The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games, academia and life dare to converge

Friends In High Places: Reflections on the Battlefield 1 Campaign

“Oh, he’s probably getting ready to take off in the Sopwith Camel on the next dawn patrol. His mission is, to find the Red Baron and shoot him down. Here’s the World War I flying ace climbing into the cockpit of the Sopwith Camel.” —Charlie Brown, It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

Seen through the eyes of Canadian gambler Clyde Blackburn, the third mission of Battlefield 1‘s campaign follows his misadventures after he steals George Rackham’s plane and pilots it during a test flight, later contributing to a mission to destroy a German munitions depot. The operation is successful, but Blackburn and his copilot, Wilson, are shot down. Blackburn makes his way through no-man’s land and rescues Wilson; upon reaching allied lines, Blackburn is arrested for impersonating Rackham. En route to his trial in London, German forces attack the city and kill Rackham in the process. Blackburn and Wilson take to the skies, shooting down numerous aircraft before crashing on one of the Zeppelins. Moving through the Zeppelin, Blackburn manages to commandeer one of the anti-aircraft guns and shoots down several Zeppelins before jumping off into the Thames River when the Zeppelin he’s on is damaged. He manages to climb out of the river unharmed and remarks that his recollections are truthful.

Introducing players to flight, “Friends in High Places” is an immensely cinematic experience that mirrors Battlefield 3‘s “Going Hunting”. Unlike the on-rails mission of Battlefield 3, Battlefield 1 allows players to take the pilot’s seat and pilot an aircraft through the skies in order to complete mission objectives. Flight has always been a little tricky to master in Battlefield, and in both Battlefield 3 and Battlefield 4, I’ve not amassed too many hours in jets owing to the fact that I prefer the “boots on the ground” style of gameplay and land vehicles, so when I realised I would need to fly for a part of this mission, I was a little pensive. Fortunately, Battlefield 1 eases players into the basics of flight with a tutorial mission that predictably ends with combat against enemy aircraft. While flight missions constitute much of this third mission (concluding with an immeasurably beautiful final mission set over London by sunset), the act to sneak through enemy lines back to friendly territory stood out for me — it marks the first time in Battlefield where I completed a mission without firing a single shot. After crash-landing, I stealthily neutralised a German soldier and took his Gewehr 98, but quickly realised that using it in any capacity would have likely resulted in instant death. Hence, I snuck around soldiers, used melee attacks on lone individuals and otherwise, threw shells to move soldiers elsewhere to move across the map. Firing zero shots and completing the mission felt a little unusual but also rewarding, showing that there are numerous ways to complete campaign missions.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • While I make the comparison to It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, where Snoopy flies a Sopwith Camel, here in the third mission, I will be flying the Bristol F.2 fighter, a biplane with maneuverability on par with those of period fighters despite being a two-seater. The training mission is set over the Vosges mountains in eastern France, although their towering peaks are perhaps more similar to those of the Alps or Canadian Rockies: the Vosges are low mountains in reality and do not look anything like the mountains depicted here.

  • The duel with the first German aircraft is set in an area reminiscent of the Caradhras in Lord of the Rings, where Gandalf duels the Durin’s Bane in a titanic battle that spanned four days and four nights. It also feels as though these mountains might house one or two of the Beacons of Amon Dîn: the orchestral soundtrack of Battlefield 1 really brings the location’s majesty to life, and it was here where I learned that the flight controls of the campaign differ than those of the multiplayer.

  • “Friends in High Places” is broken up into four different acts; at the end of the first act, Blackburn flies over a German munitions depot and photographs it, leading the superiors to coordinate a raid on this installation. The second act involves clearing the way for an attack, beginning by clearing the barrage balloons placed over the depot. Once this is done, players must engage both enemy aircraft and anti-air trucks on the ground.

  • While some might find it inconceivable that aircraft could have had rockets functioning similar to the Hydra 70s seen in Battlefield 3 and 4, some investigation turns up the Le Prieur incendiary rockets, essentially cardboard tubes filled with black powder and a knife that could be fired electronically from the cockpit. The real rockets were intended for use against air targets, but their low accuracy means that in Battlefield 1, they’re best used against slow moving targets in either the ground or the air.

