Battlefield One (Computer Game) Review

I am not much of a computer gamer these days, but since it was first announced I have known that I would need to try out Battlefield One. It has the distinction of being pretty much the only game produced by a major high-budget studio set in World War One. Fair disclosure; I did have a chance to meet a bunch of the developers at DICE LA, and they are great folks. If you watch the game credits, you will see my name there.

So, what is the game? On the surface it looks like World War One, but at its heart it is a reincarnation of the Battlefield series of games, and continues all of their core mechanics and premises. This is not a combat simulation, it is an arcade game. Whether you think that is fantastic of terrible depends entirely on what you are looking for. If you want a game where you get to mow down waves of the enemy with WWI-looking guns, you will enjoy BF1. If you enjoy a frenetically-paced multiplayer free-for-all, you will enjoy BF1. If you want a game that tries to recreate the experience of World War One, you will find BF1 to be a terrible disappointment.

The single-player campaign in BF1 is split into 5 sections, and the first full one makes the nature of the gameplay immediately and blindingly clear. In it, you are an Italian Arditi fighting in the mountains against Austro-Hungarian forces. Props to the BF1 team for actually recognizing this largely forgotten theater of the war…but they can both 90% right in that way and yet also 100% wrong. Because you fight this section outfitted in a suit of heavy plate armor that makes you for all practical purposes bulletproof, while firing an MG08/15 from the hip, with 1000 rounds at your disposal. You literally stomp up a mountainside clanking and hosing down waves of bad guys. The armor is of course modeled on the German trench armor, but the invulnerability it offers is pure fantasy. The enemy Austro-Hungarian troops are armed with a roughly equal mixture of belt-fed submachine guns, Madsen LMGs, and M95 Steyr bolt action rifles. Plus a handful of guys with flamethrowers, who are inexplicably extra tough to kill.

Later campaigns include one where you are the driver of a British tank, one where you are a pilot, and one where you are an Arabian tribeswoman fighting for T.E. Lawrence. These all have equally fantastical elements, including acting as a guide walking in front of your tank in a foggy forest pockmarked with German outposts, hand to hand combat on the top of a Zeppelin (seriously, running around on the top of the thing), and fighting swarms of Ottoman FT-17 light tanks in the Arabian desert. The entire German air corps consists of bright red Fokker Dr1 Dreideckers. There are more A7V tanks in the game than were produced in total in the entire war, just about. And so on.

When it comes to weapons specifically, the models are excellent, and yet completely wrong. They are rendered with excellent attention to detail, and the animations are spot on for loading and firing. But when any element didn’t fit well enough into the fast-paced gaming model, it was discarded. So none of the weapons have sights that look correct. At the very least, everything is made far more open, so you don’t have any obstruction of your view when looking through them. In the worst case, British Lattey Galilean sights have been twisted into de facto red dot sights on everything from the MP18 to the SMLE. The Lewis is fitted with a ZF12 optic from a German Maxim. The SMLE in sniper setup has a schutzen front grip and a Warney & Swasey scope mounted over the chamber.

While it is true that there are actually a couple proper bolt action rifles in the game (G98, Steyr M95, SMLE, plus the Russian Winchester M95 lever action), they have been typecast into the “sniper rifle” role of the Battlefield game franchise. They are thus more lethal than anything else in the game, and have this balanced by carrying very limited ammunition. I never found myself with more than 12 or 15 rounds of ammunition for any of them, as more would make them unfair. Funny, really, that they can somehow become unfairly good in a game where the vast majority of people carry machine guns.

World War One was an utterly inhuman juggernaut of mindless death and destruction, exactly the opposite of a game that allows one to play a hero singlehandedly conquering the enemy. Looking back, it is obviously just silly to have expected that a game in a major popular franchise like Battlefield would have been made as anything but the other games that came before it. This could never have been a realistic depiction of World War One, because the vast majority of today’s video game market is not interested in such a thing. For those who are, the one option available is Verdun (which may not be perfect, but is far, far better). Or, for those who want something that focuses on the actual tactics of small-scale combat, insanely immersive games like Onward are just now really starting to become an option.

27 Comments

  1. Wrong video clip!!! And I thought the first campaign in this was that of the Harlem Hellfighters on the defensive… African-American soldiers generally got French Adrian helmets and French guns no thanks to racism…

  2. Bummer that you weren’t able to enjoy the graphics in all their glory. Playing on XBOX1, I thought that the environments and lush backgrounds were one of the most impressive points of the game. Disappointed in the break-up of 5 different story lines as it doesn’t permit you to become involved/attached to a single protagonist, but I see how that helps introduce the different combat theaters.

  3. After you told me you were in the credits I sat down to watch them to see it. Fair warning for anyone else that does this, the credits are eternal and Ian’s name shows up roughly 20 minutes in.

  4. I agree with your review Ian and will state that the best WWI set game in recent time for giving the feeling of how horrible WWI was is Valiant Hearts.

