The thing that really got to me about Battlefield 1? The sound design.
I have been listening to so many sci-fi and modern military gun-blasts in videogames that the sound of a futuristic space rifle no longer excites or surprises me, to be honest. The Call of Duties have also inured me to most of the excitement of modern weaponry. After about a decade of FPSes focused on the present and the future, Battlefield 1’s hundred-year-old weapons make sounds that almost seem alien. The clangs and thumps that rounds make as they’re loaded into one of Battlefield 1’s tank guns are so profoundly unlike the kinds of stuff I’ve been used to hearing in FPSes recently that it kind of knocked me for a loop.
So, yeah: great sound design is one of the ways that Battlefield 1 really sells the profound scariness of the clanking and roaring old military that technology our great-great grandparents used to murder the crap out of each other in World War 1. Attack planes shoot thunderous rounds that feel as if they could pin an elephant to a wall. At one point, I killed an enemy player at point-blank range with a tank gun. There was a sound like an anvil falling onto a stack of sheet metal, and he just vanished. The game gave me about 88 points for hitting him, and I thought, “Points for HITTING him? I kind of deleted him from the goddamn universe, didn’t I?”
Get yourself behind a big enough gun, and it starts to feel like you can delete the map from existence, too. Guns thump craters into the earth deep enough to hide prone in. You can knock a hole in the wall of a building big enough to drive a tank through, and then you can actually just go and drive your tank through it. At one point I stood still and fired a kind of tank cannon thing over and over again at a building until basically only smithereens were left. EA’s introduction to the game included some language about its complex dynamic destruction system, but in play that translates mostly into: if you’ve got a tank, fuck walls. Many of the walls in the game are no match for a tank. Fuck the ground, also. I tried to draw a smiley-face of giant-ass craters into the side of a hill, but my tank driver drove away before I could finish it.
Re: the ground: the map was a 64-player “Conquest Mode” map set in and around a small French town. Conquest mode is, essentially, a point-capture mode: points A through F are up for grabs, and whoever holds the most of them for longest wins. After a certain amount of time, whichever team is doing the worst will automatically gain the assistance of a gigantic zeppelin– known in the game as a Behemoth– which moves very slowly across the map and acts mostly as a gun platform. My team won pretty handily, so our enemies got the Behemoth; I switched to attack plane immediately and tried to help take it down, but as soon as I got in range I crashed my plane into the side of the Behemoth and died. So it goes!
Battlefield 1’s soldiers have roles that will be familiar to anyone who has played a Battlefield game before. Assault troops are for shooting; Support troops provide suppressing fire with machine guns and carry extra ammo. Medics heal and revive downed players, while Scouts carry sniper rifles. There are now also dedicated roles for tank-driving and plane-piloting. Like in previous Battlefield games, players are divided into squads, and downed players can revive with their squad. Squad leaders can provide orders to attack specific goals.
But while a lot of the Battlefield-series guts of the game seem unchanged, it doesn’t feel like just a reskinned Battlefield game. Battlefield 1 is hugely invested in a certain kind of “accuracy.” For this game, that means DICE have marshalled sound design, changing weather effects, map details, and even the desperate screams of your dying buddies in a very serious attempt to embody you in this alien time and place. The map I played wasn’t anywhere close to All Quiet on the Western Front— there was no trench warfare, and very few howling mortars falling from the sky– but there was something about standing blind on a fogged-up hilltop and hearing the nearby mechanical roar of an approaching tank and thinking, “oh, shit!! I am absolutely fucked!!” and then evaporating into a red mist that made me think, “well, yep, this is a World War 1 game, all right.”
Battlefield 1 is releasing October 21 on PS4, Xbox One, and PC.