Not too long ago, the first-person shooter space was littered with war games, including the likes of Call of Duty, Medal of Honor, Battlefield and Brothers In Arms. Then times moved on, and we got present-day battles against terrorists, and from there we’ve mostly been shooting each other in space in the not-too-distant future. Battlefield developer DICE has decided to go back to basics, with the upcoming Battlefield 1 recreating the harrowing times of World War I. I had the opportunity to go hands-on with the game at last weekend’s EGX 2016.
The Battlefield series has always been known for its dynamic maps, with players having the ability to rip buildings to shreds with their gunfire to make themselves a hidey hole. That’s back again in Battlefield 1, with fully destructible landscapes, outhouses and even trees. During the demo, a plane crashed down near me as I scurried across an open field, leaving a crater in the ground big enough for me to hide in. While this felt very manic, at the same time it was very spontaneous and cool.
On top of dynamic landscapes, there are also dynamic weather effects now, too. During matches, the elements can quickly change from sunshine to torrential rainstorms and even fog. This certainly keeps you on your toes and can even turn the tide of war. If your enemies are picking you and your comrades off from a higher position and the fog rolls in, then suddenly the momentum can shift your way as their vision becomes impaired. It’s just another way that Battlefield looks to deliver on its promise that no two matches will ever be the same.
Amongst all the World War I weaponry you’d expect to be included is the bayonet. Nothing entirely new, you might say, but players can now charge their enemies by running at them and hitting the melee button. This performs a devastating and hugely satisfying kill, but if you’re not lined up correctly it can lead to a devastating counter-attack.
Impaling enemies isn’t the only thing you can do while running, either. You can keep your momentum going through buildings by charging at them; you’ll kick the door open and storm in. This is useful to keep yourself moving on your way to your destination, especially if you’re looking to get away from enemy plane fire. Storming a room is also a great way to surprise your enemies, bursting in on them unexpectedly before riddling them with bullets.
All the classic classes you’d expect are here too, including Assault, Medic, Support and Scout, which are all pretty self-explanatory. You’re not limited to these presets, either, as there’s an in-depth customisation option for classes to make them your own.
Choosing where to respawn is a crucial decision. You can either spawn with your squad or at any of the locations your team occupies. On top of which, if there’s a plane or tank available at a location, you can jump straight into that, too. Grounded vehicles can also be repaired, so if your tank’s taken a big hit, you can get out and fix it, which has rarely been an option in games like this before.
The aforementioned squads can be made up of up to five players, one of which is the squad leader. This leader can assign additional challenges to the rest of the squad; if you perform one of these tasks during the game you’ll bag yourself some bonus experience points.
The most impressive aspect of Battlefield 1 is that it genuinely feels like you’re in the middle of a war from nearly a hundred years ago. The open, muddy landscapes, in which trenches, barbed wire and broken walls for cover are all abundant add to the authenticity of the game. The sense of danger is also ever-present. When you’re out in the open, especially on some of the larger maps – where you can play 32 versus 32 player games – it’s important to stick to the run-down, partly destroyed houses and barns you can find dotted about to avoid being picked off.
Rather than the traditional phonetic alphabet players will be used to, Battlefield 1 keeps with its theme by using the RAF radio alphabet instead. For example, my objectives were called Apples, Butter, Charlie, Duff, Edward and Freddy. While its inclusion is understandable and easy enough to get to grips with, it does sound a little weird when a woman tells you “We’ve captured Apples” or “The enemy took Butter” over the radio.
One issue I experienced was that both enemy and friendly name tags disappear when they’re using vehicles or positioned behind gatling guns. For this reason, there were multiple times I had egg on my face after emptying a clip into a teammate or running past an enemy tank clueless. Granted, it’s a small issue and the build I played was still pre-alpha, but it’s worth mentioning nonetheless.
Reinforcements can be called into battle in the form of giant airships called Behemoths. These huge contraptions can be piloted by players, whilst others can take control of the multiple guns it possesses to rain down fire and destruction from above. When one of these appears for the enemy team it’s time to focus all of your efforts on it or the match will shortly end. Planes are a great way of getting up close and personal to the ships whilst also creating tougher, moving targets.
Despite the fact the map I played held 64 players in total, its hugeness still led to its feeling a little lonely at times. I found myself running for a good minute before finding an enemy, which you wouldn’t normally expect from an FPS. It’s both a blessing and a curse, though, as it would be far too chaotic to have so many players on a Call of Duty-sized map – but at the same time, you want to be in the thick of the battle as much as possible in the way Titanfall does. On the flip-side to this, of course, you are provided with plenty of potentially effective sniping locations and enough secluded areas to regain your health and plan your next move. With vehicles such as Behemoths, tanks and planes, the map design also has a lot to accommodate.
The hills and long grass make for great cover and create an almost no mans’ land kill-box area in the centre of the map. At some point you will have to run across this open area at the bottom of a valley, but the defences around it are bound to be vast so keep your stamina topped up and head to the nearest standing building. This further adds to the feeling of danger and sense of urgency; you have to constantly be on your toes as you can, and will, get shot from any and all angles. In my demo match, it also helped to create a number of smaller battles amidst the great war, where I found myself in both one-on-one situations and my squad pitted against another in an all-out firefight.
Traversing the environment by using the charging mechanic feels very fluid and fun. You can also hop over walls and fences just by running and hitting jump, and you can slide behind cover or dive prone to help you get around the map as quickly as possible whilst avoiding enemy fire.
As you would expect, one man feels very under-powered compared to the multitude of vehicles available. I quickly learnt that there was little point trying to shoot any enemy machines, as they’re almost a one-hit kill against you. It’s frustrating at first to say the least but you’ll soon realise it adds to the sense of jeopardy that many men experienced in these sorts of battles. You’re just one, outmatched man. So find yourself a tank or a hiding spot.
In a time when first-person shooters are about fast-paced action, jetpacks and over-the-top weapons, it’s a brave move for EA to go back to a time before players could double-jump. Battlefield 1 looks and feels like a promising step in the right direction, and I’m excited to see the finished product next month. Somehow, my match ended in a stalemate – with both teams scoring 147 points – so I’ll have to wait until Battlefield 1 ships on October 21 to exact my revenge.