Why Battlefield 1’s “You Are Not Expected To Survive”…Doesn’t Work

I recently upgraded my console to the newest gen (PS4) after a good near decade of time with my Xbox 360. I bought a few games for the new console; Assassin’s Creed Unity (so I could pretend I was in an Alexandre Dumas novel), Mafia 3 (so I could drive around New Orleans), and finally Battlefield 1.

I’d never played a Battlefield game before apart from a few matches on a friend’s console of Bad Company 2. I always thought of Battlefield as a multiplayer-focused title so my interest was immediately turned off (local co-op is more my thing). Add to the fact that it was a continuation of a gritty, modern war aspect; nothing about the series got me hooked enough to play.

But with the announcement of Battlefield 1 being set in the First World War my interest was piqued. So I picked up the game and its probably the best thing I’ve played so far on my new system.

I was in love with time period (although annoyingly the game was focused on the latter part of the war to add as many machine guns as possible) and happy that the developers looked beyond the trenches of Western Europe. I was especially excited to see Gallipoli and Arabia make an appearance with a female Bedouin playable character in the latter section.

From a narrative perspective the change from sprawling epics to individual vignettes of War Stories is a stroke of genius, allowing the developers to move from battle to battle without having to tie it into each other. While the smaller stories mean you lose larger narrative structure making the ending feel flat, the end coda is a nice wrap up.

I just wish they had added more in connection with the DLCs, with battles on the Russian Front, or even better some from the Central Powers point of view (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Ottomans, and Bulgaria). This isn’t the Second World War with a clear bad guy on one side (so we are not playing as Nazis). If we want to talk about crappy stuff on the Allies side in WWI, Gallipoli and Arabia have you covered. Even the game acknowledges this with the final coda in the Arabian section (13:17).

But today I wanted to write about the opening of the game and how even though I like the start of Battlefield 1, the game bungles its hand and for me loses some impact. I am of course talking about, “You Are Not Expected To Survive.”

Battlefield 1 & Death As Inevitability

Many people hold up Battlefield 1’s opening as one of the most engaging bits of interactive media of the generation. As the game starts you are dropped into the boots of a member of the Harlem Hellfighters.

After a few lines telling us how many people fought and how world changing the “War To End All Wars” another line flashes up;

“What follows is frontline combat. You are not expected to survive.”

It’s an effective opening and conveys the game’s darker theme than other shooters as well as portraying the brutality and futility of some battles. BF1 carries this tone throughout the rest of the game with No Man’s Land during “Fall From Grace” being littered with soldiers (and rats), or the final push on “Cape Helles” showing the amount of deaths it took to take the hill.

However, I feel that telling the player that death is inevitable makes the prologue lose its shocking quality. Most players were probably the same as me, trying to fight for as long as they could, but eventually falling to a hail of bullets before quickly moving onto the next character.

The expectation of death (for me anyway) made me feel a little defeatist. What was the point of playing if I was just going to die anyway?

So, What Would Be Better?

I did some research into WWI deaths for this article, but nobody can really give a definitive answer to deaths in WWI due to the huge amounts of missing and unnamed soldiers.

History On The Net ranks it collectively as 2/3 soliders died. The official statistics are 6 million for the Entente Powers, and 4 million for the Central Powers.

But let’s take 2/3 as our number just for conveniences sake.

“What follows is frontline combat. Two out of every three soldiers in WWI died.”

Now, what that does is give a glimmer of hope to a player. As players we are conditioned to not dying in-game. That third, that 1/3, we think it will be us. So when we die and your character’s name flashes on screen it would hit much harder. This is a concept known as defamiliarization (breaking away from traditional forms to allow us to view things differently, such as being killed again and again in what should be a fun shooting game), and interestingly here is an academic dissection of the scene by Stuart Marshall Baker which discusses the idea in relation to the prologue. If we even wanted to go further the game could pit us in a battle where entire squads were wiped out such as The Somme or Passchendaele.

“What follows is frontline combat. Entire squads were wiped out in a single day.”

That still delivers a grim mood, but isn’t an absolute. You could still make it through and be one of the lucky ones.

I believe that giving us that inch of hope only to snatch it away would make for an effective and memorable opening. Obviously some of the gameplay would need to be changed. It would lose some effectiveness if players were allowed to pause and restart immediately after dying thinking that they could win the fight. Something similar happened with the “corrupted” section of Batman: Arkham Asylum when you meet Scarecrow (00:05-00:14). Anecdotal evidence aside, I know friends who went to go get their discs fixed because they thought it was a bug.

