***The following article contains heavy spoiler for the chapter (War Story) ‘Friends In High Friends’ of Battlefield 1 developed by EA DICE.***
Battlefield is a first-person shooter loosely based on World War I and being it’s over-arching theme. It got a good reception from the gaming community for bringing one of the revolutionizing history back into the spot light.
This piece of writing is not a review but instead is a light analysis on one of it’s chapters of it’s main campaign, the war story called ‘Friends In High Places’. Each war story has a different character to control and also does this war story, a man called Clyde Blackburn.
Clyde Blackburn is an American soldier who describes himself as “I’m a pilot and a gambler. If you ask me to name my biggest fault, I’d have to tell you I’m just not a very honest person.” And he lives up to it.
The first time we see him, he is having a game of poker with George Rackham, a pilot of the Royal Flying Corps based in France. Clearly losing the game, he still manages to make a last round with Rackham’s plane, the Bristol F2.B, on the stake. Yet still Balckburn loses the last hand too. Luckily for him, he has left the unsuspecting pilot tied to the chair he is sitting on, and a push knocking Rackham down and locking him inside the shed, he goes to steal his plane for a ride.
He meets Wilson, the gunner of the plane. He masquerades as George Rackham, smoothly lying to Wilson and they both take it for an practice ride. Soon after that, the player takes control of Blackburn who is tasked with doing loops and follow with another friendly plane, and shooting practice targets like explosive blimps and grounded plane wreakages into a beautiful clear mountain pass. All throughout the chapter, Blackburn narrates his thoughts to the player and says how “It was a crisp,sunny day and everything would have been perfect had I only been alone.” Wilson starts to get suspicious about Blackburn citing why ‘Rackham’, son of fourth Earl of Windsor, has an American accent? Blackburn cleverly lies that he picks accents quickly yet again showing his dishonesty.
Soon, they both intercept enemy German planes in the airspace and get into a dogfight with them. They follow the last plane and accidentally find a German stockpile of munitions in a fortress hidden by the fog. They do a daring sweep of the fortress over multitude of enemy fire; Wilson takes photos of the base. They escape and go back to HQ.
Blackburn wants to show the photos to the commanding officer so that the HQ can launch a major assault on the Germans, providing the incentive that they shall be heralded as heroes and get medals of honor. Wilson has second thoughts on being getting into another fight but relents eventually on the condition that Blackburn get him out in one piece. Blackburn swears immediately.Wilson goes inside and talks to the officer while Blackburn narrates how he “liked the guy, but he was kinda naive.”
Blackburn and Wilson take to the skies again and start clearing the base of enemy planes, Anti-Air trucks and blimps, making a way for the bombers. The bombers drop off their payload and in one of the ensuing explosions, the tail of Blackburn’s plane gets damaged resulting in a crash.
Blackburn had already jumped off the plane and finds himself conscious a few hours later, hanging from the parachute. He thinks Wilson has died in the crash and sneaks to get to the friendly territory. He soon comes across the plane crash site, finding Wilson alive but heavily injured and unable to move himself.
Blackburn is unsure at first but decides to leave Wilson. Wilson calls him back reminding him of his promise, how he said they would be heralded as heroes and rewarded with medals which Blackburn replies by saying, “I’m no hero.” Wilson grows aggravated and angry and comments that either he is a good person who will help him out or a coward, selfish individual who will kill him by looking him in the eyes. Blackburn looks around and finds a wooden plank and gets it to bludgeon Wilson’s head.
Seeing that Blackburn is really going to kill him, Wilson braces himself and reminds Blackburn he knows that Blackburn is really not Rackham calling his real name out; Wilson finding out about the scam. Blackburn is seen to have a change of heart and decides to carry Wilson out of there and succeeds. As he rests at the ally base camp, he remarks why he saved Wilson was because he believed what Wilson called him and hated himself for it.
