When it comes to massive and frenzied action in the video game world, there is nothing more exemplary than the “Battlefield” series. The long-running war franchise has been a mainstay amongst gamers since its inception, the ultimate action video game for those looking for their experiences to be big, loud and cinematic. After the announcement came that the newest iteration of the series would revolve around World War I, a global conflict known for stagnation and grim horror, many feared it wouldn’t offer the essential “Battlefield” experience. Against all odds, “Battlefield 1” stands tall as not only the strongest entry in the series to date, but also as a surprisingly nuanced and intelligent look at one of the most pointless and dark wars in human history.
“Battlefield” games are not particularly well-regarded for their campaigns. Story modes found throughout the series have been entirely forgettable and uninspired, with seemingly all of developer DICE’s efforts being directed toward the multiplayer experience. In “Battlefield 1,” however, DICE implements the use of so called War Stories, smaller stories of several missions following characters from multiple fronts around the world. This technique is absolutely brilliant, allowing players to experience multiple viewpoints of the Great War and learn about its utter futility as a conflict. The characters themselves are fantastic, from an unreliable pilot narrator to a Bedouin woman who fights alongside Lawrence of Arabia, and they all elevate the game from another thoughtless shooter story to one of depth. The best sequence of the game (and frankly one of the most ingenious set pieces seen in a game ever) is a narrative piece in which the player plays as an endless cycle of random soldiers who are killed until the sequence is over. The player is forced to play through this before they can do anything else, and the as the epitaphs of countless soldiers play after every player death, the message DICE crafts resonates deeply: this was a war in which they were no victors, only survivors.
Beyond the fantastic campaign, the multiplayer of “Battlefield 1” is the series’ very best. The grime and chaos of World War I actually end up playing nicely into the “Battlefield” formula, with the unique era weapons and vehicles giving the game a unique personality. Players fly ancient planes and zeppelins in the air while facing the horrors of gas and newly invented machine weaponry on the ground. The classic Conquest mode, in which players capture control points across a large map, is as fun as ever, while Operations, a new twist on Conquest and other modes, offers a diverse experience that actually has mini storylines embedded into them. Another great inclusion is the weird but wonderful new mode War Pigeons, in which players capture messenger pigeons like flags in order to launch artillery strikes on the enemy team. It all adds up to a perfect mix of history and modern action, providing the “Battlefield” experience with a distinctive twist.
Despite doubts in the gaming community over whether or not the game would be a success, “Battlefield 1” turns out to be one of the finest games to come out this year. Surprisingly, this success is not only for sticking to the series’ roots while providing a new backdrop, but for providing one of the most poignant commentaries on war in popular culture in quite some time. In the end, the only shame about “Battlefield 1” is that it makes you wish other major titles had half the intelligence and awareness that it does.