At the moment this seems like a bit of a pipedream, more theory without a real-world example. So let me show you a similar game (from the EA stable) that conveys a similar theme and makes it work.

Lets talk Medal Of Honor (2010).

Comparison: Medal Of Honor & The Looming Horror Of Death

I really liked the two Medal of Honor reboots, Warfighter and all. Part of it was the “Based On True Events” aspect; I found that to be an interesting and unique selling point.

Medal Of Honor in 2010 was set all during the first few days of the Invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, with the player switching between a behind-enemy-lines secret operative and a Ranger who was part of the larger invasion force.

In our first mission as the latter character, “Belly of The Beast”, our transport helicopter drops us into a firefight and we must make our way to another drop zone and set up a perimeter for a medical transport. We move through the hills and encounter enemies and old relics of the Russian invasion.

Another reason why I love this game is also highlighted in this mission; you are not always the pointman. Your character carries a massive machine gun, better for suppressive fire than leading the charge. It was a little change from the one-man-army approach of Call Of Duty and I really liked it. But I digress…

We get to end of the level where the drop zone is to be located; a large, flat plain. You are ambushed from the hills and you cower with your comrades in the only cover there is, a small hut in the middle of the plain. Your radio messenger tries to call in support as you try and keep enemies at bay.

This is the end of the level. If you haven’t been stocking up on ammo (by requesting ammo from your teammates, which destroys some of the tension) then you will be running dangerously low just like the rest of your team. As you pick up stray rifles from dead enemies and are forced to use your pistol you realise that there are too many enemies and that reinforcements won’t get there in time.

Your commander tells the radioman to call off reinforcements and you start to contemplate the end, fighting until every last bullet is gone.

Around ten seconds later rockets fly across the sky as a pair of Apache helicopters come to help you out by scaring away the enemies. You end up surviving by the skin of your teeth and go on to fight another day.

This scene works because instead of subverting our ideas of death at the start like Battlefield 1, it waits until the end to make that shock and reflection closer together.

We were not thinking that we were going to die (inside the story rather than dying as a “game over”) and having that few moments to allow that idea to sink in was a chilling and horrifying feeling, something that Battlefield 1’s opening line extinguished by making us aware of the inevitability of the situation.

Conclusion

Protagonist deaths have started to become a wider theme in gaming nowadays although many of them won’t have it during gameplay. One of the memorable ones is Call Of Duty, with Modern Warfare 2’s Roach being killed at the end of a level. But Roach’s death is during a cutscene with control taken away from the player, lessening the impact. The same happens with playable character Pvt. Allen during the infamous “No Russian” level, where he dies at the end during a cutscene.

Red Dead Redemption had a similar scene with player character John Marston being shot down during a last stand during the finale. However, there isn’t much lead into the scene, with the death/shooting being moved to a cutscene rather than during gameplay.

The closest scene that I can think of is Halo: Reach’s ending. Again, you know that death is unavoidable, all the ships have taken off without you and you are left to fight an endless wave of Covenant troops. But just before you die you take off your helmet and it fades to cutscene again just like all the other games I’ve mentioned.

Battlefield 1 is an improvement over these scenes by having death come at you during gameplay. But by telling us that it is coming I feel that it loses some of that punch it could have had.

I still love Battlefield 1 and I still think its probably my favourite game on my new system, but that opening, while still impactful may have reached greater heights by toying with us a little more.

 

Banner Photo Source: http://www.dice.se

Three Stories From Star Wars Battlefront

I love Star Wars Battlefront I and II. I should qualify that; by SWBI and SWBII I mean the original games, created by Pandemic Studios in 2004 and 2005 respectively.

They were my introduction to large-scale warfare games and the fact it was also Star Wars themed was a bonus (and so many prequel levels!). What made it even better was the splitscreen capabilities, allowing for endless co-op and counter-op matches with friends and siblings. I loved the series so much that I rebought both games for the original Xbox, as they were backwards compatible with the 360.

I didn’t play the original Battlefront when I was younger, skipping straight to Battlefront II. I had wanted to see the difference between the two games (as well as the “new” maps) so picked up a copy. As soon as I booted up the game, it instantly came back to me; that rush at the start of a map, trying to score a tactical position, aggressively pushing for the vacant capture points or maybe taking to the skies to knock out support vehicles. No other game I’ve played feels just like it.

Each level and each match has its own stories, the little differences that you talk with friends about. And after having so much fun going back to SWBI, I thought I would share three recent stories of my time playing. These stories are all from a co-op perspective with my friend, Alex, being the other player.