As he rests, two soldiers talk about how Blackburn carried a soldier through the enemy lines into safety and the other calls him a hero. The real George Rackham enters with two other soldiers, cutting off the talking soldier saying that Blackburn is nothing but a liar and a criminal and will be punished. Blackburn intimidatingly walks towards Rackham only to have himself give up.
He is sent back to London along with Wilson and Rackham abroad the ship Dreadnought on river Thames, his hand handcuffed to the railing. He is approached by Wilson coming to the deck, Wilson telling him that he shall speak for Blackburn during the court martial. Blackburn replies that it would not do him much good but he appreciates the help. Suddenly, enemy German planes fly over the ship causing a huge panic. Rackham refuses Blackburn’s plea to have his cuffs unlocked so he can help. He soon gets get killed in a air sweep performed by the enemy. Blackburn turns to Wilson who agrees and helps him out. They quickly get to flying another plane and intercept the enemy, and enemy zeppelins arrive to bomb the city. They attack them down but one zeppelin’s flak gun damages their plane and their plane lands on the same zeppelin. They make their way to the flak gun and commandeer it against the enemy’s airships. Wilson gets into a fight with a German soldier during the fight.
Soon, their own zeppelin starts to crash, making all three of them jump off of it and into the river below. After, the zeppelin catches a huge fire, only Blackburn climbs out of the river.
When the player knows it is the story’s end. There is the tone, the somber music, the last battle of redemption. That is what the player thinks up to the very last moment. Cause before wrapping things up, Blackburn gives the last narration.
He says that this is his story. How a selfish man risked his life to save another and in turn was saved himself.
It tells the players that he has redeemed himself but what comes after makes them confused.
He goes on to add that in wartime, stories get mixed up and blemished into other versions.
“A rogue pilot who stole a plane, who killed his buddy. Then lied, cheated and murdered his way across half the Western Front – only to escape court martial in the chaos of an air raid.”
But Blackburn rebuffs such a version and asks to reject them. He says that what we hear from him is the truth. He says he would never lie to us and he directly looks at the camera, directly at the player, a sly smirk on his lips, he asks,
Clyde Blackburn is no hero. He is a dishonest man. We get reminded throughout the story’s progression. He steals the plane, lies to Wilson and even leaves him for dead. Most would take him as the guy who would steal from their purse if they left it at the table but still a good man underneath. That is why, before the last narration from him, we see a playing card fall from the sky and land near where Blackburn emerges from the waters (second last picture). The card tells the player to remember how we knew Blackburn at the start. A gambler. A cheat. A lair. And then comes the final narration. Also by the fact, we never see Wilson or the German get out of the water or get information if they got deceased, we don’t know if the story we saw was true.
That is cause Blackburn had already killed Wilson when he found him in the plane crash site. The mission where he carries him out of the enemy lines is make believe. Blackburn did not give himself up like a remorseful person as seen during the game, but got captured by Rackham. It is most likely that when the air raid occurred, Blackburn unlocked himself and dived inside the water, and the last cut-scene is him escaping the fight completely rather than him jumping out from the zeppelin into the water.
Basically, the developers are telling us if Blackburn can cheat his comrades, why can’t he cheat the player. The answer is yes. He can and has done it.
The moment Blackburn looks at the player breaking the forth wall, he is like saying, “Got ya.” But still after he asks the question the screen cuts to black, leaving the players either confused, or seething with anger and the truth a mystery.
I was honestly surprised at such such a great story-line. I sincerely thank and praise the writers for it. It is not that it is the first time, games have unreliable narrators. Games like Spec Ops: The Line have done an amazing job regarding the theme. But Battlefield 1 did it differently and unique. It gave us a character who was portrayed as a liar and unreliable from the start but did not make players feel he was lying about his story until the end, which I again give the developers a bow.
It can also be seen as the game makers asking the players to get invested in the story. That the plot is not just to be taken for granted, and wishing to skip to shooting, reloading, stealth and head shots. That it may be a game, but at the same time take it artistically. Furthermore, I wonder if this is a commentary on real war stories in itself. How can we say our history is not filled with people like Clyde Blackburn? That our heroes may not be what they seem…