By Sandy Wilson 02.01.2017
World War 1, the Great War, a period of bloodshed that lasted from 1914 to 1918. Four years of devastation that ravaged not only Europe but much of the world. Dice and EA have concocted a new Battlefield game set during this time period. Since around 2010, the series has acted a little confused, as it tried to combine its earlier designs with modern shooter settings. This led to a muddled and broken Battlefield 4, which struggled to reimplement features of the older games. By taking a step back in time, away from modern warfare, and using extra time to develop the game, have they finally found the balance they so feverishly chased?
The beginning of the game is amazing. It throws players straight into the front lines, right into a hopeless fray controlling several different characters. It's a sobering beginning to the first game that has dared to return to past wars since Call of Duty: Modern Warfare brought the shooter firmly into the present. Interestingly, this level is playable while the game is still installing, and delivers extra impact by appearing before even the main menu is accessible. There wasn't a choice; welcome to World War One.
Unlike Dice's last first-person shooter, Star Wars Battlefront, there is a full campaign mode split into 5 chapters, and each chapter follows a new soldier through their time in the war. The first campaign follows a British tank crew as they travel through war-torn areas and try to keep the tank running while taking risks to foil the German plans. The character dynamics in the crew are enjoyable and it's nice to play through a war game not full of gung-ho marines. It's not a "power trip." Instead, it's a character drama with enjoyable action between each story scene. It isn't the longest campaign, but it's well-crafted and is wholly entertaining.
The presentation is amazing. During gameplay the visuals are fantastically sharp and shiny, with lots of subtle touches that carefully breathe life into the levels. Cut-scenes are equally gorgeous and lend themselves easily to the story, while adding a dash of realism to the characters. All of the game is accompanied by a brilliant soundtrack of haunting and epic war themes that complete the atmosphere of the game, folding all of the elements into an epic package befitting the Battlefield title.
Single-player is limited to the campaign, but the typical Battlefield plethora of game modes contain quite possibly the best mode in any multiplayer experience: operations mode. Operations mode pits two groups of players (up to 64 players) against each other in a series of attack and defence missions. These are designed to recreate key battles from the Great War, and are spread across 4 or 5 maps. Each map is split into sectors, and attackers must push defenders out before the defenders reduce the attacking force's numbers to zero. It's fun and visceral, and it's also where the game balance feels best.
The controls are slick and simple. With a keyboard and mouse, aiming and shooting feel incredible. The guns all feel similar, but some weapons require the character to be prone to fire, and the single shot weapons feel particularly authentic. Every interaction that comprises the gameplay, including such minor ones as jumping fences, are woven seamlessly into the experience and tend not to cancel out momentum. A sprint can be held from one side of a map to the other, no matter the path picked. In fact, player control is great!
The biggest challenge is in respawn points. Most of the time, the respawns are fine, but it still has a tendency to spawn the player right in the middle of a group of enemies in an effort to keep the action going, and this more often than not leads to getting simultaneously bombed, gunned down, run over, and stabbed.
Balance is a bit off sometimes. The structure of the multiplayer is built on classes, of which there are currently 4, and each of which gains promotions separately, and consists of bonuses that lead to more powerful weapons. This progression model means and advantage for players who have played for a longer time regardless of skill, and provides an unfair advantage over newer players who might otherwise have been able to outplay the veterans. This is a common fault with modern multiplayer titles. They rely on tiered character development instead of having players on an equal footing, and leaving the game's outcome to skill. Incidentally, playing online, as unbalanced as it sometimes feels, is as exciting as the campaign, as there aren't many games where every match has planes, tanks, and soldiers all in the fray.
Finally, destruction. Battlefield has become somewhat synonymous with destructive maps. Bad Company 2 introduced large destructible environments, and this game continues that trend. In operations mode and the campaign, it's most evident. During an operation, it may be the defenders' job to stop attackers from capturing a town area, but by the end of the battle there will be no town at all, just a ruin crushed by tanks, shot with rockets, damaged with grenades, and otherwise destroyed. It adds that extra bit of realism, and really shows the strengths of the Frostbite Engine: even with all the destruction, the game rarely drops frames!
An incredible game that marries beautiful presentation with fluid and fun gameplay. It tells a story set during World War I that feels believable and invokes thought when things go awry. With a reasonably short, but well planned, campaign and endless potential in the multiplayer, there is definitely value if Battlefront is one's preferred big shooter franchise. A thoroughly enjoyable game that takes the formula back toward the depth of the game's predecessors while keeping in the trends of the modern expectations of the genre.