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Battlefield 4: the technicolour dreamcoat

Wednesday, 27th March 2013 08:39 GMT By Dave Cook

Battlefield 4 was unveiled last night and it looked very pretty. VG247′s Dave Cook argues that next-gen developers have to be careful to avoid a significant but deadly trap.

Battlefield 4 looks lovely doesn’t it? Like, no messing about here, because only a fool would say that it doesn’t look like a technical marvel. The facial animation, the glistens of sweat, the lighting, the pained expression when you cut that chap’s leg off.

It’s all very impressive from a technical standpoint. Did I see innovation? Sure, from a visual perspective, but what was shown of DICE’s next campaign follows the same formulae of Battlefield 3. Walk here, follow your buddies there, presumably press ‘X’ to do just about everything that isn’t shooting.

I get it though: it’s a shooter right? It’s an action blockbuster of a game that needs to be guided to a degree, or else how will all of those mad scripted moments – that seriously do look insane by the way – play out properly.

It’s a superb demo, but I’m not bowled over. See, if you were to go back about 15 years ago you’d be able to pick any game magazine off the newstand and read about visuals so realistic that you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference from the game and the person sitting next to you.

Ludicrous hype I know, but even then I was fearful for the way gaming was heading. I prefer fantasy over reality, abstract worlds over real ones. That’s just who I am. I’ll type this next bit in bold so you really do get what I’m saying here.

I’m not saying that Battlefield 4 looks shit because one – I haven’t played it, two – I wasn’t there to see the demo with my own eyes and three – it doesn’t look shit. My following complaints extend to all developer currently working on next-gen console games, or with the next wave of PC tech, not at DICE or Battlefield 4.

Got it? Good. So back 15 years ago I imagined what these games would look like. I pictured us walking around in Grand Theft Auto 10 doing every day things, getting mild kicks out of crimes and mad stunts that – because they looked realistic – suddenly felt dull.

Then GTA 4 happened. That was more mature and realistic and many people claim it to be the dullest game of them all. I understand that’s subjective of course. Better visuals are fine and yes they can drive gameplay experiences if they are handled properly, but fancier lighting or better faces isn’t going to make raw, core gameplay feel any better in a shooter. I want ‘shooting’ innovation. New tricks.

That applies to all games, not just Battlefield 4. But on that note, you’ve no doubt seen me on here saying how much of a Call of Duty fan I am. True, but I’m also a Battlefield fan – I know, mad right, who would have thought it possible?

I gave Call of Duty the elbow when Bad Company 2 came out for well over a year, right the way from launch up to the time Battlefield 3 was announced. I still adore that game and feel it blew Battlefield 3 out of the water in terms of pure, fun gameplay.

And I know what you’re thinking, “But Dave you tool, Call of Duty is hardly innovative is it, you chubby noob.” Yeah I know, if anything Activision’s franchise is one of the most guilty franchises of cut and pasting ideas ever. No really, I’m agreeing with you, it too needs to seriously wake up and make big changes if it’s to survive another generation.

But back to Bad Company 2. It was just insane with open campaign maps, the ability to level a full area in multiplayer and so much more. Battlefield 3 felt stunted, slow and restricted to me. These concerns have followed me to Battlefield 4 and to all next-gen shooters as well. Again, this is a personal opinion and I fully respect yours too.

When we saw the PS4 announcement Killzone: Shadow Fall looked incredible, but once the gameplay began it looks like Guerilla had stolen Call of Duty’s jacket. The shooting seemed faster, not like the weighted heft of its predecessor. But oh it looked lovely didn’t it?

Innovation needs to happen across the board in next-gen. The potential is there if publishers let their studios run riot. but better visuals and particle effects are not innovation in the whole. They are visually innovative and perhaps enhance immersion to a degree, but if we’re just doing the same old scripted chores then can we truly say that things have evolved that much?

It’s like developers are jangling what appear to be shinier keys in front of our faces. They look like the best keys you’ve ever seen. They could change your life. You fork over the $60 asking price and look closer, only to realise they’re not new. They’ve just been polished.

If you want an example of this in gaming, just look at Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2, a title that was ‘under-achieved in CryEngine 3™’. Yeah it looked nice in places, but it was a buggy, slack and often broken game that wasn’t enhanced by its visuals at all. This is a real trap that developers now face.

How to avoid that trap is the key. With the extra processing clout of next-gen consoles and new PC tech, it should be possible to try new, incredible things with the power at hand. But I fear we’ll merely get the same old experiences with a lick of paint and nothing more until the indies have at it.

