World War II has been a staple of video games for many, many years. With obvious good guys (the Allies) and bad guys (the Nazis and Imperial Japan), lots of cool weapons and vehicles
In recent years, however, these games have focused entirely too much on the US and Russian involvement in the war, typically focusing on the "D-Day to Berlin" aspects from 1944-1945, usually with a special guest appearance by Stalingrad (1943 ) for good measure.
As a military historian and a gamer, it's gotten tiresome, to say the least, so I am delighted to be able to say Battlefield V, the latest first-person shooter developed by Dice and published by EA on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, is a breath of fresh air in that regard, covering diverse theaters of war including North Africa, Norway and The Netherlands.
There are two components to the game – the single player War Stories, and the 64-player multiplayer aspect.
Dice were responsible for the superb Battlefield 1 and it is clear there is a lot of the previous game's DNA in the new iteration.
At launch, there are three war stories, telling the story of a Special Boat Squadron commando in North Africa, a resistance member in Norway and a French colonial rifleman (Tirallieur) liberating France.
None of them was particularly involved, however, basically being "run from point A to point B and shoot all the Germans, then shoot some more for good measure". Of the three stories, the Tirallieur's was the most poignant, even though it was clear the resistance member's story was supposed to be a centrepiece. I enjoyed the War Picture Library approach of the Special Boat Squadron commando story too – it was probably the most fun of the stories, but ultimately none of them really grabbed me the way the War Stories from Battlefield 1 did.
There really are a lot of guns in the game and as a military historian it pleases me greatly to see things like the Ross Rifle, the Krag-Jorgensen and the Webley revolver making an appearance, but it disappoints me greatly to see all these cool old guns being fitted with reflex sights, turned into sniper-machine-guns, and other things that simply did not exist at the time.
I appreciate Dice have to balance realism with gameplay, but frankly if you want to play with TactiCool guns with holographic sights and so on, Call of Duty Black Ops IIII was released a few weeks ago. I got the strong impression Battlefield V's developers were trying to appeal to a younger audience that basically expects guns with a smeg-load of accessories and stuff bolted onto them in shooter games, but honestly – if you're going to start including reflex views and guns that basically never existed except on paper, why not do what Valkyria Chronicles did and go for a fantasy / dieselpunk setting instead?
I found the disconnect between trying to create a believable experience and including the modern tropes people expect to be quite jarring in some cases, however. While Battlefield 1 walked that trench-line wonderfully, I did not get the same sense from Battlefield V, which is probably better termed "World War II-themed" rather than "World War II-based".
The multiplayer aspect of the game is strong but it's important to appreciate Battlefield V is inspired by the war rather than faithful to it, and there are departures from historical reality to accommodate certain modern expectations.
Your character's appearances in multiplayer are customizable – male or female, different skin tones and the like – and while this is not necessarily spectacularly accurate historically, it is ultimately a game and I can respect the developers wanting to make it welcoming for as many people as possible.
The maps themselves are generally good, and the open spaces on many of them make being a sniper a viable proposition – although in true FPS fashion, most players will not stand still long enough for you to get a decent shot at them anyway.
Destructive environments feature prominently and make for some great tactical changes, though – artillery fire destroys buildings, opening up new sniper vantage points or blocking a line of sight, tanks reduce something to rubble creating a new obstacle, that sort of thing. It's well done and means the maps change subtly from match to match, depending on what destruction is wreaked where and by whom.
I felt there simply were not enough effective vehicles in the game, though – I usually saw one tank per side, one half-track and one or two aircraft per side – and the experienced players grab them straight away so the best you could generally Hope for was manning a machine-gun and hoping the driver knows what they're doing. While Battlefield 1 had similar vehicle numbers, they felt appropriate given the setting of the game, but in Battlefield V it's hard not to notice than in a 64-player game, about 40-50 of those players have to walk around the battlefield.
Graphically, the game looks good, although I encountered a disappointing number of graphical glitches – nothing game breaking, but certainly immersion breaking and not what I expect in a AAA game from a established publisher with a good track record in this type of game.
The interface could use some work, particularly with identifying enemies – everyone starts to look the same after a while, and the menus get a bit confusing at times.
Battlefield V is a good multiplayer shooter and I appreciated the slightly slower pace than other contemporary shooters, but it still gets pretty chaotic so having decent reflexes is going to help unless you plan on spending most of your matches manning a ack-ack gun or driving a tank on the rare occasion you manage to get into one.
It's a solid but not amazing game and probably the best WWII multiplayer shooter on the market at the moment, but it did not quite make the same impact on me as Battlefield 1 and I could not quite shake the feeling it could do with a bit more polishing.
Having said that, if you like your shooters with an historically-inspired setting with a focus on squad combat, it's worth looking into – although the anticipated Battle Royale mode apparently will not be out until sometime next year.