Battlefield 1’s use of disconnected, short-lived playable vignettes is among the smartest approaches to wartime (and videogame) storytelling. Better still, the narrative writing is beautifully adventurous, with intelligently brisk character development and using varying devices – first-person, third-person, ambient narration all included.
Stories lean morose, tense, moody, or excitably wild when projecting the spectacle demanded of bold, holiday-timed videogames. An emotional high follows an antsy tank squadron and their new driver. The brief, claustrophobic stint inside the machine projects genuine fear, overlaid with a sense of family born on the Italian front. A palette of cold colors become clouded by smoke and oil, building a suffocating visible odor.
Better still, an air raid with a rogue pilot. His stolen identity in tow, the adventure thematically conjoins to a brightly lit buddy drama, catapulted with high caliber, enlarged spectacle – ending with a smart wink.
Reasonably compact, there’s no pressure to over exert or extend these battles. This allows an eclectic mix of visible level design, an artistry rapidly dissipating in the glut of open worlds. Battlefield 1 rises and peaks. In its tank outing, emotions run from the peak of tank combat, to lonesome, foggy stealth before rising again. A run-and-gun section with an armored foot soldier unit begins with a rapid fire death march, into a panicked hunt for survivors, and finally a sacrificial plane assault. Spending time with Lawrence of Arabia means spreading out onto a desert to pick at enemy outposts. The appreciation for pacing is too often ignored or disregarded in videogames. Battlefield 1 understands, then showcases superlative, evocative direction in cinematics to bring it all together.
While still giving in to one-man-army theatrics, Battlefield notices and appreciates sacrifice. The opening playable montage begins with a hail of bullets in an impossible fight, segueing between soldiers as they’re killed. While this lone appearance downplays and negates the Harlem Hellfighters (used extensively in commercials and the cover art, devaluing them to a marketable checkbox), the additional chapters spread knowledge of various battlegrounds. While too arid and theatrical in context for the sake of education (certain nationalist forces go unseen), Battlefield 1 at least tries to convey scale and intensity in a war often considered only for the misery of its trenches.