I bought Battlefield 1 during the recent PSN sale. That is likely a surprise to people who know me. I have long had little regard for first person shooters, and have never had much of an interest at all in multiplayer shooters. I was drawn to this particular game for its World War 1 setting. That was enough to get me to fork over the $10 it cost to give it a try.
My take on this game is going to be completely unfair. I feel I have to acknowledge that upfront. The Battlefield series is popular for its multiplayer; the single player campaigns exist and that is about it. So going into Battlefield to play the single player is pretty much by definition missing the point. I am not much of a multiplayer guy. I’ll play some fighting games and party games, but playing with other people is not something I really do. Even Monster Hunter, a favorite of mine, is usually a solo experience for me. I will play it online, but it makes it feel like a chore sometimes. I mostly just enjoy to play by myself and at my own pace. That is what I wanted out of Battlefield 1; to play through some WWI battles by myself. Technically, it delivered.
Battlefield 1 also did a good job of showing the breadth of the First World War. Its splintered single player campaigns range from France to Italy to Arabia. You experience early tank fighting, biplane dogfights, pitched battles on seafronts and mountainsides. It gives the player a little bit of everything. The problem is that almost none of it is any fun. Take the thing I was most excited for: the airplanes. The initial control scheme for the planes is insane. Or at least, it felt insane for someone who does not primarily play first person shooters. After thinking about it for a while, I think the control scheme does make sense when thinking about it through the lens of a shooter. For someone used to controlling an on screen character or vehicle through any other lens it is awkward at best. Luckily, the controls are remappable. Once you find something that works, it becomes tolerable. Frustrating, but tolerable. The game gives essentially two missions in the plane; one big assault defending bombers attacking a base, other defending London from a German bombing raid. Once they get going, they can be fun, but the game does not really explain the parameters.
The game also loves to put the player into situations that, in the story of the campaign, call for stealth. However, the game does not really give the player the tools to play stealthily. I am not sure the game really intends for the player to be stealthy. The most interesting one is the Arabian set section of the campaign. The player has to send three messages from three separate bases. The game hints at sneaking in, but the game gives few sneaking tools. In set up, it feels like a mission out of Metal Gear Solid 5. In execution, it shows how great a game Metal Gear Solid 5 was. Part of the problem is on me: I am not a huge fan of shooting. If the game gives me a peaceful option, I will take that option. Battlefield 1 suggests such options, then pushes the player to go in guns blazing.
Maybe that is why the Italian campaign was the most satisfying. The Italian campaign is the most straightforward of the bunch. It puts the player in a pitched battle, shooting his way up a mountain. Eventually, you are searching for your lost brother, but it is mostly just a series of stages for shooting everything that moves. It works. It is fun to go from bunker to bunker, tearing through enemy troops. Any time the games tries something more complex with its single player missions, it stumbles, but those straightforward shooting missions were solid.
I haven’t said much about the stories, because there is nothing much to say. They range from bland to forgettable, with the one interesting one being the biplane story. It is interesting because it tries to bring in some unreliable narrator stuff that only really shows up there and only serves to undercut the most fun story they put together. There isn’t much to say.
Honestly, I am a little disappointed in myself for buying this game. I have pretty much stopped playing games that are mostly about killing other people. That is something I’ve grown increasingly uncomfortable with as I’ve grown older. It is not that I begrudge anyone else their enjoyment of shooters or anything similar, but I personally don’t really enjoy them. It is kind of arbitrary; I love the Yakuza games and they are incredibly violent. But most of the fights in the Yakuza series ostensibly leave the losers alive. Even something like Metal Gear Solid, which features a lot of killing, at least mostly leaves it up to the player on whether to kill people or not. Shooter, on the other hand, don’t really have options. You shoot things. I bought Battlefield 1 for its novel setting. I thought that maybe that would be enough to get me into a shooter. It didn’t. I am ready to take another decade long break from the genre.