I hope you enjoy reading this little experiment in content. I’ve been wanting to stretch my creative writing muscles since graduating from university and this seemed like an excellent opportunity to do so. The three stories are below, just click on either name or the accompanying picture to read the story.

Rhen var

naboo__plains_1234_0

Bespin

 

 

 

Banner Photo Source: polygon.com.

“The Rebel Hare” Photo Source: battlefront.wikia.com

“Ride of The Kaadus” Photo Source: gamemaps.com

“Knight (Of The Galactic Empire’s) Skies” Photo Source: youtube.com (Channel: repinscourge)

“Knight (Of The Galactic Empire’s) Skies” – A Star Wars Story

Bespin Platforms

Local Time – 1100 hrs.

Team – Rebel Alliance

***

Alex and I spawn in late, with only one X-Wing left for the taking.

“Mine!” we both shout as we race towards the cockpit. I reach the ship a millisecond before Alex and engage the engine, taking to the skies as he fires angry blaster shots towards the craft.

“Even all the Y-Wings are taken!” he moans over the commlink.

“You could always take the center command post,” I suggest. I look towards my wrist-mounted computer and tap the screen, bringing up the map, just to see the previously white icon turn green. “Ah, scratch that, we’ve already taken it.”

“I’m hopping in an Ion Cannon,” Alex says, “Maybe I’ll shoot you out of the sky!”

I’m about the reply when I hear the unmistakable SKREEE! of a TIE Fighter’s engines. I swing around the X-Wing and realise that the sky is full of Imperial ships. I pass a Rebel platform and look on, pained, as a X-Wing tries to take to the skies but is immediately blown apart by a TIE bombing run.

I pull the joystick as far back as possible and put the thrusters on full, flying high into the atmosphere. As I reach the edge of the combat area, I dampen the engines and pull the ship around. I can now see the entire map below me, locking on to the closest TIE Fighter and fire three shots, hitting the craft right in the cockpit, blowing the ship apart.

I continue to descend at a snail’s pace, firing shots and missiles at any TIE craft that comes close. As I enter the high orbit of the platforms, I see a fellow X-Wing get blown apart by an enemy Ion Cannon, which promptly sets its sights on me. I try to swing around, but the cannon hits me square in the body, cutting my fighter’s health in half.

I can’t wait for the cannon to cool down; I’ve got to destroy it before it has a chance for another shot. I push the thrusters forward, flying straight at the cannon before reversing them completely and firing a missile. It was a tactic of “pressing”, getting as close to an enemy as I could get, so that there is a 99.9% chance of a hit. The missile streaks forward and hits the cannon at the base, completely destroying the machine.

I turn the X-Wing around and fly high again, but my computer starts to beep.

“Missile Lock, Missile Lock”.

A missile strikes me in the back, cutting my health down even further. I engage the thrusters to get away from my attacker, but they’ve seen I have low health and come in for the easy kill. I’m trying to do a quick repair and regenerate my ship’s health, but the TIE Fighter who hit me keeps firing blaster shots, and each third one hits my craft, diminishing any work I do.

“Alex, can I get some help?” I ask.

“What can I do? I’m just sitting here waiting for a craft to spawn in. I’d take a Cloud Car if I had to.” Alex replies.

‘You can have my X-Wing, if I don’t crash it.”

“Fine, where are you coming from?”

“South-west, coming straight for you.”

Alex turns the cannon and see me, full thrusters, flying straight at him.

“Watch your descent, you’re coming in too fast!”

“That’s the point, when I cut the engines, shoot.”

I fly closer and closer to the cannon, counting down the distance.

Hundred metres.

Fifty metres.

Twenty Metres.

Ten.

Five.

Two.

I cut the engine fully, dropping the X-Wing vertically, lining up the pursuing TIE Fighter with Alex’s cannon.

“Fire!” I shout.

From my cockpit view I see the TIE Fighter pilot finally realise what is going on. The pilot tries to veer to the side, out of the range of the cannon. But Alex’s shot rings straight and true, hitting the craft in the front of the cockpit, splitting the craft in two.

I clamber out of the cockpit and head up to the platform.

“Nice shot,” I say, “The X-Wing is yours.” We both look at the craft, balanced awkwardly off the edge of the landing platform.

“You could of landed it a bit better,” Alex says, climbing in, “but I’ll take it.” He boots up the machine, putting the engines on their lowest setting and slowly turning it so that it drops off the platform and engages flight.

“Hey, this X-Wing is nearly dead!” he shouts.

