Battlefield 4 campaign and the military shooter single-player experience.

I have just finished Battlefield 4’s campaign mode on Xbox 360 and I would like to share a few thoughts. Admittedly not a lot will care since the Battlefield series are popular exclusively for their multiplayer action. Nevertheless, I think that the single player experiences that military shooters offer are often overlooked and half-cooked under the pressure for a polished, addictive multiplayer component.

I care.

I am a multiplayer F.P.S. enthusiast. Yet, I do fully enjoy a good single-player campaign. I love watching the end credits roll and feel like I’ve just watched a nice movie. One that I would think about later and go through it again.

After all, this is how I reconciled myself with video games. There’s been a few years, from the late 90’s until the mid-00’s, that I almost haven’t played video games at all. Each time my little brother and a common friend played P.E.S. on Playstation 2 I was like “WTF guys, you are wasting your time!”. The last video games that I’ve enjoyed were Age Of Empires and the first Lara Croft. Then I just didn’t care about maintaining a decent gaming PC configuration. The fact that the last video game console I’ve had access to was an Atari 2600 didn’t help either.

Remember Black?

It was after the civil marriage of one of my best friends. There wasn’t a party that day, so we went back to his home for a drink. After pouring me a glass of Metaxa (a fine alcoholic beverage that you should do yourself a favor and try– start with the 5 stars), he tried desperately one more time to get me interested again into video games.

He powered on his PS2 and gave Black‘s disc a spin. Black was one of the most popular shooters of the 6th generation era. It was a strictly single player experience developed by Criterion, the team behind the popular (and excellent) Burnout series. The scenario was a standard story about a C.I.A. black ops group but it was well told, with some efficient cut scenes between levels narrating the interrogation of an ex-operative.

After playing for a couple of minutes he handed me out the controller. Until then and as an old-school PC gamer (I started out in 1988 with a PC-XT with miserable CGA graphics), I was intimidated by gamepads which appeared too complicated for me. Yet, within minutes I’ve found my way and scored the first few kills. I felt at home.

Next thing you know, I bought a 2nd hand original Xbox (damn, I hate that the new Xbox is called the Xbox One, for me “Xbox 1” will always be the original Xbox – a fine machine btw) and one of the first games I acquired was Black.

…and COD4?

Fast forward a couple of years later, I was well back into video games and played most of the finest released for the original Xbox. F.P.S. and third person stealth/shooters were my favorite genres. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed both Halos, Project: Snowblind, Shadow Ops, Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter 1&2,  and of corpse the Call Of Duty 2 and 3 and some of the Medal Of Honor games.

I haven’t been connected to Xbox Live at that point. It was Autumn 2007. Call Of Duty4: Modern Warfare and Medal Of Honor: Airborne have just been released and I was drooling over the trailer and gameplay videos. I’ve even tried to to play the demo of C.O.D.4 on my laptop but the result was just tragic.

So, I bought myself a Xbox 360, the Elite edition. When I first played the COD4 campaign that was unforgettable I got instantly immersed and this game just reaped me. I remember playing it late at night while my then girlfriend (now wife) was asleep and reaching the now classic All Ghillied Up level. As soon as it kicked off my jaws dropped and I just had to shutdown the console, in order to play the level with a fresh head the next day, first thing in the morning!

After finishing the COD4 campaign I just needed more. I waited for a couple of months before I got an Xbox Live connection. I had some personal stuff to take care of and I knew that once I would get into online multiplayer, that would swallow almost all my free time for months… And that’s exactly what happened!

Battlefield series vs single player.

Battlefield is a predominantly multiplayer experience. Nevertheless DICE nailed it with both Battlefield: Bad Company games. They had campaigns which were very enjoyable even though lacking Modern Warfare’s blockbuster bombast. They had great characters and were packed with a lot of humor additionally to the intense squad-based action. Hell, I’ve actually finished BFBC2’s campaign twice!

