Battlefield 1's war games are beautiful but grim

Life in the St Quentin Scar map of Battlefield 1 is nasty and painfully short. My hands on with Domination mode in the recent closed alpha is an intense dose of the horrors of World War 1. While Domination mode, like fellow returning mode Conquest, is no surprise - capture and hold flags against the opposing squad - the experience is a beautiful but painfully realistic one.  Walls crumble, windows shatter, explosions instantly become the booming norm in your ears and all under a dramatically cloudy sky that's threatening rain. And then there's the death. All the death. 

Until I get used to the weapons on offer, the DICE team I'm playing against makes sure I'm a lamb to the slaughter. The map is an almost claustrophobically small segment of French village. There's few places to hide. I spawn luckily on the top of a windmill and hunker down with a sniper rifle to take in the scenery, only to be shot out of my hiding place along with a rain of bricks. I sneak into a farmhouse before smashing out the window and aiming at someone who has the same idea from a nearby attic. Taking them out is an enjoyable victory but there's no time to relax or pause. There's a constant sense of danger here. War is grim and ugly. There's no time to breathe and take in the frankly ridiculously beautiful apocalyptic visuals. Bullets will find you exceptionally quickly. 

The weapons are solidly satisfying and there's no red dots to assist your aim this time meaning the iron sights make for a far more intense battleground. World War 1 weaponry actually came on leaps and bounds from the previous generation but there's still those moments you'll wish you'd already thought about reloading before you did anything else as the 20th century tech clicks slowly back into place. I unfortunately didn't get a chance to embed my axe into any enemy skulls but the melee options here are enticing for those who can get close enough to their enemies without keeling over riddled with bullets. Put simply, this feels like war. 

Battlefield's world has been painstakingly crafted. The rain I predicted earlier in the game suddenly arrives in sheets half way through the session. Puddles appear and droplets land as perfect spheres on my machine gun. I shelter in a house with some fellow squad members. As we line up to leave, the man ahead instantly falls to enemy fire, crumpling on the street in a puddle. Unlike my ex team mate, this feels horribly alive. The tone here is surprisingly grim, which sounds strange given the fact this is an FPS about swift ends in mud, but there's definitely a sense of immediate death. Repeated reminders that this was a time of mud and misery. 

The new dynamic weather mechanics on offer don't just mean rain. Previously sunny maps can be flooded with light or heavy fog, destroying visibility and bringing in a great opportunity to try those axes and other melee weapons for size. There's even a bayonet charge option that we're promised is suitably gory.

Layered on top of the environmental destruction on offer, this is a war that feels and sounds just right. DICE is immensely proud of the world it has built and authenticity is clearly the favourite word. "So our audio team, they’re really nerds about sound," laughs senior producer Aleksander Grondal. "They’ve been travelling all around the world trying to find working versions of a lot of these weapons, and they fired them and recorded the sound and basically the same thing goes for the vehicles with the biplanes and recording biplanes from the ground, in the air; really trying to capture the authenticity there."

It's this authenticity that surprised me the most. This is still a fast paced shooter and every weapon feels weighty, the environments painfully crafted as the horrors of war - there's the overwhelming sense that this truly happened. And this is just the multiplayer. DICE is yet to reveal the single player campaign proper and it's here where the drama will live. If the atmosphere of the multiplayer is a hint of things to come, we're in for something truly exciting. And a lot of death.  

Want to play something in the same vein? Check out the 10 best war games.

Louise Blain

Louise Blain is a journalist and broadcaster specialising in gaming, technology, and entertainment. She is the presenter of BBC Radio 3’s monthly Sound of Gaming show and has a weekly consumer tech slot on BBC Radio Scotland. She can also be found on BBC Radio 4, BBC Five Live, Netflix UK's YouTube Channel, and on The Evolution of Horror podcast. As well as her work on GamesRadar, Louise writes for NME, T3, and TechRadar. When she’s not working, you can probably find her watching horror movies or playing an Assassin’s Creed game and getting distracted by Photo Mode.