    BF1 was not a horrible game it was enjoyable to play but i had no expectation of it being a realistic recreation (i doubt they would sell lots of copies if the gameplay was anything like WWI a survive in the trenches and don’t die of disease level would probably not go over very well)

  5. Having hiked some of the mountains in Südtirol where remnants of the actual fortifications can still be seen (didn’t dare to crawl in but would’ve been possible) and having suffered tremendously under the strain of a rather lightly packed backpack (another pair of underwear? whatever for? it’s only 7 days…), I cannot help but feel that the speed of movement as displayed by the armored Italian might be a tad bit fast. But maybe I’m just a weakling 🙂

  6. As a once avid Call o’ Duty World@War player–on a Wii–I was always grateful that there was never artillery or land mines … Japanese grenade launchers? No such thing! German S-mines? Hah! Not invented, apparently… Tanks? Not so many…

  7. “World War One was an utterly inhuman juggernaut of mindless death and destruction, exactly the opposite of a game that allows one to play a hero singlehandedly conquering the enemy. Looking back, it is obviously just silly to have expected that a game in a major popular franchise like Battlefield would have been made as anything but the other games that came before it.”
    I would wikipedia entry with titles of video games in WW1 setting:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:World_War_I_video_games
    So far I know most are aerial-combat (see Blue Max) or naval-combat type (see Jutland), ground war is rare.
    Notice that there exist also Battlefield 1918 which is altered Battlefield 1942.
    There are also some games with loose WW1 setting (see Ironstorm) and there is also Darkest of Days partially into WW1 setting.

  8. Disclaimer: I don’t play computer games, so be warned. ^__^

    I haven’t played this game, but I’ve watched walk throughs of most all of it on YouTube. It’s a pretty game, that’s for sure, but like all computer games it has a “mechanic.” I guess this is what’s called balancing challenge with frustration, but how it plays itself out is that once you figure out how the game works your character becomes a juggernaut. It doesn’t help that there appear to be bugs in the game that give certain things an unfair and jarringly unrealistic advantage. I suppose that will be balanced out through the update process. (Or not, if what people like is walking around a battlefield like Terminator. ^__^)

    I also noticed that Schuetzen palm rest and had to laugh when the player went prone with it. ^__^ Computer games are just ridiculous some times.

    The only bit of realism that I saw was when I watched a new player go into single-player before figuring it out, and every time they died the soldier’s name, and birth and death dates came up while the player’s perspective shifted back to another soldier’s perspective further to the rear. This happened over and over and over again. That gave a pretty good illustration of the futility of it all. Of course, in later videos, once the player had figured out how the game worked and how to be effectively equipped, they turned into Terminator.

    I guess it could be modded to make it a more realistic experience, but then it would just be frustrating and sad, like the real war.

  9. If realism is a concern for you (for me it is and is not. I like medieval fantasy RPG as well as real-life-simulators), you can try the ArmA series.

    ArmaA III (the last of the serie) is a very good game and as realistic as is possible today.
    With the ACE3 modification (which is not so usable in solo but is perfectly fine in multiplayer), it is even more realistic. There are plenty of mods for different time periods or places in the world, which are great to have diversity in your game.

    If you look for a game that takes wind, atmosphéric pressure or altitude into account for your weapon, that’s it. If you want a game that takes this into account for piloting a helicopter, that’s it. If you want a game in which you must remember to use subsonic ammo for your silenced weapon (and eject the supersonic round in the chamber in case of a silencer you attached on the go), that’s it. If you want an game in which you must use different types of bandages for diferent types of wounds, that’s it.

    The singleplayer is cool, the multiplayer is really good and easier to customize, the game is great.
    Its only issue is to be a “military simulation” : sometimes, your objective is “walk 5 km in that direction”.

    • “ArmaA III (the last of the serie) is a very good game and as realistic as is possible today.”
      For game in WWII setting you might try Red Orchestra 2
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Orchestra_2:_Heroes_of_Stalingrad
      which also emphasize realism – for example unlike some other FPS you don’t have given number of rounds in weapon at screen.

      It must be always remembered that all games are simplification of real-world, some are more simple, some more close to real-world. It must be that way to make game attractive.

      • Thank you, I’ll try it !
        Some friends played the first installment of the game 10 years ago, but I never played it myself.

        The Brother in Arms series is good too and is… Well, let’s say “semi-realistic”.
        The game emphasize on the necessity to work in teams : you must order your squad to make intricate manoeuvres to stay alive and advance. No way to grab an MG-42 and tear apart the whole reich’s army yourself.
        The story of the game is some kind of metaphor of the damages war causes to men (like some kind of psychodrama).
        Aside from it, it still is a game where you (and your team) advance against tons of enemies, which surely is not the reality of war.

        Sure, a game is never more than a game, and thus is not representative of the reality. Driving simulators are not like driving a real car and wargames are not like war.
        But, wathever what medias say, no gamer thinks video games are an authentic depiction of reality and they play it like we see an action movie.