It’s like asking a smelly tramp to wear a technicolour dreamcoat made of dreams. He may look like a fucking god, but he still reeks of last week’s stale piss underneath.

Still, I have high hopes for Battlefield 4 yet, because if you read these pages a lot you’ll know I’m a rife optimist who always gives the benefit of the doubt, so once again – I’m not having a go at DICE or the game because it looks ace – but developers need to know we won’t be conned by visuals alone.

What do you think?

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24 Comments

  1. monkeygourmet

    100% agree.

    This is another reason Im looking forward to seeing what the Wii U has to offer at E3.

    Killzone 4 was another example of tired old gameplay that just doesn’t age well.

    Other examples of games which I think are in danger of outstaying their welcome are:

    God of War
    Uncharted
    Gears of War
    Halo

    All big hitters, but having played all the last versions on PS3/360, the gameplay is becoming more and more ‘creaky’ while the graphics have got better.

    Again, another reason I will always love Nintendo games. If you strip away the graphics, the core gameplay is nearly always ‘timeless’.

    They must play test the shit out of stuff to lock down the levels and especially controls and it really shows.

    Not to start a flame war, but does anyone really think that ‘Knack’ or ‘Killzone’ will come anywhere near ‘Mario 3D U’ or ‘Metroid U’ for art design or playability?

    Im hoping that the rumours of a Fable MMO for 720 are true, not because I want that game particularly, but MMO and bigger online co-op games are something that could actually give console owners a change from the same old, same old.

    On a side note, I love the fact that Battlefield is basically Call of Duty now in single player, and people who hate COD are still praising it. It’s a shitty move from EA.

    It makes me feel that the boardroom said they couldn’t go back to Bad Company because we have Army of Two 3 coming out, ‘we already have our bro shooter quota covered’…

    Bad Company 3 would have been f**king awesome. :/

    #1 2 years ago
  2. ItsFade

    Well i’m a huge Battlefield fan and I always thought their single-player campaigns outside Bad Company 1 were garbage. Battlefield 3′s single-player was some of the most boring stuff I ever played through. I think it’s a franchise which would benefit a lot more from open game-play mimicking it’s multiplayer which is awesome than doing the corridor shooter boogaloo.

    This for me is especially noticeable after having played Bioshock: Infinite which reminded me of how good linear experiences are when they are done right and how most modern military shooters lacks sorely in that department. I’d rather they would try something different with their single-player campaign because it’s quite obvious anything in Battlefield, Call of Duty, Medal of Honor or Crysis single-player campaigns will never even come close to the quality of Bioshock: Infinite.

    That being said I thought the latest Black Ops 2 game took some steps in the right direction allowing for a little more player freedom. The game-play they showed from Battlefield 4 reminded me a little more of Bad Company and the more open levels than it reminded me of Battlefield 3. Hell you don’t even have to follow your squad members anymore, in the game-play reveal they actually followed you.

    It still seems largely scripted in some places however but slight glimmer of hope that it won’t be the regular dreck of a linear follow your squad mates and watch explosions campaign.

    I do agree that having nice graphics doesn’t cut it anymore if you can’t back it up with game-play to match. Every game these days have good or decent graphics, it doesn’t mean jack shit most of the time when i’m almost falling asleep 30 minutes into the game.

    #2 2 years ago
  3. Hussar

    No dedicated servers and 128 player MP, no buy. Fuck off, EA.

    #3 2 years ago
  4. Gadzooks!

    #1 and 2

    Full agreement from me.

    The one and only Battlefield I liked was BC1. Massive open levels with no linear corridor sections, a fun script with great characters.

    All subsequent BF games have been linear, super-serious shite.

    I don’t do OMP, so can’t comment on that side of things. It’s obvious that DICE haven’t given a shit about campaigns since BC1 though.

    Linear corridor games need to die a swift and permanent death.

    #4 2 years ago
  5. dex3108

    Dave you made little mistake :D It is not 60$ you need to add price of Season Pass to that :D

    #5 2 years ago
  6. xAKUM3TSUx

    Dave you have a very good perspective! Agree with you all the way. I want next gen games to be, for the most part, more innovative in gimmicks. Not just same game different graphics…Dont get me wrong. Amazing visuals are ace, but if I wanted BF3 then i’d play BF3.

    #6 2 years ago
  7. ps3fanboy

    @1 monkeygourmet

    so nintendos zelda,mario,donkey kong etc is not example of tired old gameplay or have outstaying their welcomes???… these games have been remaked in decades for every nintendo consoles and have 1000 of sequels and side games based of the same old characters from the 80′s. these games are just tired old gameplay and have outstaying their welcomes for a long time… its not gonna save the wii-u this time.. your full of shit monkey.

