In the early 2000s, nearly every military first-person shooter took place during World War II. Then, Infinity Ward decided to bring the genre forward with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, and the military FPS quickly fast-forwarded to the now — and toward the future. Battlefield by DICE is planning on rewinding back, even before World War II, to set their game during the first Great War. This could set off a race back in time among all the big names in military shooters. We’re psyched. Here’s why.
Medal of Honor, Call of Duty and Battlefield 1942 (the precursor to the modern Battlefield games) each begin during World War II, on the beaches of Normandy. Fighting Nazis was the name of the game for all of these shooters, possibly because the market for realistic military shooters was still so new when they were developed; or perhaps because WWII is possibly the easiest to digest, in terms of politics. With such a clear demarcation between the good guys and the villains, the realistic violence of military shooters was easily justified when the victims were genocidal fascists. Even game critics weren’t about to defend Nazis.
All that changed with Infinity Ward’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. Modern Warfare moved the warpath from Europe to the Middle East and fast-forwarded the whole enterprise to 2011. Nazis were turned in for terrorists, and there was a real feeling of immediacy in the franchise. People forget that Battlefield was the first to modernize the military shooter with Battlefield 2, but Modern Warfare had a cinematic sense of immediacy. The politics felt modern, and the combat felt legitimately current, though a few of the details in the game (see: the languages used in Pakistan) were inaccurate.
Since then, every other shooter followed that game’s lead, and as more shooters took place in familiar, modern conflicts, Call of Duty felt the need to race ahead of the increasingly crowded pack into the future. Most recently, Activision announced Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare which looks almost Halo-like in its sci-fi, future setting.
EA and DICE decided to make a rebuttal. Instead of following Call of Duty even further into the future, they’re moving back all the way to World War I with Battlefield 1. A cheeky rebuke, DICE is proclaiming its new game will be taking place in the very first modern battlefield. And they’re right.
The old World War II games are very dated. The old technology forced developers to limit a global conflict into streamlined obstacle courses. But now, the technology exists to create truly large scale conflicts, Battlefield in particular makes enormously large sandboxes in which soldiers can wage war. Combining Battlefield’s expertise in open worlds with a conflict that fully deserves the sort of size necessary to adequately portray the Great War is a fantastic move from the developers.
The First World War was known as the Great War, and it was a horrifying ordeal for all parties involved. Ignited by the secret negotiations by European countries, World War I is a vestige when the old world order was still run by kings and queens. The only difference is now they had access to the killing machines born from the Industrial Revolution. World War I was essentially a medieval conflict fought with modern weapons.
The technology of the first World War has never been adequately depicted. The gigantic machines and crude death machines were absolute juggernauts to the soldiers. It was only after the Great War that leaders determined limits must be placed on technology, only after the carnage of the free-for-all seen in WWI. Playing around with these weapons and tools could explore the sort of unhinged weaponry, many believe to be fiction, but in fact have simply been unmade due to their destructive powers.
World War I might as well be new territory. The weapons were different, the politics don’t exist anymore, and the old world still maintained their geographical borders. If Battlefield 1 is a success, expect Call of Duty to move their series perhaps further back, to truly medieval military engagements.