PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC; EA/Dice
This technical tour de force throws you into realistic second world war battles – shame it felt only 70-80% finished at launch
With the advent of battle royale games like PUBG and Fortnite, there’s plenty of evidence that modern tastes in first-person shooters are changing and fragmenting, but Dice’s long-running Battlefield series has always catered for shooter enthusiasts who like to feel that they are participating in a realistic facsimile of a war. The good news is thatBattlefield V takes that experience to new heights. It’s a technical tour de force, taking in second world war settings that vary from North African deserts and French villages to a Rotterdam reduced to rubble, with totally convincing looks, sound design and weapon-feel.
But there’s bad news, too. Important elements of the game are conspicuous by their absence at launch. Tides of War – the game’s live service, which aims to make you feel part of a long-running, ever-evolving offensive – won’t arrive until early December, and it’ll be March before battle royale mode Firestorm is added. In this age of constant patching and regular expansions, it’s valid to question whether some games will ever truly be completed, but at launch, Battlefield V feels only 70-80% finished.
That said, what you do get is pretty impressive. Battlefield V’s second world war setting comes with weapons and vehicles that are crucially more sophisticated and easier to handle than Battlefield 1’s first world war instruments of battle. Unlike Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, Battlefield V has a single-player campaign, delivered as an anthology of War Stories, diverse vignettes from some of the war’s more far-flung outposts that often have a myth-busting agenda.
Under No Flag, in which you play a convicted gangster recruited to fight for the nascent Special Boat Service in North Africa, is pure Guy Ritchie. Nordlys, which sees you controlling a teenage girl causing havoc in the Norwegian resistance, has hints of Scandi noir. And Tirailleur casts you as a French North African volunteer, participating in the post-D-Day thrust to liberate France while dealing with overt racism.
The War Stories impress by giving you options. You can tackle your objectives in any order and via any means you like, moving stealthily through a village to steal documents or skiing down a mountain picking off enemies with a pistol. There’s one proviso: the enemy AI is impressively dumb unless you crank up the difficulty level. Each War Story takes about two hours but, frustratingly, one of them is missing at launch. When it arrives, expect controversy; it’s called The Last Tiger, and will let you play as a German tank commander.
The War Stories provide a taster of several of the multiplayer modes, and it’s when you play online as a member of a 32-strong team that Battlefield V really takes off. Its multiplayer maps – ranging from the thick snow of one of the war’s first engagements at Narvik in Norway to the crumbling desert forts of Hamada in North Africa – are simply magnificent: huge, geographically diverse, sumptuous to behold and, as is Battlefield’s trademark, fully destructible, letting you level buildings with tanks or chip away at cover with sustained fire. You can jump into planes or tanks, or man fixed machine-guns or flak-guns.
The multiplayer modes are plentiful and diverse. Some cater for those who prefer closer-quarters, on-foot combat, although even those make Black Ops 4 feel claustrophobic in comparison. But the majority throw you into large-scale battles that really make you feel part of a bigger war effort. Grand Operations is the pick of the current bunch, mixing up the game modes and charting a military action across three days. If it ends in a draw, there’s a fourth Final Stand round: a no-respawn, shrinking-map, last-person-standing affair, rendered more powerful by the fact it takes place in surroundings you’ve come to know well. Turns out Battlefield V has launched with a battle royale mode – just only in certain circumstances.
When pitched battles are taking place around you, with fighter planes strafing overhead and enemy tanks approaching your carefully laid mines, Battlefield V feels absolutely thrilling (and often terrifying, given the palpable realism of how it looks and sounds, and the way in which the destruction ramps up as multiplayer rounds progress). It provides ample opportunity for acts of heroism, even if you don’t have near-professional first-person shooter skills; the soldier classes, from medics to resuppliers, let you provide crucial help for team-mates when under fire, ammo is running low or your cover has been bombed to rubble. Technically, meanwhile, in the convincing nature of its physics engine and the honed feel of its weapons and vehicles, it’s peerless. When everything is in place, this might turn out to be the best first-person shooter around. It’s frustrating that we’ll have to wait until at least March 2019 for that to happen.