So Battlefield 1 heads to retail stores later this week, but I got the chance to play a few early hours of the campaign thanks to the EA Access program over the weekend. It might be a few dollars a month, but it’s actually a cool little program, but more importantly it gave me a chance to try out the new story to see if it’s as interesting as the multiplayer. On early impressions, I can say for a fact that Battlefield 1 is a beautiful game … but it might be a little too realistic.
From the very beginning, Dice goes for the heart strings and pulls them fairly hard. The first mission puts you in the shoes of a private in the middle of a push through enemy lines, but it’s quickly explained before you even fire your gun that you’re expected to die. Every time you do, a name and a date of birth/death appears on the screen accompanied by a voice over explaining how dark, disturbing and unwinnable the entire war was. So many lives were lost during what’s also known as the Great War, four years of fighting that was supposed to end it all, but as the game quickly points out, it didn’t end anything at all.
Ordinarily with a first person shooter, you’re fighting unnamed bad guys, criminal masterminds or dangerous foes out for blood. Battlefield 1 spins it slightly but not really calling out either side of the War, instead focusing on the human side and the people who sacrificed themselves for what they thought was right. An early cut scene after the introduction level has two opposing soldiers facing off before almost acknowledging to themselves that the situation they find themselves in just isn’t right, before lowering their guns in a sign of respect.
This is where Battlefield 1’s campaign sets itself apart. It tries its best not to glorify the situations and instead focuses on how harrowing it all was, how difficult every mission must have been, which makes playing them just as difficult. There’s a level of maturity to the storytelling, something that’s incredibly contrasting to just about every other FPS coming out this year, especially the next Call of Duty. The themes on show clash with the ‘fun’ aspect of its multiplayer modes, though I hear the Operations mode does a good job of mixing the two together. I’ll have more on that later.
Whether players will respond in the same way I have is hard to say. We’ve grown up in a world where shooting things is fun, and here’s a video game where shooting is its main component and yet there’s that uneasy feeling that lingers with every shot made. What’s worse, this is still a Battlefield game, so its multiplayer will be the most played element to it, meaning a lot of the emotions and storytelling elements will be lost on those who completely skip over it when they pop their disc in. It’s unfortunate, since what I’ve played so far is definitely worth experiencing, maybe not as an enjoyable experience but certainly something that’s eye opening and compelling in its own right.
And then there’s the pigeon. Everyone’s talking about that moment, where you find your tank stuck in the mud and surrounded, only to find yourself flying around the fields of battle as a carrier pigeon to send a last gasp message to HQ. What follows is an uneasy calm amongst the explosions and gunplay, a calming flight as the world below destroys itself. The moment doesn’t last long, but it’ll stick with you for a good while, and it’s arguably one of the best gaming moments of 2016, certainly the most unexpected.
Perhaps Battlefield 1 is a little too realistic, in the sense that it goes against the archetype of a video game being entertaining. If anything, it’s educational, a different level of entertainment than the smile inducing, gun toting heroics we’ve come to expect from the genre. There were still moments that had me blown away, but on a different level, more a ‘holy crap that’s terrible’ than a ‘holy crap that’s awesome’.
I’ve only just scratched the surface of the campaign so far, with multiple stories from different perspectives that are locked out of this early access edition of the game. There’s plenty more to discover outside of that too when the full release hits later this week, so I’ll do my best to explore them all when the time comes.