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Desert Warfare

We take a look at the Battlefield 1 beta.

Probably, like many gamers, we spent every available spare moment on the Battlefield 1 beta last week. Prior to that, our only experience with the game was a one-match wonder at E3 in June, so here was our opportunity to spend a little more time with the game. For the beta, DICE chose a map set in the Sinai Desert (Egypt) and according to the developer, the biggest Battlefield map yet produced.

The 64 v 64 player popular Conquest mode ably demonstrated just what DICE are good at: capturing a true sense of frenetic combat spread across a capacious battleground. Opposing British and Turkish armies are tasked with taking a series of flags and holding them amidst a hail of bullets, artillery and tank shells, and bombs raining down from bombers circling like vultures in the skies above.

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Four classes cover off all playing types. Medic comes complete with healing abilities and a very handy multi-repeating carbine that would belong more on the beaches of 1944 Normandy that in Lawrence of Arabia’s First World War desert campaign. For the lone wolf ‘kill from a distance’ players, Scout offers up a capable sniper rifle and a plethora of positions on the map in which to hunt for targets. Assault class features a submachine gun and tank destroyer grenades and mines; these are the only way for troops to disable the menace of armoured vehicles without getting behind the sights of an artillery piece. And finally, the Support class is armed with a heavy, and inaccurate, machine gun; he’s deadly at close range.

But it’s the tanks that rule the Sinai Desert. During WWI, these vehicles moved at an unbelievably slow 5mph, but understandably, the studio has increased the speed to be commensurate with today’s gaming demands. The tanks are armed with raking machine gun fire on all sides and a gun that levels buildings.

An assault team working in unison can put a tank out of action with the aforementioned tank destroyer grenades, and this is where Battlefield 1’s emphasis on squad play pays dividends. However, the upper hand remains firmly with the tank crews and DICE may consider the balance here once the beta concludes. In reality, primitive WWI tanks tracks were relatively easy to disable – this certainly isn’t the case here.

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Scout cars are good for traversing the battleground, and cavalry is effective in close quarters combat and difficult to hit at a gallop.

It’s above the action that probably feels the most authentic, with fighters attempting to bring down the bombers and avoid being shot down from behind in the process. The secret to a kill in the sky is getting up close to maximise the damage before the guns overheat. The guns are slow and although some aircraft feature front and rear gun positions, downing aircraft in Battlefield 1 is a worthy challenge.

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Overall, the medic was our favoured class. While admittedly his healing skills were largely forgotten in the heat of battle, the semi-automatic carbine proved the most versatile weapon for taking a chance shot at 100 metres, to close combat through the many buildings situated on the map.

The most satisfying kills, though, came from behind the telescopic sight, and the map offers up some fantastic sniping positions for the patient prepared to lurk in the shadows and hope that the reflection from your sight won’t betray your carefully chosen position.

Weather played a significant role, too, with sandstorms blowing through the map and reducing visibility; flying a plane in similar conditions is virtually impossible.

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All the components you’d expect from a Battlefield title are present. The audio is superb: the fizz of passing bullets, the wail of falling bombs, screams of charging soldiers armed with a bayonet, and the incessant bark of a machine gun is phenomenal when played through a quality headset. Destructible environments play a big part, denying access to good ambush positions close to flags. And a contrasting map offers both manic combat zones where the flag will change hands several times in a minute and desolate outposts, necessitating vehicle intervention and some quality snipers to ward off any enemy attacks coming across the dunes.

Taking the franchise back to WWI was an inspired decision, and DICE feel at home setting the series in the past again. Although the effectiveness of the weaponry would be more in line with the conflict that happened some 20 years later, shooter fans in tune with near-future settings would find little interest in bolt action rifles, sluggish vehicle speeds and slow firing machine guns.

Entertainment is what DICE are all about, so if you’re coming to Battlefield 1 to scrutinise the title for historical accuracy, you’d best look elsewhere. For everyone else searching for a fast and frenzied shooter title set in an era that not many gamers will be familiar with, you’ll want to circle October 21 in thick red permanent marker and organise your annual leave now.

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