I was so excited when I heard that there was finally going to be a classic, old school FPS again. The original Call of Dutys and Medal of Honors were some of the best video games out there, mainly because of their historical nature, and when I heard Battlefield 1 was going back all the way to World War 1, I was so psyched. That feeling of excitement was only made greater with each passing trailer, so, when I got my bonus last week, I immediately decided that I would be buying a new video game.
This put me in a bit of a pickle, though. Battlefield 1? Watchdogs 2? Or should I catch up on some of the great games I missed and get Mad Max and Just Cause 3?
After about 45 minutes of switching back and forth and making the poor girl at Gamestop ring up 8 different games, I finally decided to go with BF1. I got home, stuck it in, installed the update (which, since I now have a 1 Gb/s internet speed, went surprisingly quick), and began playing.
Initially, I was really excited. I’ve really been in an RPG mode for the last couple of years with video games. Ever since I started playing the Fallout series, that’s kind of what I lean towards now. The time of my life when I really enjoyed shoot-’em-up, fast-paced FPS games was pretty much gone, and I’d figured it was mostly because of how shitty Call of Duty had become. I was really hoping that Battlefield 1 would rekindle my feelings towards FPSs, and… Well, it’s complicated.
First of all, it’s a beautiful game. The graphics are fantastic. I haven’t really had an ‘oh shit’ moment on PS4 since I played Metal Gear Solid V, but as soon as I started out on BF1, the ‘oh shit’s were very plentiful.
You start out in battle. No back story is given except for the game telling you that ‘you’re not meant to survive’, which is pretty accurate – especially since I haven’t played an FPS since Modern Warfare 3 – and you do actually constantly die. Which was cool. Very cool, in fact. I really enjoyed how they tried to get you to realize that yes, this war fucking sucked, and yes, lots of people died every minute of every day from 1914 to 1918.
Getting back to the graphics and world-building of it, they do a lot of work making you realize how massive the scale of destruction was during World War 1. I think the biggest ‘oh shit’ moment for me was when I was playing the second mission as the pilot. After my plane got shot out of the sky, I had to fight my way back to the British lines through German trenches and, eventually, through no man’s land. Looking over my shoulder to see the dark, twisted countryside made me actually feel like I had to push forward, but the burning trees and shell holes that pocked the landscape in front of me made me think twice about continuing onward. It was a really good way of getting that feeling of destruction across. And I could actually believe that this (maybe not exactly this) could have happened.
That is, until I saw the rats. It was cool at first. I said to myself ‘Oh cool! They actually put rats into the game!’ Then I thought about all the things I read in high school about how prevalent rats and disease were in the trenches, and especially no man’s land, and I was really hoping that they’d put enough thought, time, and effort into this other tiny little detail to make it worth my while. But then I crouched down to see the rats up close and… Yeah. They were little polygons. Little, tiny, hairy polygons. It totally killed it for me. It’s like the rats were someone’s idea in the last day of development and the boss was like ‘Yeah, sure, throw some rats in there but you’ve only got 30 minutes to make them.’ It’s little things like that that put a sour taste in my mouth. Sorry. It’s really nit-picky, but I had to throw this in there.
Another thing that bothers me is the history of it. First, I’ll talk about guns. First first, a little disclaimer.
No. I am not a military historian. No, I don’t claim to be a military historian. Yes, I know a lot about military history, but no, I am by no means claiming that any of this information is 100% accurate. Yes, I’m saying that most of it is probably correct, but I might be wrong. Work with me here. I also do understand that a lot of this was put into the game to make it more exciting to a modern audience. But the stories of WW1 are already exciting. You don’t need to make stuff up to make it more exciting. Okay, back to the blog.
Submachine guns: they’re pretty awesome little things. It’s a machine gun you can hold in your hand. They revolutionized warfare. But… C’mon. For real? Submachine guns were not that prevalent in WW1. Not at all. Yes, they did have submachine guns towards the end of the war, and yes, they were about as common as the STG-44 was at the end of WW2, but every single person going into battle from 1914 on didn’t have an SMG strapped to their back. If they did, they would have jammed up from mud, burned people’s hands, and sprayed about as wildly as one of those little lawn-sprinkler toys with the wobbly arms.
It’s not that hard to be accurate. I think Call of Duty did such a good job with this in their original games. Every German had an MP-40 or a Kar-98, maybe they had a Gewehr 43, that was on a good day, and you either walked in with an M1 Garand or a Thompson. You got so excited when you finally got to pick up the BAR. They didn’t have to make it exciting, because the stories of the war itself are exciting enough.
Same goes for this crazy ass suit of Italian armor that guy is wearing in the 3rd mission. Yes, there was body armor in WW1. Yes this armor was semi-used towards the end of the war, but NO! This wasn’t issued to normal infantrymen. Nor could, if normal infantrymen were issued this armor, they jump, run, and sprint all over the Swiss Alps. It also didn’t render you completely impenetrable to any gunfire whatsoever. Come on, guys. Please. Just… c’mon.
Now onto the thing I like most about this game: the utter shittyness of World War 1. It’s kind of a forgotten war, which is really sad, and I appreciate the guys at EA for taking the time to make a game that gets it back into peoples minds. Even WW2 is starting to leave our thoughts, but these two wars were utterly terrible, and we should know more about them. It’s crazy to think of a time before the Geneva Convention where pretty much anything was fair game. Flamethrowers, trench knives, mustard and chlorine gas, all of these things were actually used in battle, and in BF1, they’re used against you. It’s a really neat way to show people how just 100 years ago, the world was such a different place. I really hope this game makes people wonder what the war was actually like. I really hope people go and pick up a book like The Pity of War by Niall Ferguson or Modern Military History by Hans Delbrück. Try to understand what it was like. You’ll be surprised.
It’s not all pilots losing at a game of cards so they jack some dude’s plane and fake their way through a (completely fake) bombing of London. It’s humans doing the bidding of other, richer humans. I think my favorite story of WW1 is that of the Christmas Truce. This is a true story, and it’s giving me shivers just thinking about it.
Around Christmas time in 1914, German, British, and French soldiers all stopped fighting. They straight up stopped. They walked across no man’s land and shook hands. They became friends. They exchanged gifts. It’s true. Here’s a picture.
I think this is the story that people need to understand about WW1. It was humanity. Not just crazy suits of armor and submachine guns all up and down the trenches. Did BF1 pass this along? Sure. A bit. They make you feel it when the Italian is looking for his brother. They make you understand it when the two soldiers point their weapons at each other and then slowly lower them, both eventually going their own way. But they did it a lot less than I would have hoped.
I look forward to the day when we can go back to semi-accuracy in games and we can take the stories for what they were, but, I fear that day may never come. Until then, I’ll continue playing Call of Duty 2 (which yes, I understand, has its own inaccuracies) and look fondly upon the olden days of FPSs when it was a big deal that you could hold your breath when aiming a sniper rifle (and when 90% of the game wasn’t devoted to multiplayer).
Editor’s Note: Yes, I realize I didn’t talk about multiplayer at all, but I don’t have to. It’s a multiplayer shooter. You run around other people running around trying to shoot them or capture this or defend that before they shoot you. There’s nothing else to say.
Reed’s Review Corner:
7.5 Mark I Tanks out of 10
Engaging mission stories.
Telling the story of an often forgotten war.
There weren’t submachine guns just lying around.
Big world looks great, tiny details are missed.
Too focused on multiplayer.