first time that I began a match on the craggy coastline of the Empire’s Edge map. It was just dripping with Mediterranean flavor—from its quaint central village, along with ancient fortresses looming over it, to its windswept, picturesque shores. Cloud shadows even rolled over my soldier from on high, just one of many little touches that really make you feel as though you’re right there in the action. Random weather events can also add unexpected drama to any battle. Sometimes you can be duking it out with an enemy at longer ranges, only to have a thick fog roll in and force a more up-close and personal affair. Others, a storm might develop, and drop buckets of rain on the grisly proceedings, obscuring your aim as well as the boot clomping sounds of the enemy. Showing this game off on my gaming laptop is a real joy.
Battlefield I is one of the best first-person shooters I’ve ever played, and that’s saying a lot. It’s fresh and unique setting, slick presentation, fun gameplay mechanics (gotta love those melee kills), and solid netcode make it a no-brainer for any fan of action games. More than ever, it also emphasizes teamwork, so make sure that you have a working mic before joining a squad. Ultimately, when things come together, there is no other action gaming experience that compares to it.
Battlefield I features some absolutely stunning visuals. However, you have to have an equally fast gaming PC in order to play it at a decent framerate. So, you may just want to invest in a decent gaming rig:
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