*Warning: This article contains spoilers for the single player campaign of Battlefield 1*
“Fun” and Entertainment
For some who have played video games regularly, the subject of war may have taken on an unrealistic connotation. Games have been entertaining, and especially in multiplayer, the goal of developers was to create a fun experience. This idea holds true for Battlefield 1. The multiplayer trailers feature infantry charges, epic airplane dives, and charging cavalry units. While gamers find high entertainment value all over Dice’s new title, Battlefield 1’s campaign delivers a sobering experience.
After this dramatic opening scene, the screen blacks out and text fades in stating “More than 60 million soldiers fought in ‘The War to End All Wars’. It ended nothing.”
The Lost Generation
The opening cut-scenes and gameplay set the tone for the rest of the campaign. After a glimpse of the carnage, the caption above highlights the dismaying truth of WWI. The narrator consistently reminds the audience what truly happened in WWI: massive amounts of seemingly pointless death.
In that first mission, the player controls several characters who fight and die for an unnamed cause. When a character dies, their name, birth, and death dates all flash across the screen, reminding gamers of the young age of those soldiers. Around nine million soldiers died in battle during the war, the average age in the early 20’s. This high concentration of death partly led to the moniker “The Lost Generation.”
While the predicament looks grim, this despairing tone never detracts from the respect that Battlefield pays to those who lost their lives. Dice calls out nations for their overspending of lives but creates stories amidst the carnage that pay homage to those who died.
Heroic Decisions: The Common Thread
Soldiers in WW1 shipped off to war for a plethora of reasons, but the vast majority volunteered for a small number of causes. They went to fight for their nation, to go on an adventure, or even in response to social pressure. They continued to battle for the men (or women) they fought beside. Battlefield 1 captures this later incentive in its five brief campaigns.
The narrative high-points for each campaign comes in the sacrificial heroism of the characters. Friends in High Places details the growing friendship of a pilot and gunner team fighting for the British. The main character, Clyde Blackburn, starts off the story preoccupied with glory and the rush of flight, deceiving his way into the cockpit.
When the pair crashlands in “no man’s land,” Blackburn takes the ultimate risk by rescuing his gunner, Wilson, carrying him to the British line. That dramatic moment of decision for Blackburn signifies his shift from miscreant to hero.
We find similar moments of truth in the other campaigns. In The Runner, the playable character, Bishop, is an Australian veteran of some renown. When pestered and followed by an underaged soldier named Foster, Bishop accosts him for his glorified view of war. This encounter both underlines one of Dice’s themes and sets up for a climactic finale.
Later on, Bishop makes the decision to rescue Foster from a grave situation. Foster has charged a nearby fortified castle with his unit, which will soon be destroyed by allied artillery. Bishop, like Blackburn, knew that saving the young soldier would mean nearly certain death. The theme is heightened even further when Bishop arrives at the castle to learn that Foster himself will not leave without dangerously transporting his own wounded.
Moments like these, as well as narratives in the other campaigns, demonstrate the complicated and dramatic stories of WWI’s soldiers. While these sacrifices inspire heroism, Battlefield 1 carefully balances those emotions with a dose of sobriety.
The Price of War
During Blackburn’s courageous rescue of Wilson, the player witnesses the horror of “no man’s land.” This 100 yard-ish span was littered with barbed wire, rats, and dead or dying bodies. With persisting machine guns, snipers, and artillery, sometimes scores of bodies were sadly unclaimed and left to rot over the course of the war.
On a similar note, Foster falls into panic and despair upon witnessing the carnage of the Gallipoli beaches. Even after the inspiring events that lead to Foster’s heroism, the final captions inform the player that the Gallipoli Campaign ultimately failed.
Battlefield 1 also captures the physical destruction brought on by WW1. During Avanti Sovoia, an Italian mountain unit attacks Austro-Hungarians in a desperate battle for the Alps. The Italians are halted when their enemies bomb the mountains to trigger a landslide, burying many bodies on both sides.
After the landslide, the main character, Luca, shifts his focus from victory to finding his twin brother, Matteo. His heroic decision comes when he walks mouth agape into his self-described hell to save his brother. Along the way, he finds dozens of other struggling Italians, most of which are dying slowly from the results of the bombings.
The captions that conclude Avanti Sovoia remind the players that both surviving and fallen soldiers were considered a part of the “Lost Generation.” Even those who came back never saw the world the same. Many suffered physical and mental injuries; PTSD was only just being discovered.
This mental aspect of the war shines through in the opening scene of Through Mud and Blood, where Danny Edwards experiences some mental lapses related to the war. In his tank-combat based campaign, Edwards witnesses the death of new friends and scores of enemies. The opening scene alludes to his lifelong mental and physical scars that he will carry after the war.
During one scene, the tank crew releases a carrier pigeon with artillery orders to fly back to the British lines. The section is worthy of note, not only for the soaring pigeon gameplay but because of the meaningful juxtaposition between nature and mankind. The pigeon flies above with relative ease, and the player sees the forests and mountains near Cambrai in the distance. Meanwhile, the violence of the Hundred Days Offensive churns below.
Battlefield 1 is the title that gamers frustrated by the redundancy of the modern-day shooter needed to play. The stunning campaign entertains, but reminds us of the horrors of war. We are drawn in not simply for the sake of “fun,” but for a deeper impact.
The final cinematic reminds players of the countless forgotten soldiers. Their lives were lost, not for some frivolous nationalistic cause, but for the people they fought beside. The experience is moving, to say the least. Reading about it, or watching the cutscenes online, does not do it justice. If you own Battlefield 1 and have not played through the campaign, you know what to do.