The long running shoot’em up has returned to its World War 2 roots to the excitement of many fans. And after it’s predecessors critical and commercial success, despite a seemingly difficult Great War setting, surely Swedish developer DICE were bound to knock it out of the park with such tried and tested ground? Or is BF5’s troubled and controversial development enough to sink this first person flagship?
One thing that’s certainly taken a hit in quality compared to its predecessor is the games single player War Stories. In BF1 these short vignettes offered a nice introduction to the games mechanics whilst showcasing some lesser known stories from the trenches and across the conflict. Whilst BF5 attempts to emulate this formula, the result is nowhere near as entertaining or poignant. The three mini campaigns see the player take control of a British soldier behind enemy lines in North Africa as part of the newly formed SAS, a Norwegian resistance member fighting to reclaim their homeland from Nazi occupation and a French colonial soldier in a unfamiliar part of the world. Each takes around two hours to complete and whilst any history buffs may find these untold tales interesting, your average gamer will see them for what they are: fairly average shooter experiences. Unoriginal set pieces, simple AI and a constant need to get bogged down in stealth. These War Stories are far from what we expect from a veteran FPS developer.
But Battlefield’s singleplayer has always been a mere side order. It’s the series staple all out warfare multiplayer that is the real meat and potatoes. There’s plenty of content here, with fan favourites Conquest and Breakthrough making a return as well as the cinematically marvellous Grand Operations. A range of fully destructible maps, from the close quarter streets of Rotterdam to the open fields of France, gives the player enough variety of settings to shoot, fly and drive their way to victory. Unfortunately they’re restricted to the Western Front and North Africa for now though. A deep customisation and unlock system provides plenty of progression, both cosmetic and functional, whilst regular daily orders and assignments give additional incentive to keep playing in order to obtain one of the games more elusive skins. However it is more noting that some of the higher end skins are somewhat lacklustre, retaining the same dull military shades of green and brown. DICE’s late decision to remove the eccentric customisation options after heavy criticism has perhaps removed some of the excitement in this regard. After all, what’s the point in spending hours working toward a rare skin if no one’s going to even see it?
Gameplay feels like more of the same. Whether it’s sniping from afar, running and gunning on full automatic, taking to the skies in a Spitfire or trundling along in a tank, gameplay is as solid as you’d expect from a developer who’s been doing this for 16 years, regardless of play style. Sadly regular bugs and glitches ruin what would otherwise be an incredibly immersive experience.The few seemingly minor additions bring about welcome changes. Removal of the spotting blips encourages a more sneaky and thoughtful approach, whilst the ability for all classes to revive fallen comrades encourages teamwork. Likewise, being able to build fortifications means the player can bunker down on defensible positions and funnel chokepoints even after continuous the bombardment has left their surroundings decimated. There’s nothing here to break the wheel, rather just new elements to consider.
BF5 seems to do everything right, or more accurately it doesn’t do anything wrong. Despite a pretty naff singleplayer, all the elements for a fun multiplayer experience are here. It’s big and loud, just as a Battlefield game should be, but after the genuinely incredible and innovative BF1, simply ticking the check boxes isn’t enough, especially when you consider how much WW2 means to the franchise and the gaming community. With such a well known setting, expectations are obviously going to be high, and rightly so. Regular free content in the future may elevate the games overall status, but for now Battlefield 5 lacks the killer blow to stand out from the competition.