Bat­tle­field 1 PC, PS4, Xbox One

EDGE - - GAMES - De­vel­oper DICE Pub­lisher Elec­tronic Arts For­mat PC, PS4, Xbox One Re­lease Out now

We don’t of­ten feel obliged to open a re­view by men­tion­ing the game’s sound­track, but Bat­tle­field 1’ s stun­ning Hans Zim­mer-es­que or­ches­tral com­po­si­tions war­rant un­usual mea­sures. Si­mul­ta­ne­ously for­lorn, blus­ter­ous and rous­ing, they per­fectly en­cap­su­late the game’s bit­ter­sweet char­ac­ter as 64 play­ers hop­ing for acts of hero­ism, a gen­eral good time and MVP re­wards clat­ter head­long into at least some of the tragic re­al­i­ties of World War I (see Post Script). Bat­tle­field 1’ s sound­track will haunt you even when you’re not play­ing.

But that might not be much of the time, given how good the lat­est en­try in DICE’s long-run­ning se­ries is. It’s so good, in fact, we were some­what wrong-footed. Af­ter all, the past cou­ple of en­tries have con­di­tioned us to take low ex­pec­ta­tions into what will likely be a tire­some sin­gle­player trudge, at­tached to a mul­ti­player com­po­nent that will need a good month or so of fran­tic patch­ing be­fore it’s worth even at­tempt­ing to play on­line. While it looked like the pat­tern was set to re­peat on launch day as many play­ers found them­selves un­able to get on­line, for once it wasn’t a prob­lem with EA’s servers, but in­stead down to a DDOS at­tack af­fect­ing a num­ber of ser­vices, in­clud­ing PSN. Af­ter a few hours of frus­trat­ing Bat­tle­field 4 launch PTSD, ev­ery­thing seemed un­ex­pect­edly sta­ble.

At least play­ers wait­ing for the servers to be re­vived could get stuck into Bat­tle­field 1’ s sin­gle­player cam­paign. DICE has long strug­gled to cre­ate Bat­tle­field pro­tag­o­nists who en­gen­der em­pa­thy (or even mild in­ter­est), but here the stu­dio has as­sem­bled an abun­dance of fas­ci­nat­ing, sym­pa­thetic in­di­vid­u­als for its cast. Their sto­ries are told over a se­ries of short, un­re­lated vi­gnettes – called War Sto­ries, and each two to four mis­sions long – that take place across the globe.

One chap­ter casts you as Danny Ed­wards, an in­ex­pe­ri­enced tanker as­signed to a crew of now war­weary veter­ans. Another sees you take on the role of cocky Amer­i­can chancer Clyde Blackburn as he lies and cheats his way into the Royal Fly­ing Corps. One touch­ing seg­ment places you in the boots of Royal Ital­ian Army sol­dier Luca Coc­chi­ola as he searches for his twin brother, Mat­teo, whose reg­i­ment has gone miss­ing af­ter an airstrike. Noth­ing Is Writ­ten lets you play as Zara Ghufran, a rebel fight­ing along­side Thomas Ed­ward Lawrence against the Ot­toman Em­pire; in The Run­ner, you get to be griz­zled Aus­tralian Fred­er­ick Bishop dur­ing the Bri­tish Army’s land­ing at Gal­lipoli.

The di­verse roles and lo­ca­tions al­low DICE to con­tin­u­ally hurl ideas at you as you switch be­tween a va­ri­ety of game­play styles and set-pieces. Some work bet­ter than oth­ers – one en­forced tur­ret sec­tion nearly sours pro­ceed­ings, and in­fre­quent switches be­tween fi­nite and in­fi­nite en­e­mies de­pend­ing on the sit­u­a­tion can some­times leave you un­sure of your pri­or­i­ties – but the over­all re­sult is a Bat­tle­field cam­paign of un­prece­dented va­ri­ety that doesn’t sim­ply rely on cheap nov­elty and whose mo­ments rarely feel un­der­cooked.

They can feel a lit­tle rushed, how­ever. The prob­lem with telling so many sto­ries in a sin­gle cam­paign is that few can breathe to the de­gree they de­serve, re­sult­ing in a sin­gle­player com­po­nent that comes across less like a con­sol­i­dated cam­paign than it does a col­lec­tion of DLC ex­tras. It’s tes­ta­ment to DICE’s writ­ers and de­sign­ers that we want to spend more time in these char­ac­ters’ worlds, but rather than a sin­gle­player cam­paign that out­stays its wel­come the stu­dio has pro­duced sev­eral that don’t stick around long enough. That’s not to say there isn’t lots to get your teeth stuck into over­all. Af­ter com­plet­ing a pow­er­ful open­ing pro­logue called Storm Of Steel, you’re free to tackle the War Sto­ries in any or­der you please, even dip­ping in and out of the dif­fer­ent chap­ters should you wish. And while the story arcs might feel cur­tailed, many of the mis­sions within them are ex­ten­sive. In a lurch to­ward the se­ries’ mul­ti­player fo­cus, they also teach you how to play the on­line modes, mix­ing in Con­quest-style ob­jec­tive cap­tur­ing, pro­longed ve­hic­u­lar com­bat and as­so­ci­ated field re­pair, and the same wide-open maps.

Another shift is how lit­tle shoot­ing, com­par­a­tively, there is across the five War Sto­ries. There are still many mo­ments of thun­der­ous chaos and vi­o­lence, but you’ll spend a lot of time sneak­ing about un­der cover of dark­ness or sand­storm, or in one se­ries of mis­sions run­ning through a rag­ing bat­tle. It’s a shift in ap­proach that pre­vents Bat­tle­field 1 fall­ing into the repet­i­tive rhythms of its re­cent pre­de­ces­sors. Stealth play is ba­sic but ef­fec­tive – you can’t hide bod­ies, but you’re given plenty of lee­way to si­lence even alerted en­e­mies with all man­ner of griz­zly melee kills be­fore they can warn al­lies. Cru­cially, it doesn’t feel tacked on, and it also pro­vides the op­por­tu­nity to en­joy – or at least fully ex­pe­ri­ence – the at­mo­spheric, and of­ten har­row­ing, in­ci­den­tal au­dio that brings bat­tle­fields to life.

