Lately I’ve been playing a lot of Battlefield 4, which is no surprise seeing as the Battlefield series continues to be my multiplayer shooter of choice – I’ve reinstalled Bad Company 2 more times than I can count. From Bad Company to 2142 to the good old days of the Desert Combat mod, I’ve been with this series for quite some time. For me, Battlefield 4‘s marketing campaign “Only In Battlefield” really captures the core of why I keep playing these games. I enjoy other shooters well enough, but the stories and moments that come out of Battlefield are on a whole other level. Call of Duty players do spinning no-scope head shots to show off, Battlefield players eject out of their planes, blow up an enemy fighter with their launchers during free-fall and then jump back into their vehicle and fly it back off.
Two years ago, I thought Battlefield 3 continued to have a strong multiplayer, but the singleplayer was really forgettable to just plain bad at times. The emotional moments felt forced, there’s a whole bit where they go out of their way to foreshadow that a tank commander has a little dinosaur for his kids birthday, but he gets captured and executed on camera. Later on you find the bloody scene and the dinosaur is on the floor. The reason the whole thing falls flat and manipulative is that you’re never given enough time to connect to the characters, nor were they interesting enough on their own. And that’s before considering some really ridiculous quick time events, the “stab rat or die” scene being particularly noteworthy. It’s as if all the strength of the multiplayer gameplay was tossed aside in order to deliver this tightly crafted story, but that just wasn’t even done well.
Unfortunately, Battlefield 4 continues to run with this flag. Once again you’re surrounded with a bunch of one note characters that ultimately undermines much of the experience. It also tries to have those same heart-wrenching moments of the previous game, but it still feels really flat and empty. And it doesn’t help that the AI has seemingly taken a nose dive into stupidity. It’s nice to see the enemies sometimes run away, but maybe standing up while you’re getting shot at isn’t terribly bright. They’ll also spawn and run to their cover locations at times, ignoring the player while you mow them down.
That said, Battlefield 4 does make some improvements on the singleplayer side. The gimmicky quick time events are absent, and there are a few times when the singleplayer opens up into a wider area. There will be a whole bunch of enemies, often with tanks as well, and you’re just given the freedom to tackle the challenge however you want.
What’s really baffling about this is the two Bad Company games actually had good campaigns. They were hardly groundbreaking, but the basic idea of putting all your misfits and troublemakers into a group that was little more than cannon fodder was at least chuckle worthy and evokes memories of films like The Dirty Dozen and Inglorious Bastards. The slightly outlandish scenario also afforded them the ability to create some more stylized characters, though this didn’t stop them from playing on some expectations like the Sergeant who’s only a few days from retirement doesn’t actually bite the bullet. The whole offshoot was also reinforced with a good air of humor around it, from the box-art with the little smiley face grenade pin to the trailers that parodied other popular franchises. It makes me wonder what happened to the team that clearly had a knack for making these singleplayer campaigns. Did they all move on? Are they working on other DICE projects like Star Wars: Battlefront or Mirror’s Edge 2?
If DICE isn’t capable to assigning a team that has a passion for making a singleplayer campaign, maybe it’s time for them to return to the old method of not having them. I know some folks balk at the idea of getting half a game, but originally, the Battlefield series had no singleplayer to speak of, and still managed to sell well enough to warrant sequels. There was no story driven campaign and singleplayer was limited to essentially playing the multiplayer maps with AI controlled bots. The focus instead was to create the best grand and unique multiplayer experience that they could. Now I like singleplayer as much as the next person and I certainly don’t want it to go away entirely. But I think there are some distinctions between multiplayer being added to Spec Ops: The Line and a theoretical sans story campaign Battlefield 5, especially since the two are setting out with opposite core experiences in mind. I for one would be interested to see what DICE could do if they put all their effort into making an even more kickass multiplayer – like controllable battleships or even more complex destructible environments.
Do you think Battlefield should return to strictly multiplayer?