A couple of years ago we knew that Battlefield 3’s campaign would try to match the Call Of Duty/Modern Warfare cinematic experience. Yet, we couldn’t imagine how mediocre it would actually be. The first bad surprise came from the cut scenes telling the story. They followed Black’s interrogation-type of story telling, but they were so ugly and boring that they were emarassing to watch. It was just unbelievable how DICE dared to release such a lacklustre experience. I was thinking: “have they learned nothing from the Modern Warfare series?”.

I mean, every COD/MW game since COD4 has had intense, memorable campaigns that I’ve gladly played at least twice (typically the first time in Hard, the second in Veteran). I can remember a few highlights from each one of them…

BF4 campaign is better than BF3…

…which is not hard! Expecting the new Call Of Duty as well as next-gen consoles, and having been disappointed by the Battlefield4 beta on Xbox 360 (check out our impressions of the PC beta here), I was looking forward to an enjoyable BF4 campaign. Something to sink my teeth into for a Friday evening and a Saturday morning.

Remembering BF3’s single-player fiasco (I never managed to finish the fucker) I’ve been initially pleasantly surprised. The gunplay was good and the corridor shooter type of gameplay was better done this time. Yet it quickly started to stop being fun and started feeling like work instead.

There is not a lot of excitement to have for the first third or half of the game. It’s cool to discover the new weapons but the story is absurd and seeing the ugly graphics on Xbox 360 you can’t but feel miserably trapped into past-gen…

There are also a couple  of badly scripted events and bugs. For example, there is a boat sequence at the end of which you’re supposed to enter an aircraft carrier from the rear. If you don’t trigger the right sequence of events, you’ll find yourself ahead of the opening with your boat speeding all right but stopped by an invisible wall. You have no other option but to reversing to the last checkpoint.

There is also an ugly bug when it’s raining. Together with the clouds and rain drops you can also see some thick horizontal watery bars. Whatever…


Things get better though

As soon as I’ve started wondering if this was another single-player failure a la BF3, the levels opened up and the gameplay reminded more of a squad based tactical shooter.

Don’t imagine something as rich and visceral as Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter or Rainbow Six: Vegas though. You have some tactical binoculars to mark enemies and you can give the “Engage” order to your squad. That’s about it. No “move” or other orders.

Overall there a few enjoyable parts but nothing unforgettable. With an end that is as boring as the rest of the game, playing BF4’s campaign feels like wasted time.


And this is when you ask yourself “Why?”. DICE is an exceptional developer. How can they allow themselves to include an embarassing component to such an otherwise polished product?

After all, it’s not that they don’t know how to craft a good single-player experience. Both Bad Company games but mostly Mirror’s Edge proved otherwise.

Give me some more

With the dominance of multiplayer F.P.S. games I think that developers such as DICE should not underestimate the demand for quality single-player gameplay in the world of military shooters.

I’m not only referring to Modern Warfare’s Hollywood type of big spectacle. There’s also room for thought provocative shooters that make sense,  such as the critically acclaimed Spec Ops: The Line, narrating an Apocalypse Now-type of story in a devastated Dubai.

With next-gen kicking off shortly, I think that it’s about time that developers reinvent themselves and add some creativity and inspiration to the shooter genre. And they’d better not neglect single-player/offline modes!

Posted on by panos.agoros in F.P.S, Gaming

About panos.agoros

Music and computers. The same two passions that Panos has ever since he was a kid, have defined the path that he would follow in life. He studied computer science in Paris-France in the early/mid 90's and is an IT engineer, providing since 1999 Mission Critiical support for enterprise environments. He is also known to be a retro hardware scavenger and old computer collector. His love for music pushed him to become actively involved in the scene. From November 1995 until the early 00's he ran Chaotik Webzine, a pioneering music webzine and the first to provide coverage for both the metal & hardcore underground. He is for the last 15 years an editor of Metal Hammer Greece, the biggest music magazine in the country. He rans a small record label and distro, Blastbeat Mailmurder, and is also the vocalist/lyricist of critically and fan acclaimed astrogrind outfit Dephosphorus. In his lost hours he does field recordings and manipulates sound waves for his experimental noise/ambient Kommpound.

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