This past week it was announced that the next release in the Battlefield franchise will be set in the Great War, a period hitherto under-explored in video games. While this had been rumoured for some time, due to leaks and soforth, it still surprised me when I finally saw the teaser and subsequent trailer; put simply, it is a pretty mammoth task to make a compelling video game out of the First World War, given the lack of cultural touchstones in the collective consciousness other than trenches, foot rot, shell shock, and gas masks. Fair play to DICE and EA for looking past such clichés and shibboleths to examine the whole of what occurred between 1914 and 1918 and seek out the events that lend themselves more aptly to gaming adaptation. Me, I’ve been dying to see World War One become the focus of a AAA title for a long, long time, so to say that I’m excited would be a zeppelin-sized understatement!
The title isn’t one I would have chosen. They’ve gone for Battlefield 1, which has earned a great deal of criticism online. I don’t hate it, I understand that it refers to the setting – 1st World War, World War 1 – but I would have gone for the slightly more clever Battlefield ’16; the number representing both the middle of the war, 1916, and the year of release, 2016. If only they had as finely-tuned a mind as mine on their naming team. Alas…
It is so refreshing to see a triple-A developer and publisher actually take a punt on something that hasn’t been done before and represents a risk. I can’t stress enough how much of a rarity that is becoming in an industry that frequently spends much, much more on ‘dead certs’ than they can possibly recoup in sales; great games like Tomb Raider, Deus Ex: Human Revolution and others with ‘Brand Recognition’ did not do as well as projected…because the projections were ludicrously optimistic. These companies are built to make profits, not art; they are, by necessity, risk-averse. So it is lovely to see – especially from EA, of all people! – that there remain individuals who are willing to explore relatively unknown settings in order to produce something that has not been seen before.
Judging by the cover (sorry Yahtzee, no copyright infringement intended), the game will also attempt to shine a light on the experiences of soldiers of colour during the conflict. Certainly, there are items in the slated DLC which refer to the Harlem Hellfighters; they were a regiment almost entirely made up of African-Americans drawn from the boroughs of New York City, and they achieved fame and notoriety in battle on the Western Front in 1918. In fact, the ‘Hellfighters’ moniker was not one they chose themselves – it was one their German opponents came up with as a mark of respect…and, probably, terror.
Battlefield 1 is due out in October, and I for one cannot wait to get my hands on it.
Solidarity, brothers & sisters…☠