I laugh.

“I said I’d bring an X-Wing Alex, not a brand new one!”

“Knight (Of The Galactic Empire’s) Skies” Photo Source: youtube.com (Channel: repinscourge)

“Ride Of The Kaadus” – A Star Wars Story

Naboo Plains

Local Time – 2031 hrs

Team – Republic

***

“We need to get the center command post,” I say to Alex. “The CIS charge at the start of the battle. If we wait, the AATs and Droidekas will claim the position and cut us down in droves. I say we ride in on Kaadus and get the drop on them. They are fastest mounts we have.”

Alex nods.

“Good plan. Lets go with it.”

A flash of blinding white light washes over my eyes and the next moment I’m on the green rolling hills of the Naboo countryside. I start to run towards the Kaadus, seizing one and hoisting myself into the saddle. I turn back to see Alex running away from the battle.

“Where are you going?!!” I call out to him.

“Get moving. I’ll be there in a second.”

I turn around and whip my Kaadu. I’ve lost precious seconds figuring out why Alex is deviating from the plan. I can see the AATs already moving towards the center command post. The light Kaadu is twice as fast as the slow-moving AAT and within a few seconds I’m at the center, but the rolling Droidekas have already beaten me to the post. I leap off the Kaadu, landing behind one of the fallen structures, as a hail of gunfire flies towards me,

“Alex, where the hell are you?!!” I shout into my comm link.

“Right here,” he replies, as a Jedi Starfighter streaks overhead, laying down pinpoint fire onto the Droidekas, obliterating them in seconds. I watch him engage his thrusters for a second, flying high into the air, before spinning round and firing homing rockets into the incoming AAT, disabling it.

I whoop in celebration, watching in awe as he lays down more covering fire, destroying all incoming enemies before I can even draw a bead on them. Suddenly, an enemy rocket flies across the sky, hitting the starfighter in the back; the weakest point.

With my heart in my mouth I watch as high above, Alex ejects. He’s planned for this moment; instead of the Engineer class that can repair the fighter while piloting it, Alex has chosen a Jet Trooper. As he throws himself out of the cockpit, he engages his shoulder-mounted jet boosters, gently gliding himself down and landing with a gentle thud a few feet from me.

“Quite an entrance!” I say, as we crash forearms together in celebration. A Gungan rushes in on his own Kaadu, dismounting to help take the center command post, giving Alex a Kaadu to commandeer.

I clamber aboard my own mount that has been patiently awaiting my return and I call a general round up of all available troops to follow us. Alex and I whip our Kaadus and race off across the green pastures, as a stream of Clone troopers and mighty Gungans follow in our wake.

Ten seconds later we disembark at the final CIS command post, on an outcrop overlooking the entire battlefield. But we’ve misjudged the timing. The Kaadus have deposited us far ahead of the pack, and we are heavily outnumbered.

“Spin!” we both shout at each other, a tactic born out several hours spent playing co-op Timesplitters 2 Siberian zombie horde mode. We face opposite sides and start to spin counterclockwise, firing at the closest enemies to us.

We spin three or four times, taking down nearly every enemy with lock on to. I draw a bead on an incoming Engineer droid and fire off the last few rounds from my blaster rifle. The shots flying wide of their intended target. Damn! I had forgotten that continual fire makes the blaster rifle overheat and lose accuracy, and I’m about to pay for my mistake.

“Roll!” I shout to Alex as I switch to my sidearm and drop to prone. Alex doesn’t think about the command, rolling to the side and continuing to shoot down enemies facing him. The droid fires a cluster over my head, right where Alex had just been standing. I fire one shot into the droid’s chest plate before twitching a centimeter up and fire another shot. I miss by a hair and now am in range to be obliterated.

A blue bolt of energy flies over my prone form and hits the droid squarely between the photoreceptors, bursting the metal hunk into flames. I push myself up onto my knees and Alex grabs my arm, hoisting me onto my feet.

“That’s twice I’ve saved your skin today!” he says with a devilish smile, as the rest of the Clone/Gungan battalion finally reaches the peak of the hill. We secure the hill in a record time and the twenty-second victory counter starts to tick down.

“Same again?” Alex asks.

“Always,” I reply.

With two seconds to go until the round ends, we throw grenades ahead of us, before rolling towards them. The explosion goes off at zero, giving us our victory poses; a squashed character model, twisted like a pretzel, a millimeter from being vaporized by fire.

