Since kicking it off with 2002’s Battlefield 1942, the Battlefield series has mostly been known for its online multiplayer modes. And while that’s still the case with the new Battlefield 1 (Xbox One, Xbox One Early Enlister Edition, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 4 Early Enlister Edition, PC, PC Early Enlister Edition), the last three games in the series — 2011’s Battlefield 3, 2013’s Battlefield 4, and 2015’s Battlefield Hardline — have shown that this first-person shooter series can have compelling single-player campaigns as well. With that in mind, here’s an assessment of the single-player campaign in Battlefield 1.
Set during a heavily fictionalized version of World War I, the campaign in Battlefield 1 breaks from tradition by not having you play the entire game as one lone soldier. Instead, you play as five different people, each of whom have their own unconnected and self-contained stories, which are set during different times and locations. In the first, for instance, you’re a British tank driver in France at the end of the war, while the last has you running around Mesopotamia under the command of that guy from the movie Lawrence Of Arabia. These “War Stories,” as they’re called, can even be played in any order you prefer (though for reasons I won’t go into, you should really play the fifth one last).
While the campaign in Battlefield 1 may be structured differently, the gameplay itself is still Battlefield-esque. When not shooting enemies from the first-person perspective, you’ll be using a third-person viewpoint to drive a tank, ride a horse, or fly a plane, all while completing a series of story-based objectives that include stealing spare parts, assassinating commanders, and finding your brother. And it’s all set on battlefields that are, for the most part, large, open, and partially destructible.
Because of this, your enemies in Battlefield 1 can come at you from multiple angles, and you can do the same to both them and your objectives. But this also means you can use stealth take out your enemies all quiet-like. Or, if you’re clumsy like me, use it to thin out the heard before you screw up, alert everyone to your presence, and then have to go weapons hot and shoot everyone like you’re Rambo.
It’s during these sneaky bits that the campaign in Battlefield 1 is at its best. Like the one where you use the cover of night, and a silence pistol someone left lying around, to infiltrate an occupied village so you can find new spark plugs for your tank.
There’s even one, towards the end, that makes this feel like a first-person version of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, or a Far Cry set in a Middle Eastern desert a hundred years ago, since you’re sneaking around the desert, riding around on a horse, and can use binoculars to find and mark enemies so you don’t accidentally bump into them as you’re running around. Though, admittedly, the sneakiness of Battlefield 1 is never as elaborate as it is in a Metal Gear Solid game, even if you can toss spent shell casings to distract people.
This is not to say the only good parts of Battlefield 1 are the sneaky ones. There’s a couple aerial dogfight mission that are fantastic, especially when you try to shoot down a zeppelin. Then there’s the part in Italy in which you’re wearing a heavy suit of armor, armed with a powerful machine gun, and laying waste to everyone as you slowly make your way up a scenic hill. It’s basically like playing Call Of Duty: World At War or one of the WWII-era Medal Of Honor games as one of the mechs from Titanfall 2.
Of course, the argument could be made that Battlefield 1 shouldn’t be like playing a World War II first-person shooter, it should be like playing a World War I first-person shooter. But as someone who really likes WWII first-person shooters, I’m okay with this having the same gritty feel and harrowing gunfights as a game set during the second World War.
Though it also helps that Battlefield 1 has solid and (mostly) intuitive controls (I’ll get to the “mostly” part in a minute). Sure, not all of the “War Stories” are stellar. The tank driving parts in the first one are a bit lopsided, while the fourth is the most straight-forward, and thus least interesting, of the bunch. But when this does get good, as it so often does, it’s as exciting as any previous Battlefield games, and a bit more unique than most.
As compelling as the campaign in Battlefield 1 may be, however, it’s not without its problems. For starters, when you sneak up on someone and whack them upside the head, you use such melee weapons as a hatchet or a spiked club instead of the butt of your gun. The problem is that after doing this, you don’t automatically switch back to your gun, you’re still holding the melee weapon, and thus have to spend precious seconds switching back to your gun, seconds that could mean the difference between…well, okay, not life and death, but certainly life and having to restart from the last checkpoint.
Similarly, when using one of the stationary guns or sniper rifles in Battlefield 1, you have to manually reload them after each shot, as if no one ever taught you to automatically reload single shot weapons after using them. Even stranger, you don’t have to do this when using a bolt-action rifle; then, your soldier knows to do this without being asked.
Then there’s the (mostly) intuitive controls I mentioned earlier. For starters, Battlefield 1 has you using the right bumper to bring up your binoculars, while the left is to toss a grenade. This runs counter to most first-person shooters, which use the right bumper for grenades. And while, like all deviations from the norm, you will get used to it after a while, it’s still irritating.
Similarly, it’s also annoying to have to constantly pick up new guns because someone forgot to buy ammo, and thus didn’t leave boxes of the stuff lying around where you could easily resupply. If I had a dollar for every time I accidentally threw a grenade when I wanted to get the lay of the land, or had to swap a good gun for a crap one because the former ran out of ammo, I could make my own World War I first-person shooter.
Battlefield 1 also also has a problem so prevalent in video games these days that I cut and paste this paragraph into every relevant review I write: some of the type is too small. If you sit at a reasonable distance from your television — y’know, like your mama told you to — you’ll have trouble reading some of the menus and the mid-mission hint messages. Though it also doesn’t help that some of the menus have white text against a mostly white backgrounds.
On their own, though, none of these issues are deal breakers. Which is why the campaign in Battlefield 1 are not only as good as the ones in Battlefield 3, Battlefield 4, and Battlefield Hardline, but it also stands up as a mode unto itself, and isn’t just a training exercise for multiplayer like the campaigns in earlier Battlefield games.
In the end, if your only interest is in playing the campaign, there’s more than enough to it to warrant buying Battlefield 1. While it has the same great controls and unique tenets this series has had since it kicked off with 2002’s Battlefield 1942, some of the missions — like the sneaky ones, the dogfighting ones, and the Titanfall one — are so compelling that you’ll want to run through them more than once.