One as­pect Bat­tle­field 1 does re­tain from its pre­de­ces­sors is un­con­vinc­ing en­emy AI. While your op­po­nents’ be­hav­iour is mostly ser­vice­able – and ren­dered with some ter­rific an­i­ma­tion – they os­cil­late be­tween un­canny pre­science and blind stu­pid­ity, which re­quires an ad­just­ment of tac­tics on the fly – when, for ex­am­ple, a host of pre­vi­ously un­aware snipers some­how man­age to spot you si­mul­ta­ne­ously af­ter you’ve spent sev­eral min­utes painstak­ingly crawl­ing up to a ridge through un­der­growth and are yet to fire.

Still, that’s prob­a­bly a good primer for your first few hours fac­ing hu­man op­po­nents. But while the level of com­pe­ti­tion re­mains fierce, and matches are still pop­u­lated by hip-fir­ing 12-year-olds who some­how re­act be­fore you ap­ply even the light­est pres­sure to your

There are still many mo­ments of chaos and vi­o­lence, but you’ll spend a lot of time sneak­ing about un­der cover

ADS trig­ger, the over­all pace is slightly more se­date than Bat­tle­field 4’ s. This isn’t just good news for play­ers be­yond their 20s; it also en­cour­ages more strate­gic play, al­lows for more mean­ing­ful en­coun­ters and, mostly, in­creases the time spent be­tween spawn­ing and dy­ing.

The low-tech weapons and ve­hi­cles are just rough enough around the edges to make us­ing them well a chal­lenge in it­self with­out be­ing lim­it­ing, and it en­sures that Bat­tle­field 1 doesn’t suf­fer from 4’ s end­less list of samey guns – weapons here, even within the same class, are dis­tinct and have their own per­son­al­i­ties and foibles, mak­ing for far more char­ac­ter­ful com­bat. You can also acquire spe­cial­ist weapon kits in the field, which al­low you to, for ex­am­ple, be­come an ar­moured sen­try or don a hel­met and grab a flamethrower.

The game’s reshuf­fled player classes fur­ther en­cour­age dis­tinc­tive roles. Snipers can use flares to re­veal en­emy po­si­tions; Medics can bring al­lies back from the brink mul­ti­ple times; while As­sault play­ers are kit­ted out to dis­able ve­hi­cles but must rely on Sup­port play­ers, who can also re­pair ve­hi­cles, to re­stock ammo. The sep­a­rate Tanker and Pi­lot classes, which you’ll take on if you choose to spawn in cer­tain ve­hi­cles, mean that tanks and air­craft pose a much greater threat than they ever did be­fore. Both can be re­paired from within, or ex­ter­nally at greater risk, and are de­signed to stay in com­bat for much longer than pre­vi­ously.

DICE in­tro­duces two new game modes in the shape of War Pi­geons and Op­er­a­tions. In the for­mer, teams com­pete to grab mes­sen­ger pi­geons, which ap­pear one at a time at lo­ca­tions across the map and must be held so that a mes­sage can be at­tached be­fore re­lease. In a smart touch, the mes­sage is writ­ten more quickly if you stand still, plac­ing the onus on your team­mates to de­fend your po­si­tion. Op­er­a­tions is a more bom­bas­tic propo­si­tion, blend­ing el­e­ments of Con­quest and Rush in cam­paigns that span mul­ti­ple mis­sions and maps. It feels epic in scale and en­cour­ages team­work as you at­tempt to de­fend or take cap­ture points across large maps. But while DICE has placed it front and cen­tre in Bat­tle­field 1’ s menus, Con­quest re­mains the best show­case of the se­ries’ unique charms.

The mode’s pre­dom­i­nantly more open spa­ces also al­low the new Be­he­moth-class ve­hi­cles to stretch their legs. Whether it’s an ar­moured train, a Zep­pelin laden with guns, or a long-range bat­tle­ship, the be­he­moths are a ter­ri­fy­ing prospect as they ar­rive in a match to pro­vide sup­port for which­ever team is heav­ily trail­ing. Each Be­he­moth ac­com­mo­dates sev­eral play­ers, with spa­ces avail­able for a pi­lot/driver and a num­ber of gun em­place­ments. The bom­bard­ment that fol­lows of­ten lev­els what­ever is left stand­ing of the bat­tle­field. It also switches the op­pos­ing team’s fo­cus to de­stroy­ing their en­e­mies’ new-found ad­van­tage. As well as vis­ual spec­ta­cle, then, Be­he­moths help to even the odds in un­bal­anced matches by en­sur­ing that a su­pe­rior team al­ways faces a real chal­lenge in or­der to se­cure vic­tory.

This at­ten­tion to bal­ance per­me­ates through ev­ery as­pect of Bat­tle­field 1’ s mul­ti­player, from the in­tri­cate in­ter­play of its weapons and ve­hi­cles to care­ful po­si­tion­ing of ob­jec­tives to catal­yse ebb and flow dur­ing com­bat. In­fantry com­bat has been con­sid­er­ably im­proved as a re­sult, and the more de­lib­er­ate pace of bat­tles, hard­ware with real char­ac­ter, and a mov­ing sin­gle­player cam­paign en­sure that Bat­tle­field 1 is bet­ter than its pre­de­ces­sors in al­most ev­ery way.

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