And now, thanks to DICE and EA, you too can experience complete bewilderment as a prelude to being shot.
Yes, it’s the Battlefield 1 beta. And by criminy, it’s a beta. While some stuff is obviously 100% done and looking great, there’s a lot of rebalancing and glitch fixing needed: graphics occasionally go a bit freaky, logging in to the servers can be excruciating, and some of the team ‘balancing’ leads to horrifically one-sided contests where it’s you and a handful of people who play like they’re straight out of Dad’s Army vs the whole Turkish crack military.
But we’ll put that (mostly) to one side given it is unfinished, and concentrate on the good.
Thankfully, there is a lot of good. There’s regrettably only one map (the Sinai desert), but it looks lovely. As do the weapons and vehicles of the day, in all their weirdly archaic ‘who on earth thought this would be a good design?’ glory. In fact, this departure from the sort of guns and vehicles we’ve all come to know so well is a real strong point, as it makes the game feel fresh.
Sniper rifles and machine guns are suitably prototype-like in feel (i.e. rubbish), given a generation or two earlier people would have been using muskets.
Tiny tanks pootle about like aggressive caveman versions of R2-D2. And how many times have you ridden a horse into battle in Call of Duty? None times, that’s how many. Plus biplanes and triplanes and a train/tank thing that’s essentially an intercity on steroids – truly, WW1 was an era where the design answer to any combat need was to either stick some extra metal and a cannon on it, or stick an extra wing on it, or both.
Dated kit aside, once you get a bit of a feel for things it is largely business as usual. BF1 feels like something between Battlefield 4 and Star Wars: Battlefront to play.
There is a bit of a learning curve though, and it’s of the sort of steepness that would see you get off your bike and say ‘sod that – I’ll walk up it’.
I spent my first 10 goes spawning in, walking for ages to find the action, and then almost immediately getting sniped by someone miles away, or being turned into squaddie fondue by a tank round. Hopefully the full game will ease people in a bit more (the campaign mode should do this, I’d hope), because unless you’re willing to persevere it can be a fairly miserable cycle of spawn-run-confusion-die-swear-repeat.
Once you get your eye in and/or spawn yourself into a tank though, you should be able to snag a few kills and start having some fun.
You can spawn into planes as well, but unless you’re skilled enough to take out another plane in the air you’ll have a hard time hitting anything on the ground - though ironically, hitting the ground itself is hilariously easy. Most often you’ll accidentally fly into a telegraph wire and turn your feeble chariot of fabric and balsa wood into an instant bonfire before you’ve managed to land shots on someone from on high.
Battles tend to be a strange mix of long range (sniping and heavy artillery) or brutally short range (turning a corner, coming face to face with an enemy and attempting to unload your gun into him before he does it to you in a blind panic), with not much apart from long walks to objectives inbetween.
In that sense it’s probably an excellent representation of World War 1 – you’re either a long way from immediate danger and so relatively safe, or pretty much bored for long periods then insta-doomed. Throw in the frequent sandstorms and the terrible map/radar, and you do rapidly learn to live mainly on your reactions alone.
You can play as different classes as you’d expect, with your default loadouts being adjusted accordingly (regular soldiers get rifles and machine guns, scouts get sniper rifles, medics can use terrifyingly outdated-looking giant syringes and so on). More stuff can be bought using war bonds you earn for completing objectives, kills and obeying team orders.
For the beta, two game modes are up for palpitation in your sweaty mitts: Conquest or Rush. Conquest is capture the flag and the bigger game mode, with a number of points on the map all up for grabs at any time.
Rush sees one team defending territory and one team trying to take it and force them off the map. This tended to be the less fun mode, as whenever I played defence my team seemed to have absolutely no clue what was going on and we were over-run in minutes – definitely some tinkering needed here.
Overall, what BF1 really needs now is a hoofing great dollop of polish. The glitches and oddments need attending to of course, but at the moment the snipe/tank domination can leave you up against teams who are borderline unplayable.
If that’s addressed though, there’s a fun and genuinely different-feeling game in there somewhere. Let’s just hope when it emerges fully formed it’s more trench coat than trench foot.