As one of the deadliest conflicts in human history, World War I had a massive impact on the twentieth century. Not only did both sides suffer an absolutely horrific number of casualties, but the geo-political upheaval it caused planted seeds of division that would resonate throughout the century to come. With the "bad guys" of the conflict widely being viewed as the politicians and military leaders – on both sides – who let the war escalate into a protracted stalemate, it makes basing a video game on the conflict a hard task. While titles such as Valiant Hearts effectively tapped the era to tell emotionally weighty stories, Battlefield 1 – the latest entry in the bombastic shooter series – has taken up this challenge in an attempt to move away from the futuristic trajectory of their competitors.
Sensibly, the game forgoes following one protagonist during its campaign, in favour of six short war stories that put you into the shoes of characters ranging from a tank driver to a female Arab warrior fighting alongside the famous Lawrence of Arabia. This works well, and at the start of the campaign there's a really effective sequence that drives home the wholesale slaughter of World War I, due to the deadly combination of outdated tactics and the latest military technology.
Similarly, in the many story cut scenes there's a reverence for those who lost their lives, and it's clear developer DICE wanted to be as respectful as possible in Battlefield 1. For the large part, this works in the stories told, but the need to offer the gameplay of a traditional shooter undermines this goal at times. Many of your characters will complete heroic feats that wouldn't feel out of place in the most over the top action films, killing scores of enemies as they pursue their objectives, whether that's sneaking around collecting parts to repair a tank or storming a fort single-handedly.
While the campaign's mainly linear, there are a few sections that open up, giving you much more freedom in the route you take. These sections are great, and while the stealth is as simplistic as you might expect – the only tools at your disposal are bullet casings you can throw to lure enemies away from their posts – being able to change things up, and get through without firing a shot, provides a welcome, if modest, challenge.
Overall, the balance between reverence and fun feels about right, coming together to provide the most memorable Battlefield campaign since Bad Company 2. The fast-pace, varied settings, and balance in what you're doing – whether in combat, or during the more open stealthy scenarios – make it well worth playing. In addition, you may just learn a thing or two that'll help you in the multiplayer, as by the time you've finished, you'll have driven vehicles, flown planes, and had the importance of spotting enemies using the R1 button hammered into you.
While it's nice to have a good campaign, the true draw of any Battlefield title is the multiplayer, and anyone who's played the online component of any of the previous games will immediately feel in familiar territory. That's not to say there haven't been changes – such as the removal of the engineer class, and the introduction of both medic and pilot classes in its place – but the big team carnage you've come to know and love is present and correct.
A lot of the game modes on offer will also be familiar to the initiated, with Team Deathmatch, Domination, and Rush all returning once again. In addition, there are also two new modes: War Pigeons, where each team fights for control of a carrier pigeon, and Operations, a combination of Rush and Domination. Out of the two, Operations is clearly being pushed as the marquee mode, and it doesn't take long to see why DICE think you should be playing it.
Offering all the best parts of Domination, with the added structure of Rush, Operations captures the chaos of an all-out assault, with the attacking team tasked with taking two control points in a sector of a map. With up to thirteen sectors, spread across two or three different maps in each Operation, these battles are enjoyably epic in scale, with the only downside being an imbalance that makes the defending team win noticeably more often than the attackers.
Whether you're playing the 40 or 64-player versions, the volume of gunfire and destruction during an Operations match will continually astound you. It's truly exhilarating to survive a bayonet charge of an enemy position or take part in a last ditch defence of a sector as the buildings around you slowly disintegrate, and you'll happily spend hours in these pitched battles, most likely to the exclusion of the other modes on offer.
While you wouldn't be wrong arguing this isn't entirely new to Battlefield multiplayer. The cocktail of Domination and Rush, as well as the real sense of progression in the map design, actually helps take the formula to new heights. In addition, the introduction of player controlled behemoth vehicles – such as airships and armoured trains – that appear in support of the losing team in both Conquest and Operations matches, represent another interesting change, which gives hopelessly outclassed teams a chance to make some headway.
What's clear is that DICE has tried to make the combat feel more like that of the Great War, and while a liberal amount of artistic licence has been employed – such as entirely too many automatic weapons being carried around – the focus on infantry combat, and the removal of a dedicated anti-armour class – helping make the few armoured vehicles more formidable – feels like the appropriate intersection of playability and authenticity.
Elsewhere, in virtually every aspect, Battlefield 1's visual presentation is seriously impressive. Whether you're experiencing the utter desolation of the frontline or the sun-drenched hillsides around Gallipoli, the environments throughout the campaign and multiplayer are a visual feast. The dynamic weather effects on the multiplayer maps are also quite striking, and end up having a noticeable impact on gameplay, with sandstorms and fog impeding the operation of bi-planes in the skies above.
The top notch work continues in the sound design – as you'd expect from a Battlefield title – which is some of the best out there. You'll feel the thump of every explosion, the snap of the bullets close to your head, and the chattering rattle of machine guns conversing across no man's land. It resonates so strongly in fact, you could worry about ending up with shell shock from spending too much time under fire.
While you probably know whether you'll enjoy Battlefield 1's multiplayer based on any past experience with the series, it does successfully sidestep feeling like a mod – a trap Battlefield Hardline fell head-first into – by making a number of notable changes that give a different spin on the chaotic big team battles you expect. At times, though, it can feel like a game at war with itself, swinging between the need to acknowledge the sacrifices of World War I and the desire to make an enjoyable shooter. While the multiplayer rightfully chooses to be a fun shooter first, the campaign tries to strike a reasonable balance on this front, delivering a memorable series of war stories that drive home the cost of war. And while it can't resist urge to go over the top at times, in doing so, it at least delivers one of the best Battlefield campaigns to date.