    • The problem is when tons of people have too much time on their hands. Said people treat war games such as this one like a virtual dodge ball or paint ball game (if you get hit, you’re out). Each “obviously human looking enemy” is nothing more than a pre-programmed object and will obviously NOT behave 100% like a real person. And to debunk the “murder simulator” claim, none of the games featuring ludicrously violent ways to kill one’s enemies actually gives “murdering experience” to the player. The only experience gained from such a game is pointing a cursor and hitting a button to eliminate an object in virtual space. There is no actual gun, no ammunition, no recoil, and NO MUSCLE/SKILL GAIN that comes out of a violent FPS work. The problem comes from the customer, not the product. Sorry, Jack Thompson, but Penn and Teller totally TRASHED your “theory!” None of the kids who liked playing Call of Duty could hit a barn-sized target in real life, and after spending one magazine of actual ammunition, one of the kids called it QUITS!

      Did I mess up?

      • No, you didn’t.

        The only “FPS” games I ever played were the shareware versions of Doom and Castle Falkenstein that came preloaded on my old IBM Aptiva computer I bought at Radio Shack twenty years ago. After about one run-through on each, I lost interest, as I’ve done real “Hogan’s Alley” shoots and seen a few too many homicide crime scenes.

        The major thing I noticed was that about the only way to miss in either game was to deliberately “aim off” the target. That’s about as unrealistic as you can get. Like the old saying goes, there are lots of ways to miss but only one way to hit.

        The other thing I noticed was that the motor skills necessary to play the game with a mouse or trackball were absolutely nothing like using a real weapon. The only thing less like actual shooting is using a game controller.

        Anyone who thinks playing games like this makes someone some sort of “Jedi Master of Gun Fu” knows nothing about either shooting or martial arts. They are however probably qualified to write screenplays for George Lucas and/or J.J. Abrams.

        BTW, I consider Penn & Teller’s B******T! the best “reality show” anybody ever came up with.

        cheers

        eon

      • Also in a video game we can shoot a double barrel shotgun sawed off at the hand guard and at the wrist of the stock one handed and not have it recoil and break our nose like it does in reality.

        • It’s like in Hollywood movies, shotguns have no recoil to the shooter, while the person being shot will be propelled backward with great force, typically becoming airborne and often landing in the next room or being thrown clear through a window.

  10. These kind of games don’t just lack realism — they lack basic common sense. It’s kind of hard to believe that in a place littered with hills, boulders, and other things to hide behind, soldiers would not utilize them to shoot from, but instead just boldlly walk out in the open where (to no one’s surprise) they get shot at.

    It would also seem like in a wartime army encampment of any sort, they would be well prepared for such a security breech, like having machine gunners strategically positioned to intercept an invader, as well as the resulting sound of gun fire drawing out the entire base into immediate action. But instad of this being a suicide mission expected to end rather quickly, the action gets dragged out endlessly, as defending soldiers for some unexplained reason only engage the invader one or two at a time instead of all at once.

    It’s funny how little video games like this have changed play-wise since the innovative 3D games like Doom came out a quarter-century ago. The cosmetics might be completely different, but otherwise it’s the exact same game repackaged many times over.

    • You want more realistic enemies? Try sneaking around in the Metal Gear series. If you get spotted, every soldier rushes to your location and will attack all at once without mercy or pause, in which case you’re better off running for cover… they also use cover really well and will not stay still long enough for you to headshot them at your leisure!

      Did I mess up?

    • “It’s funny how little video games like this have changed play-wise since the innovative 3D games like Doom came out a quarter-century ago. The cosmetics might be completely different, but otherwise it’s the exact same game repackaged many times over.”
      As I said, there is always simplification of reality. This probably might be divided into intentional to make game more attractive and unintentional.
      Probably one of most popular, in RPG and FPS, is incredible capacity of backpack, rivaling that of weapon warehouses, which even fully loaded does not affect hero speed.
      Some lack in pathfinding for AI character (for example trying to go through walls)
      Some differs between visual models and collision models.
      Some features indestructible object, which sometime is ridiculous – trying to destroy small/soft thing with most powerful weapon in game fails
      And much much much more weird game-specific logic, for some see:
      http://cheezburger.com/486917/funny-memes-most-ridiculous-examples-video-game-logic

    • “These kind of games don’t just lack realism — they lack basic common sense.”

      I find that it’s not limited to games. Books, movies, tv shows that claim “realism” or “historical” should be promptly viewed with suspicion. Unless you know the material already, realism requires extra effort, which usually gives way to whatever plot that is already planned. And sometimes less realism is better anyway.

      “It’s funny how little video games like this have changed play-wise since the innovative 3D games like Doom came out a quarter-century ago. The cosmetics might be completely different, but otherwise it’s the exact same game repackaged many times over.”

      Well, yes and no. Doom pioneered the first person shooter genre, so you can’t get too far away from it if you’re making yet another first person shooter.

      As for innovation, you won’t see it in popular, widely-advertised, AAA games these days. Thief: The Dark Project (1998) and Thief II (2000), innovative. Thief (2014), an obvious downgrade. The doom reboot Doom (2016) can’t be said to be a direct upgrade either. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ss8SyOhqk1I

      At least with digital distribution like Steam and GOG making publishing and indie development easier, you can have innovative games. But you’ll have to sort through oceans of bad stuff.

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