  • Once the anti-air trucks are cleared, friendly bombers arrive and begin their bombing run. Enemy fighters are scrambled, so it’s up to the player to shoot these from the sky to ensure as many bombers can reach the target. Once the facility takes enough damage, it will detonate spectacularly, although Blackburn is also shot down at this point.

  • A disproportionate number of images in this post (a standard size of twenty images) are from the mission’s second half because the first two acts ended fairly quickly. Here, Blackburn has untangled himself from the parachute and executed a German soldier to requisition his Gewehr 98. In the multiplayer, two variants of this weapon are equipped with long range optics for sniping, but there’s also an infantry version with iron sights and a bayonet. With higher spread and recoil decrease, it’s rather unsuited for stealth combat.

  • Consequently, as I snuck through German lines, I was ever mindful of ensuring that I never accidentally fired the weapon. Moving behind enemy lines brought to mind memories of when I watched Snoopy doing the same in It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. It’s a quiet, sobering section in the special, and came across as a bit frightening when I was in primary school. The artwork of the 1966 special was remarkably effective, and fifty years later, something like the Frostbite Engine allows people to really see what Snoopy might’ve imagined himself to see.

  • By nightfall, the trenches are quiet and only a few scouts linger — they can be neutralised reasonably quickly without drawing too much attention to oneself. Remaining crouched throughout this mission to minimise noise, I found that the dark corners of the trenches were the perfect path to make my way back to friendly lines. It’s a full moon here, and a few weeks ago, there was another “supermoon”. Though said to be quite rare, I find it amusing that I’ve seen two supermoons over the past three years when the media claim that they’re set to occur decades apart.

  • Husks of burnt-out trees are visible here as I close the distance to friendly positions through no-man’s land: this area is referred to as such in World War One for being territory where no man would consciously choose to traverse out of fear of being attacked for being in the open. An entire pack of rats can be seen scurrying about: battlefields were infested with rats during World War One, as dead bodies and food provisions gave them plenty of resources to grow. Disgusted at the fact that rats could grow to gargantuan sizes, soldiers on both sides shot trench rats when they saw them, or else impaled them with a bayonet, but these actions did little to lessen the rat populations.

  • The final act in “Friends in High Places” was breathtaking, and this screenshot captures only a fraction of the majesty. Blackburn’s actions seemingly catch up to him prior to the fourth act, but he seems uncommonly lucky, being spared death in a sudden, unexpected raid by German forces. With Rackham dead, Blackburn takes to the skies with Wilson and begins engaging the enemy fighters, the Fokker Dr.I triplane. I find it somewhat unusual that all of the planes in the campaign are given a distinct red colour; I would appreciate it if someone with a more substantial background in First World War history would inform me of whether or not von Richthofen was the only pilot to pilot red aircraft.

  • For his incredible combat prowess in the air, von Richthofen took on the name Red Baron. Mobile Suit Gundam‘s Char Aznable was doubtlessly inspired by von Richthofen; his mobile suits are coloured in red colours, and in the Battle of Loum, proved himself to be a highly effective pilot, earning the moniker The Red Comet.

  • The battle in the cloud rages on as German Gotha G.IV bombers appear. Crewed by three, these bombers carried up to 500 kilograms of bombs that ranged from high explosives for attacking structures to fragmentation bombs for anti-personnel usage. Historically, heavy bombers were used by the Germans to attack British targets, and these raids sometimes included Zeppelins, as well. Between 1915 and 1918, Zeppelins bombed London; early raids occurred by day, but anti-air defenses led the Germans to change their attacks to take place by night.

  • In Battlefield 1, the rockets are a powerful means of attacking the Zeppelins once they show up. The fabric covering its surface tears when shot at, and when a section sustains enough damage, it explodes violently. The rockets are an ideal weapon for attacking the Zeppelins, dealing a reasonable amount of damage, although several attack runs will need to be made before any serious damage can be dealt.

