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Beyond the trenches: ‘Battlefield 1’ offers panoramic view of a world at war

By BRIAN BOWERS | Stars and Stripes | Published: October 20, 2016

World War I evokes thoughts of a grinding stalemate where weary solders huddle in trenches that stretch across a cratered landscape. Those who stick their heads over the top are more likely to catch a bullet than a glimpse of the muddy desolation beyond.

It certainly doesn’t seem like fertile ground for a “Battlefield” game. The franchise is known for fierce action, agility and movement. However, the Great War sprawled across many fronts and featured plenty of action beyond the trenches. It also saw the rise of new technologies, including the airplane and the tank. For the most part, Dice chose these areas and technologies to emphasize when developing “Battlefield 1” for Electronic Arts.

The game’s single-player campaign starts with a tutorial that jumps from one character to another, providing a rapid-fire overview of some of the different weapons, vehicles and terrain that you’ll experience during the game. It begins and ends with an African-American soldier from the Harlem Hell-fighters who is facing a German onslaught. This introduction sets the tone for much of the game: vicious and grim.

The game then focuses on the stories of five different warfighters. These characters are a British tank driver fighting the Germans in the Second Battle of Cambrai in France; a hotshot American who pilots a British Bristol fighter; an Italian soldier who battles the Austro-Hungarian army in the Dolomite moun-tains; an Australian involved in the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign against the Ottoman Empire; and a stealthy woman who assists Lawrence of Arabia in his campaign of sabotage against the Ottomans.

These characters generally serve outside the infamous trenches of Belgium and France, but many still find themselves fighting their way through a muddy labyrinth at one point or another. For example, the pilot is shot down on the wrong side of no man’s land and must find his way back across German lines. Black Bess, the driver’s tank, is cut off from the main assault force and must make its way back to the British side. And the Gallipoli and Dolomite battles require a bit of fighting in trenches and bunkers.

Most of the characters have interesting stories to tell — tales of betrayal, loss, sacrifice and redemption. However, the number of stories means that none is lengthy or particularly deep.

While the game’s multiplayer modes don’t offer any stories, they actually do a better job of conveying the intensity of a world at war. Part of that is because of the unpredictability of human opponents, but the well-constructed maps certainly help. They do an excellent job of channeling the action and providing interesting spaces for all sorts of combat.

The multiplayer maps include the Argonne Forest, the trenches of the St. Quentin Scar, the rubble-strewn French city of Amiens, the rugged peaks north of Venice, the coast of the Adriatic Sea, a French chateau and three desert landscapes.

Multiplayer action includes team death match and a variety of objective-based modes. There’s the popular Rush, which features a rolling set of objectives, and the new War Pigeons, in which players fight for controls of messenger pigeons that can send orders to launch devastating artillery barrages. The biggest addition is a mode called Operations, which strings together several maps to create an epic multiplayer campaign based on an actual battle.

Other changes include the ability to turn a sprint into a deadly bayonet charge and the availability of poison gas and flame throwers. And on some maps, immense zeppelins, battleships or armored trains pop up to throw an additional challenge into the mix.

Despite these small changes and the World War I veneer, gameplay strongly resembles that of previous titles in the franchise. And that’s good news for “Battlefield” fans.

In typical “Battlefield” fashion, you can use any weapons you find on the field — and there seems to be an unusually large number of automatic weapons for the time period. You can play in several combat roles: assault, scout, support and medic. Buildings are destructible. And additional attack options are available with tanks and aircraft, which might look like they’re from World War I but behave pretty much the same as their counterparts in “Battlefield” titles that depict more modern conflicts.

Gameplay is usually pretty smooth. The only serious glitch occurred when I flew my aircraft too close to the ground and it was stopped — not wrecked — by a collision with a tree. The plane slowly settled to the ground and then popped back into the air when I slightly changed the direction it was facing.

The graphics are uneven. The cut scenes are spectacular, offering abundant detail and texture. In some cases, you can see the pores in the characters’ faces. However, that level of quality doesn’t continue into the actual game. Most segments are impressive enough, but some look like something ripped from an old PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 game. In those instances, uniforms and faces are severely lacking in detail. In addition, visual glitches pop up frequently. For example, rats will run across the trench floor and disappear into a solid wall. Logs and rocks seem to be floating just above the ground. And it seems a bit odd that you can drive a tank through a stone wall, but canvas tents are indestructible.

The game earns a mature rating for blood, violence and strong language.

The franchise’s previous installment was “Hardline,” a police story that never caught on with fans. “Battlefield 1” brings back the battle in a gritty and compelling way that should win back fans.

Bottom line: A-
Platforms: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC
Online: www.battlefield.com

Players of “Battlefield 1,” set during World War I, will engage in the conventional ground skirmishes and dogfights across the Western Front. They’ll also do battle in the Great War’s lesser-known theaters, such as Arabia and the Italian Alps.
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