There’s no doubt DICE make great games. The EA subsidiary studio has brought us recent gems such as 2015’s STAR WARS: BATTLEFRONT and, of course, the BATTLEFIELD series. Their latest installment, BATTLEFIELD 1, is no exception. However, what is surprising is where and when the game takes place: Europe and the Middle East during World War I. Remember, the Great War lasted from 1914 until 1918.

During that time, many scientific and strategic breakthroughs (and mishaps) occurred, exemplified perfectly in the first tanks and machine guns. DICE’s product, while a bunch of fun, features many weapons and vehicles that technically existed, but were not as popular as they might seem. While the game gets many things right, such as the lack of cars and the stubborn use of the cavalry charge in the face of machine gun fire, it fudges many details.

BATTLEFIELD 1 is fun, so why does historical accuracy matter?

It’s a valid question. In a nutshell, it’s asking, “Why should I care about this article?” Well, aside from my narcissistic need to have people read my content, history is an important part of our lives, even in video games. History tells us where we come from. The past shows how our values became what they are. Knowing history gives us success stories to emulate in solving our current problems. It also helps with immersion in a video game. Sure BATTLEFIELD 1 is fun and a good game. It has excellent pacing, a new fresh perspective on the FPS genre, and has gorgeous graphics.

But just like any medium, continuity and attention to detail can make or break a game. If a movie or game isn’t faithful to its time period, the audience loses that suspension of disbelief. We lose our immersion in the narrative and instead are laughing at Romans wearing wristwatches. Historical accuracy can make a good game bad, or the same game even more awesome.

BATTLEFIELD 1 and Standard Issue Weapons

Throughout history, a constant feature of all militaries has been uniformity. Whether it’s the uniforms, the rations, or the equipment, militaries strive for continuity. Although aspects vary by necessity between the different branches and units, consistency is key in almost every aspect of warfare in order to preserve efficiency. That is especially true for the weapons of war.

During World War I, each nation had its rifle of choice. The British had the famous SMLE MK III. The Germans had the Mauser Gewehr 98. The Americans, due to supply issues, issued both a modified British Enfield and the M1903 Springfield. Most famously, the Russians’ weapon of choice was the Mark 1 Cannon Fodder (i.e. ,unarmed troops). No wonder the Red Army was so popular — they actually had weapons!

I could list all the weapons of the belligerents, but that would take waaaaay too long. Suffice it to say, none of the powers fielded units with a significant number of reliable submachine guns. Also, portable MG-08/15 machine guns? A big no-no. By far the most accurate depiction of World War I weaponry is that of Frederick Bishop, the main player character during “The Runner.” He carries the aforementioned Enfield Rifle.

The SMLE MK III is a bolt action rifle with a 10 round hand-loaded magazine. While earlier games such as CALL OF DUTY 2 featured bolt-action rifles, they were a rarity both in the games and in World War II historically. However, bolt-action rifles were the infantry weapons of World War I. But the bolt-action slows down the game. Therefore, the player weilds semiautomatic rifles, hip-fired machine guns, and SMGs for most of the game.

BATTLEFIELD 1
Soldiers and their Enfields

Machine Guns

One of the most fun, but weirdest aspects of BATTLEFIELD 1 is the ability to fire machine guns from the hip. Nowadays, that is hardly noteworthy; the M60 and SAW are the most famous examples of the LMG (light machine gun). And while the machine gun was a fixture of WWI battlefields, it was by no means portable. Technically, one could do such a thing with a Vickers.

However, the accuracy was atrocious, and only the strongest of men could accomplish the feat. The Maxim Gun was not portable. Neither were any of its variants very popular with each major power in the war. British Tommies used the above Enfield, not the Vickers. That’s why the submachine gun came into play in the first place.

READ: Here’s another article on shooters, this time on DOOM and VANQUISH

Submachine Guns

The first submachine gun put into standard use was the Italian Villar Perosa. The 9mm Glisenti Twin Villar Perosa wasn’t designed as a submachine gun, but the Italians adapted it to serve as one. This gun does appear in the game, so DICE got that right. However, since it was highly inaccurate, it was only in the hands of Alpine troops (such as the Arditi) since it was the smallest machine gun they could get. Therefore, congratulations BATTLEFIELD 1, this SMG is historically accurate, although its fire wasn’t.

Another technically accurate portrayal of SMG use is the deployment of the Bergmann MP18 by the Germans. Since it only became common towards the end of the War, seeing this weapon in the hands of dead enemies is only accurate for the parts of the game taking place in the final year. However, the deployment of the MP18 wasn’t as widespread as the game would have you believe.