“Ride of The Kaadus” Photo Source: gamemaps.com

“The Rebel Hare” – A Star Wars Story

Rhen Var Harbour

Local Time – 0500 hrs.

Team – Rebel Alliance

***

The ice beneath me is cold and hard, not at all like the training simulations. I’m prone, trying to make my body as flat as possible, cradling my sniper rifle, looking out over the frozen harbour of Rhen Var.

As I perform last minute checks, my radio comm crackles into life. I shift my weight onto one side and hit the transmit button.

“Hey Alex, you nearly set?”

“Yep, just linking up with a few other fighters and we’ll be entering the caves. Whereabouts are you?”

“On the ice lake, ready to catch a few skinnies accompanying the AT-AT. Once I’m done I’ll make a dash and meet you on the other side.”

“Okay, good luck. Out.”

I switch off the comm link before pressing my shoulder against the butt stock of my rifle and looking through the optics. There is no movement in front of me. I hear a rumble from the heavens as heavy fog starts to develop and roll towards me. It always happens in the early morning, it gives the Empire an edge. Not to worry though.

I zoom in a bit further and immediately a silhouette pops out, darker than the surrounding vapor. I nudge the rifle a little higher to compensate for drop off before squeezing the trigger. It takes around a second for the light beam to travel across the whole ice lake and hit the grunt squarely in the temple, taking him down.

I start to swivel my rifle from side to side, picking out darkened outlines here and there, each one being brought down by at most two shots. I want to try and get as many at this range, before I am in any mortal danger. I move away from the optics to reload and out of the corner of my eye I start to see the first waves of soldiers break out of the mist and into the daylight.

Their all white uniforms make them easily identifiable against the grey background they emerge from. I pick off a few of the forward troops, before scanning for the big hitters; jet pack troopers and rocketeers.

I set my scope on a lovely Dark Trooper, but a giant metal boot obscures my line of sight. I back out of aiming to see what it is.

The AT-AT? Already? How did it sneak up this far without me realising? I’m a sitting duck if I stay here. I jump to my feet, grabbing my rifle and slinging it over my shoulder, before dashing across the harbor towards the walker. The AT-AT has a powerful set of cannons on its front side, but can’t aim straight down. If I get close enough, it won’t be able to focus its weapons on me, making it useless in terms of combat.

As I pelt across the ice and snow, I draw my pistol. Even though I’ve thinned the ranks, the majority of the Empire’s forces are charging across the bay. I serpentine towards the legs of AT-AT, rolling behind one to dodge incoming fire. I peek out and fire off a few non-committal shots, keeping any nearby soldier at arms length. I need to keep moving; staying under the AT-AT isn’t the safest option, even less with Snowtroopers surrounding me.

I roll away from the AT-AT’s back legs and sprint away. The Snowtroopers fire a few shots my way, but I am soon out of range, and they turn back towards the main battle. I make my way up a small snowy mound, switching back to my long-range rifle and do a quick scan of the horizon. There are only a few stragglers entering the party late. I quickly dispatch them, leaving the coast clear.

I throw my sniper onto my back and draw my pistol again, before setting off towards the Imperial command post. As I get close, I see the faint red glow of the capture point, reflected on the cold-grey stone walls of a bombed-out ruin that the Empire have commandeered as their forward base.

I switch from a slight jog to walking; taking pot shots at any late-coming Snowtroopers that gets close. My radio beeps again.

“Alex, how is it going?”

“We’re a bit stuck mate. They’ve got a turret on the entrance to the ice caverns; any time we try and push it cuts us in half. You got a sight on them?”

I stop, equip my rifle and look through the sight. The enemy is easy to spot; they are sat in a revolving turret atop the ruin, firing round after round at the small opening that leads to the caverns.

“Yep, I see ’em, top deck.”

I kneel for support, before tapping the trigger, hitting the Snowtrooper’s exposed head and silencing the turret fire.

“They are down, go!”

I rush forward, catching up with Alex as he exits the caves. We stop just before the stairs leading up to the ruin.

“Any news on the rest of the battle?” I ask. Alex gives me a grimace.

“That AT-AT is destroying all of our carriers. We need to get back pronto.”

I tap the screen on my wrist-bound computer, bringing up the map. I see the AT-AT; it is almost at the entrance to the marina, destroying every speeder that manages to spawn in.

I sigh in exasperation.

“Bloody amateurs,” Alex says. “Let’s capture this post and get back!”

I turn the map off, and check my weapons.

“Well, you’ve got the rapid-fire blaster Alex, after you!”

“The Rebel Hare” Photo Source: battlefront.wikia.com