  • There are sections of the Zeppelins housing anti-air weapons, and these will quickly blow the Bristol out of the sky unless tended to. Germany used Zeppelins extensively during World War One, as they were able to move as quickly as the smaller, more nimble fighters while at the same time, carrying a much larger payload. These Zeppelins were kept aloft by hydrogen, although bullets could not ignite it easily: this is reflected in Battlefield 1.

  • After crash-landing on one of the Zeppelins, Blackburn is separated from Wilson and is initially, only armed with a Webley-Fosbery Self-Cocking Automatic Revolver, a powerful sidearm that is available for the medic class. Insofar, I’ve reached rank one with the medic for the multiplayer after capturing an objective in the new Operations game mode. A large-scale match spanning several rounds, it is a combination of conquest and rush; I won the first match I played, which should contributes towards my obtaining the PTFO skin for the MP-18.

  • This comes amidst the Battlefest event, during which one can complete challenges in order to unlock some swag for their in-game customisation options. Last weekend, I spent most of Saturday afternoon playing Battlefield 4 with the M1911 pistol in order to obtain the twenty-five kills needed to complete the “Road to Battlefield” mission, which yields a unique dogtag and M1911 weapon skin in Battlefield 1. I was not particularly keen on the M1911 before, having only two kills with it since I unlocked it, but it’s growing on me now that I’ve used it, and in practise, I managed to do reasonably well running a sidearm against other players with primary weapons (to the point of being called a “pistol n00b” by some).

  • Returning back to Battlefield 1, here, I’ve picked up the MP-18: against the soldiers here, it’s a shade more effective than a revolver. After fighting through the Zeppelin’s interior, which is intricately detailed, I close in on the anti-air gun position. Blackburn punches the gunner out and takes control of the weapon, making use of it to destroy hostile air elements.

  • The QF 1-pounder is the emplaced anti-air gun in Battlefield 1: nicknamed the “pom-pom” for its unique firing sound, this 37mm auto-cannon fired one pound shells that historically did little damage against Zeppelins. In Battlefield 1, the weapon is immensely effective as an anti-air, anti-armour and anti-infantry weapon in the multiplayer, and although this is inaccurate from a historic perspective, I personally think that good gameplay in conjunction with authenticity is more meaningful for a game than realism.

  • It is immensely satisfying to use the anti-air gun against a Zeppelin here even if the real QF 1-pounder performed pitifully against Zeppelins. While I am uncertain as to whether or not the QF 1 anti-air guns were mounted on any Zeppelins, I am certain QF 1-pounders were indeed used by German forces; they were designated as the Maxim Flak M14 and used in 1915 against South African forces.

  • The destruction of the last Zeppelin brings the third mission to a close, and with it, this post also draws to a close. Up next for Battlefield 1 will be a talk on the “Avanti Savoia” mission and my initial impressions of the multiplayer experience (not in any particular order), as well as some thoughts I’ve got on Battlefield 4 now that it’s been a year since I picked up the game during last year’s Black Friday Origin sale. I also remark that we’re now nearly at the three-quarters mark for the Fall 2016 anime season: for both Hibike! Euphonium and Shuumatsu no Izetta, I have plans to write a full season reflection once their finales have aired. I’m still watching them, of course.

Whether it be the throbbing of propeller blades or the play of light across the landscape, “Friends in High Places” brings to life the thrill of being able to pilot some of the first combat aircraft ever designed. This is a time when there were no infrared-guided missiles or flares, just machine guns and a steady aim: the atmospherics brings to mind the sort of duels that Charles M. Schulz’s Snoopy would have envisioned in his mind when taking to the skies and dogfighting with Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron himself. This aspect of Snoopy’s alter-ego is among the most famous, and in It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, viewers are treated to a sequence where Snoopy engages the Red Baron, is shot down and forced to sneak through the French countryside, eventually reaching Violet’s house while the Halloween Party is in full swing. Through sight and sound, DICE has brought this scene to life in Battlefield 1, allowing players to interact and experience as vividly as Snoopy would have done so vis-à-vis the Frostbite 3 engine.

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