The only other SMG deployed in appreciable numbers was, again, by Italy. However, the Baretta Model 1918 was just a redesigned Villar Perosa. Therefore, seeing the MP18 in Habsburg forces’ hands, while again could be accurate, probably didn’t occur like the Italian part of BATTLEFIELD 1’s campaign portrays it. Most likely it would have appeared in the introductory level featuring the Harlem Hellfighters.

A quick final note on SMGs and MGs: almost every other MG except Maxim derivatives were highly unreliable and would jam frequently. In an FPS, guns only jam in cutscenes, so that could of course not happen in BATTLEFIELD 1.

BATTLEFIELD 1
A German soldier carrying the MP18

Shotguns

As a whole category, shotguns received the most faithful representation in BATTLEFIELD 1. DICE not only did their research, but didn’t need to take any liberties in the portrayal of the Great War’s shotguns. Rolling Stone talked to  YouTuber Othais, the foremost historian on period weaponry, about this particular weapon. Of DICE’s portrayal of the American Trench Gun in BATTLEFIELD 1, he said,

“The shortened 12 gauge shotgun with buckshot was an excellent tool [in the Philippine-American War]… so we also brought them to Europe, further modified with heat shields and bayonets for trench use. Germany’s biggest problem with them was that they were cheap, effective and pointed at Germans.”

READ: Here’s another great piece, this one being on nostalgic video games!

Wow, that’s saying something for the country who first deployed mustard gas in the same war. So, DICE, this class of weapons also gets a passing grade.

Horses

This one is extremely accurate. The ubiquity of horses in World War I and in BATTLEFIELD 1 is 100% correct. Cavalry charges across trenches were a fixture of the war, especially by the British and other Commonwealth forces. Both a play and a movie called WAR HORSE were adapted from a book of the same name dramatizing the carnage cavalrymen endured.

However, horses were also ubiquitous in the ranks of the Arab and Bedouin tribes who revolted against the Ottoman Empire. The final chapter of BATTLEFIELD 1’s campaign is spot on in that respect. Protagonist Zara Ghufran and her devotion to her horse are on sound historical ground.

BATTLEFIELD 1
British Cavalry

Another side note, but Zara is most likely historically accurate as a character, as well. She is probably based on Farida al Akle, a Lebanese woman who is reported to have been the lover of T.E. Lawrence. Just like in the game, Farida al Akle helped the famed “Lawrence of Arabia” ferment the Arab Revolt of 1916-18.

Armored Trains

BATTLEFIELD 1
The Zaamurets

To my shock, the Canavar Armored Train in “Nothing is Written” is historically accurate! There indeed were armored trains that participated in WWI. Heck, the British apparently had armored trains more than a decade before the Great War. Although the Ottomans never built or used one themselves, the Canavar was a possibility. The in-game design was based on a very famous train built by Czarist Russia called the Zaamurets. The link provided gives great detail about the story of the Zaamurets and how it was entangled with the October Revolution and the creation of the USSR. However, for the purposes of this article, it’s enough to say that DICE was right about armored trains. It’s just the Ottoman Empire never used them.

READ: Here’s a great review on the game NIER: AUTOMATA

Zeppelins

BATTLEFIELD 1
A zeppelin over London

Easily one of the most memorable moments in the single-player campaign of BATTLEFIELD 1 is the fight atop zeppelins flying over London. In the final chapter of “Friends in High Places,” Clyde Blackburn and Wilson have to shoot down the massive airships attacking the U.K.

While fighting Germans in and atop zeppelins might not be the most accurate portrayal of warfare, it was another shock to me that DICE got this one otherwise correct. That’s right, Imperial Germany sent zeppelins on bombing runs across the sea to the British Isles, specifically to London. Sometimes the truth really is stranger than fiction.

Conclusion

BATTLEFIELD 1 is a great game. The gameplay is fast-paced and fun. The story, while short, is still gripping and engaging. Unlike many World War games, DICE didn’t solely focus on the European theater. It also includes the Ottoman Theater, with the Arab Revolt and the Gallipoli campaign.

Although many elements are fanciful (surviving a fall from a zeppelin into the English Channel?) and DICE fudged some of the details, the overall feel of the First World War is largely represented faithfully.

From the surprisingly accurate inclusion of German Zeppelins over London to the technically plausible armored train in Arabia, BATTLEFIELD 1 accurately reproduces the experiences of soldiers fighting in the Great War. While there is a multitude of creative liberties taken, DICE, on the whole, got the vast majority of things right.

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