I didn’t know how Battlefield 1 was going to approach the Great War, which was historically not great at all. I was worried they’d treat it like a fun game. But “Storm of Steel” doesn’t shy away from the war’s brutality.
Spoiler Warning: If you want to experience this incredibly interesting and smart bit of game design on your own, avoid reading further or watching the video. Trust me.
“What follows is frontline combat. You are not expected to survive,” the game warned me before the level. They were right. I fought to maintain positions, using every last bit of ammo. It was never enough.
When I died, I jumped to a new soldier and fought on hopelessly until they died too. Pretentious literature major that I am, I thought of a quote from Hemingway:
“They wrote in the old days that it is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country. But in modern war, there is nothing sweet nor fitting in your dying. You will die like a dog for no good reason.”
It was brutal. Men burned alive and gas filled trenches. Artillery killed friend and foe alike. Senseless, loud, and horrifying scenes played out. I drove by a cowering soldier in my tank and nearly opened fire. I spared that soldier but shot down dozens more until a bomb took me and my crew out in a massive explosion.
While any video game trying to capture the scale and stupidity of war is bound to fail, this attempt was noteworthy. I wasn’t some chosen soldier destined for legend; I was disposable fodder. A body to be thrown at the enemy, only earning a name in death.
In spite of this, the level ends with hope. A tired soldier from the Harlem’s Hellfighters draws his weapon on a Central Power infantryman. It becomes a stand off until the two lock eyes and, tired beyond their years, lower their guns.
I’m still reeling, gang. That’s how you start off a game about World War One.