I started out writing this article intending to detail how well the armory of Battlefield 1 matches the actual weaponry of the First World War. I was knee-deep in the research when it occurred to me: “Wow. They actually did a pretty fair job here.” That being said, it’s safe to say that I’m the only gun nut here at the Rebellion and the World Wars are where my favorite pieces of hardware originate, so that informed my choice of article. World War 1 was a fascinating war from a historical stand point, and one that is by and large ignored by modern media. This article will look at where Battlfield 1 gets its history right and where it fails considerably. I based my assessment on research, and every bit of information I could dig up on the game.
The armory of BF1 is actually damn close to the reality of World War I. The standard military FPS of today feature fully automatic assault rifles, infrared tech and Unmanned Aerial Vehicle surveillance. World War I had none of that, and the game does a fantastic job of demonstrating it. The average soldier is given a bolt action rifle and a semiautomatic pistol, not an assault rifle like today.
For those who don’t know a bolt action rifle requires the user to eject the cartridge by means of a bolt being pulled back. A semiautomatic pistol fires with each trigger pull. The fastest bolt action rifle I can think of, the British Lee-Enfield SMLE – can fire about once every 4 seconds if the rifleman is good. Compared to an M-16 – the standard rifle of the modern US military – which can fire 10 – 15 times that in semiautomatic mode. Instead of bowing to pressure to make the game a standard shooter, they encourage the player to use the standard bolt action rifle in gameplay. It’s a bold move, and one that I appreciate for its dedication to history. That, and I love any game that allows me to use a 1911 pistol, my absolute favorite firearm of all time.
Besides the fact that they hired historians for the sake of accurate weapons, some of the extra material shows how much they researched. A DLC weapons pack is named the “Hellfighter Pack” after one of the most badass military units ever to exist, the Harlem Hellfighters. Officially the 369th Infantry Regiment, the Hellfighters were one of the first all black military units at a time when most black men were being turned away from enlisting due to their color. The Hellfighters earned their name and reputation by being the kind of heroes that they make movies about.
When World War I started, many white US soldiers got upset about having to fight next to
dudes that made them look like worthless pansies on their best day black soldiers so the Hellfighters were put under French command. The thing that really pissed off the Hellfighters though was when the Germans released propaganda videos attempting to incite them to violence against their “oppressors” in the US. Throughout WW1 the Hellfighters lost no battles, gave up no ground and never surrendered despite seeing 191 full days of combat. Two Medals of Honor and dozens of Distinguished Service Crosses were given out among them, but there are two legendary soldiers that deserve to be mentioned specifically.
In 1918, Privates Henry Johnson and Needham Roberts held off a full 24-man German patrol until they ran out of ammunition and were wounded. They then fought on with just Johnson’s bolo knife and Roberts using his empty rifle like a club. Johnson alone – who later earned the epic epithet of “Black Death” – killed 4 and wounded 30 Germans by himself. He ended being the first American to earn the French Croix de Guerre, which is one of the highest honors for non-French soldiers. In 2012 President Barack Obama officially awarded him, posthumously, with the Medal of Honor. In fact, their badassery was so well respected that their official nickname, Hellfighters, was given by German troops who had to battle them. To this day they are one of the most respected regiments in US military history.
Sadly, the game isn’t all accurate. Let’s start with the minor issues. Yes, all of the weapons included in the game are real and did exist at the time the game is set. The problem I have is that quite a few – namely the submachine guns and machine guns – were very rare and not used in large quantities. These were obviously put in to assuage idiots who want a modern military shooter, yet stupid enough to buy a game SET IN WORLD WAR 1. It’s obvious that as soon as most players can, they’re going to set their classes to have automatic weapons because it’s better for winning. Honestly, the entirety of WW1 is not really suited for the style of modern military shooters, but that’s a topic I’ll cover a bit later on.
The last minor quibble I have is that for all the good they did on melee weapons, they missed one that is pure awesome. They did however include the trench shovel as one of the melee weapons, as every soldier carried one and they were usually sharpened for just such a task. What they missed though, was a cue from the Swiss Army, aka, a multi tool of doom. They called it a trench knife – because you used it in the trenches. It featured a handle composed of a set of brass knuckles fitted to a strong, sharp blade with a highly sharp pommel on the bottom that could pierce helmets. It’s freaking amazing and I love it. Why would the game miss an opportunity to show off a badass weapon like this?
Now we come to the biggest place where this game messes up history. World War 1 was a bleak, terrifying horror show of a war that makes the world of HP Lovecraft’s fiction look like Mr. Rogers. In this war you were likely just a kid in his teens with nothing but a shitty metal helmet and a bulky overcoat who was ordered to cross miles of open land. This war would almost demand a survival horror game, yet they attempted to shoehorn this into a modern style military shooter. This type of game is based upon the close, frenetic modern wars that are almost all in urban settings where a bit of cover is at every turn. WW1’s trench warfare was horrific in good part because there was no cover.
There is literally no war, it was comprised of madness and ignorance. In this war you had kids barely in their teens sent by old “nobility” who thought that grand cavalry charges would still be important. You had men sit behind machine guns while a line of terrified soldiers tried to take just a few feet of ruined ground or unknowing fools trying to ride into battle like some old painting, only to be slaughtered by the hundreds. This is not what Battlefield 1 depicts. It depicts ruined urban settings with the open ground being normal, pastoral settings. While there were certainly some battles that might have resembled such a location, the vast majority were closer to the Battle of Somme.
Battlefield 1 could have been a radically different military shooter, and it made great strides by choosing a war that is almost never represented in media. It could have taken an approach that showed the true horrors of a war that never should have happened. Instead, it applied a fresh setting to a tired format without changing any of the format. They choose to use the same, hackneyed military shooter as last year and threw away a golden opportunity. The worst thing about it is that too many shooter fans will never give a crap about it, buying their yearly edition without thinking. It’s not the first wasted opportunity to breathe new life into a boring, tired genre in gaming, and it damned well won’t be the last.
This isn’t to say I think the game is a total failure. They obviously put a lot of time and effort into historicity, but it is all ruined by the setting. It’s not a knock on the developers as honestly, the combo of WW1 and modern FPS just doesn’t work. They should be applauded for trying something different and for how much they attempted accuracy. If nothing else, I hope this succeeds so other developers try something different with a setting too often forgotten. I hope you learned something, and thanks for reading. Taking us out, it’s a heavy metal ode to a forgotten war. Iron Maiden is here to tell the world about Passchendaele.