From the off, there’s something you have to know about Battlefield V. It’s not something that will come as much of a surprise to veterans of 2016’s Great War themed Battlefield 1 – a game, let us not forget, whose tutorial saw you possess a procession of teenagers and twenty somethings, who were, one by one, mown down by German bullets, tanks, and a terrifying flamethrower.
Like that sequence, each in-game death in Battlefield V sees your character’s name, birth date, and death date emblazoned across the screen in bold typography. Because, and here’s the thing: Battlefield V is absolutely horrifying.
While Electronic Arts won’t be scrambling to put ‘Battlefield V is horrifying’ on the box, it’s actually meant as a great compliment – a World War 2 game should be. And Battlefield V is unquestionably the most tense, emotional shooter I’ve ever played.
Much of this concerns the sequel’s War Stories, another device returning from the series’ last ride out. It’s within these three single-player campaigns that the game delivers real emotional heft. These aren’t untold stories, yet they’re hardly well worn within the conventional narrative of World War II.
Without question Battlefield V is the most tense, emotional shooter I’ve ever played
Perhaps the best illustration of this is within the Tirailleur War Story. In it you control a young Senegalese man named Deme Cisse, who, as part of the French Colonial Forces, is called up to the frontline in order to participate in Operation Dragoon – the real-world codename for the Allied invasion of Southern France on August 15, 1944. It’s a story that takes in themes of nationhood, as Cisse is fighting for a homeland he’s never set foot in, and hoping to overcome the, racism directed at him by the army he is fighting for. He’s excited for the chance to gain acceptance and brotherhood through fighting, but he’s subsequently put to work digging trenches.
DICE hasn’t been shy about making a statement with Battlefield V, even going as far to put a woman on the cover of the game’s physical release – an actual woman! It’s not a decision that should have been controversial, especially considering the many famous stories of women fighting in war.The acclaimed Soviet sniper Lyudmila Pavichenko (309 Nazi’s killed), for instance, or Major Wanda Gertz (who fought in World War 1 dressed as a man, then led an all-female Polish battalion in the second). It is, of course, impossible to quantify the good that will result from the studio’s admirable attempts to add something significant to the imbalance of representation within games. But it’s nice to think that a woman, or a person of colour, will play Battlefield V and feel that their culture, and the sacrifice of their culture, has been acknowledged.
If you thought the response to women being included in Battlefield V was strong, then the backlash to the customisation elements within the game (of which DICE are pushing hugely) may well break the internet. They’re a strange addition – many of the haircuts and clothing choices are almost cyberpunk in style – to a game that’s so authentic elsewhere. That said, we looked awfully fetching in the neon gas mask we tried on.
Yet even if you don’t care that Battlefield V is a game that’s trying to do good, it’s worth stating that far from imbuing the game with a liberal agenda, DICE is simply using the backdrop of the world’s greatest conflict as a canvas to paint human stories upon. Cleverly written, far flung, cinematically depicted stories. At a time when its biggest competitor has dropped single player altogether, DICE shows that the campaign format is a powerful way to give players the unexpected. Other games may be a buffet, inviting you to gorge on what you know you like; Battlefield is a set menu that introduces you to flavours you didn’t know you’d enjoy. I’m not sure that, within art or elsewhere, that ‘only what you want’ is necessarily all that good in the long run. I think it sets a worrying precedent. I’m happy for DICE, and whoever else, to try to tempt me.
Battlefield V is unabashed in letting you know about its extremely high pedigree. The cinematic nature of the production isn’t limited to just DICE’s excellent storytelling. The game begins with a series of taster missions, stitched together by Brit actor Mark Strong (Zero Dark Thirty, Kingsman) that positively purrs its intention to follow up with quality. This, in turn, plays out in the maps – of which the lion’s share are innovative thrillingly vast. There’s a map called Hamada, which takes place within north African ruins, that are destroyed even further as the fight continues. This frenzied tank battle is about as much fun I’ve had playing a videogame in a decade. It wasn’t until after that I remembered I’ve never really enjoyed the driving elements of a Battlefield game before now.
DICE shows that the campaign format is a powerful way to give players the unexpected
Of the launch multiplayer maps I’ve played in the Grand Operations mode, Twisted Steel is the most interesting. It’s also the one that we’ve used as the basis for our Battlefield 5 PC performance analysis too. Grand Operations is essentially the natural evolution of the Operations mode of Battlefield 1, in which a series of multi-round matches take place across real campaigns from history, with strategic objectives that affect the subsequent round depending on which side won. Playing this way, as a sniper, there are moments where I don’t think I have ever been more invested in a shooter. I make my way across a dilapidated bridge (allegedly the biggest construct ever created for a Battlefield title), bullets ricochet around me, I’m lying prone on the concrete, trying to find a clear shot to take through the smoke created by the skirmish… I’ve never wanted to die less in a game.
This is what I mean when I talk about tension. The new attrition system introduced this year means that essential supplies are theoretically scarce. I say theoretically, because during my playthrough I never once found myself low on ammo. Though, that’s not the case with health, which no longer automatically regenerates. So, after you’ve gone through the medipack you spawn with you’re reliant on your squad’s medic doing their job. This puts a huge emphasis on teamwork, which really does enhance the experience if everybody sticks to it When it all falls apart, you have to hope a teammate hears your – really quite harrowing – screams as you bleed out. Across all the multiplayer modes, the stakes are higher. It feels like your life is in the balance. The tension on the battlefield is potent.
How the multiplayer experience plays out once servers are live will be worth revisiting in the coming weeks. But at launch, Battlefield V is undoubtedly the best title in the history of the series, as well as a game that deserves plaudits for its beauty, strong mechanics, excellent storytelling, and for having a conscience. Battlefield V is horrifying, sure, but it’s bloody brilliant, too.