Monday, 9 May 2016

Battlefield 1 Reveal Trailer - Historical Jibber Jabber

It's rare I have something drop in from the mystic land of videogames that's so firmly in my wheelhouse as Battlefield 1, the latest iteration in the warfare FPS franchise from Electronic Arts. As I'm busy working on an Esoterror project - more later - I thought I'd use the trailer as a mental cleanser, popping in from time to time to give my thoughts on it when I want a break from the project.

Little is known about the game itself. It's set in the Great War. It's already been revealed that the Harlem Hellfighters, the black American (or perhaps that ought to be French, since the Americans wouldn't let them fight under the Stars and Stripes) regiment, will be a significant part of the game. Allegedly you'll be able to pilot tanks, planes and battleships as well as engage in ground combat. Not entirely sure why, since naval warfare really wasn't a thing in the Great War; everyone stayed home after Jutland. It might have been more interesting to give the players submarines. But what the hell.

With that in mind, the trailer:

First thought: the music's OK, but I would have preferred at least a nod to the tunes of the time rather than leap in with White Stripes. Eh, whatever.

0.08: trench warfare. Looking accurate so far.

0.09-11: desert warfare. Cool, the game's looking beyond the usual Trench Warfare stuff. Apparently that's a woman riding at the charge. Fair do. Not sure about the henna face tattoo; I thought that mehndi was more of a festivals/weddings tradition, than a 'let's stab people up and look good doing it' thing. Also, face tattoo? Is that what traditional mehndi's for?

0.14-0.17: back to the trenches again. Not sure when this is. I'm going to cross my fingers and say  1917-18. It's remarkable that everyone's striding around upright given the snipers, shrapnel and machine gun nests everywhere.

0.18-0.21: only one flyer used an all-red crate, and he didn't crash into what looks like a desert outcropping. Also, triplanes in the desert, what the hell. There was air warfare in the desert, but they used clapped-out hand-me-downs from the Western Front, not the latest and most modern kit. Plus I'm getting muddy about the timeline. If that's a tripe then this is probably 1917. So what's that remarkably intact building doing there? Why does everything look comparatively nice and not bombed to hell and gone?

0.25: Tanks? In the desert? Bullshit. Plus, if those are tanks, then this is 1918. They're working remarkably well, under the circumstances. The early tanks didn't like mud; God knows what those delicate little darlings would have made of sand, sand, sand as far as the eye can see. It's bad enough trying mechanized warfare in the desert in the present day. Those things would have gone two foot, coughed, and died.

0.034: I have absolutely no idea where we are. Italy? Maybe? It's the only explanation for why everything looks so green and verdant.

0.36: onwards, yeah, forget it. Not a clue. Most of it's trench warfare, some of it's sea warfare - again, that all came to a halt after Jutland - a chunk of it's air warfare, and I couldn't begin to tell when or where this is meant to be. Except there are tanks. So presumably 1918, Western Front. Except those are British tanks attacking what seems to be a British, or possibly American, position. Well done, lads. Medals for everyone. Historical note: the Germans did have tanks, but they never really got the chance to use them, except for one inconclusive little scrap in April 1918.

0.54-56: A zeppelin? What on earth for? Those things were a joke by 1918. You might as well send in Charlie Chaplin.

1.01: well, it's all over now, and I don't have to listen to that Godawful music. Thank Christ.

Impressions: it's traditional at this point to scream 'no gameplay' at the top of your voice, but in this case I think the criticism isn't as on-point as it could be. This is EA, after all, and Battlefield is one of its showcase warfare FPS titles. Unless someone screws up dramatically the gameplay will be solid but uninspired, because it is always solid but uninspired. Equally if there was anything really interesting it would be in the trailer, and it isn't. So nothing to look forward to, or to worry about.

It's just cinema, and not even very interesting cinema. It's unusual to see a Great War themed game, but there have been a few of those recently - Valiant Hearts, for instance - so it's not a complete shocker. I predict a bland and uninspiring single player experience tacked onto what is probably intended to be a multiplayer extravaganza that will last until the servers go dark. So maybe two years.

It's odd. There's been a bunch of multiplayer titles recently - Destiny, the Division, whatever that bloody silly mecha titans game was a year or two back - and all of them seem to be aiming for roughly the same market. Presumably someone out there is praying for a Team Fortress 2 success-level title, rather than the withered fruit that drops off the twig these days. But these things cost a fortune and if they're all leeching from the same customer base I don't know how the hell they're meant to make a profit.

Mind you, these are all made by the same small handful of AAA developers, and that might be the point. As the audience for Titanfall dwindles repurpose the servers for whatever Battlefield title is coming up the pipe, and that way you seldom have to worry about underutilized assets.  

Final verdict: historically wobbly justification for what's very likely to be Just Another Shooter. Collector's Edition pre-order at $220-odd (Jesus Wept), but that includes the statue and other gimmicks which nobody in their right mind needs, and you know in your heart that any DLC in the pre-order will eventually be released for everyone to buy sometime after launch. I note that the Desert War and Red Baron packs seem to be separate assets, so presumably if you just buy the core game you only play in the trenches.

Incidentally what the hell is it with pre-order rubbish? I liked feelies back in the day; the cloth map you got with Ultima III Exodus was part of the fun, and had in-game relevance. But the monkeys have taken over the zoo. Who needs yet another dust-bunny up on the mantelpiece, gawping down at the living room like a senile relative at a bar mitzvah? Just how stupid is the average consumer, anyway?

Don't answer that.

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