    #7 2 years ago
  8. Juice_Man101

    @2 +1

    BC1 had the best single player and BC2 had the best multiplayer imo. The graphics look good but all I see is BF3.5 which isn’t a bad thing but every time I played BF3 I wished I was playing BC3.

    #8 2 years ago
  9. bitsnark

    Not sure I 100% agree with this article from a factual standpoint.

    I mean, other outlets are reporting that in the Battlefield 4 SP campaign there are some Halo style sandbox elements to it such as choosing whether or not to use a vehicle and enter the fray as well as squad based orders and tactics.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/gamesblog/2013/mar/27/battlefield-4-preview

    I’d say those factors alone probably elevate it above the “BF3 in Frostbite 3″ labels the game has erroneously been getting.

    #9 2 years ago
  10. Dave Cook

    @9 yeah but sandbox compared to Bad Company 2′s almost open world approach?That’s what I want to see again, an actual battlefield. I think I’m wishing for too much mind ;)

    #10 2 years ago
  11. rafterman83

    Think you need to manage your expectations Dave.

    BF is all about the multiplayer, no-one really gives a damn about the single player – so what if its a corridor experience, MP certainly won’t be.

    It’s the best of both worlds, and less we not forget we’re only seeing 17 minutes of gameplay hardly enough to decide whether it’s next-gen enough.

    If you want an open-world single player go play Skyrim, as a fan of the series this is exactly what I want, a better looking game that expands on 3 in every possible way.

    Count me in.

    PS, If I had it my way, I wouldn’t even include a single player; but DICE likes a challenge so deal with it.

    #11 2 years ago
  12. bitsnark

    @10 I agree with you there; I don’t think we’ll get the BFBC2 campaign again (though qualitatively, depending on who you speak to about that campaign, the mileage on it varies fairly considerably), but in the meantime, the further we can get the series away from the mirage of CoD gold and its similarly designed shackles, the better the game will be :)

    #12 2 years ago
  13. monkeygourmet

    @PS3

    The fact that Nintendo is able to take those IP’s or characters and create quality new gameplay using them is a strength not a weakness.

    For example;

    Mario World – Mario Kart
    Luigi’s Mansion
    Donkey Kong – Donkey Kong Jungle Beat
    2D Metroid – Metroid Prime

    If it was so easy to cross things over then why does almost every other company fail so hard at it?

    Little Big Planet – Little Big Planet Kart

    We’ve been here so many times before, but my question stands:

    From a gameplay and art design perspective, do you honestly think ‘Knack’ on PS4 will actually come anywhere close to Mario Galaxy let alone Mario 3DU?

    Please try to seperate your hatred of a brand or franchise before you answer. Im not asking if you like Mario personally.

    Just because you blindly hate a brand doesn’t mean the games you mentioned aren’t prime examples of control and gameplay. You honestly think dev’s don’t use a lot of Nintendo games as benchmarks of game design? How many times have you heard Zelda OOT being referenced for inspiration by a games dev?

    #13 2 years ago
  14. zinc

    “…we won’t be conned by visuals alone”.

    LIAR!!

    :)

    #14 2 years ago
  15. xAKUM3TSUx

    @ps3fanboy: From what I’ve played of the series you listed, I dont see them all having the exact same mechanics in each of their respective installments. What draws me in to to those “tired old” games is the developers intent to expand on more than just the looks but what you can actually do in the game.

    Well thats how i see it.

    …but then I see your name and I think to myself: Am I wasting my time typing?

    #15 2 years ago
  16. AmiralPatate

    Sooooo, this is a new game, heh? Are we really sure this is not April 1st? Cause, same guns, sames vehicles, same character models, same dumb scripts, same auditive crime against the Battlefield theme, etc., etc..

    Why don’t they make a freaking BF2143? Or anything above 2040, or even alternate present, so they can invent guns, vehicles, do something original. I’m not asking for laser and spaceship, just something that is not same guns over and over again.

    #16 2 years ago
  17. manamana

    I absolutely agree and embrace journalists who are pointing that out. Next-gen will take a while, if it’s only for better visuals. At least for me.

    #17 2 years ago
  18. LordSkyline

    IT seriously makes me sad that majority of games don’t try to go for some ridiculous look. Where is the Torchlights and Wildstars of Shooters and Fantasy RPGs, (the last thing makes me so much more sad). Wheres our Fantasy RPG games that come with a fantasy world, and not just “real-ish world with orcs, elves and magic”. I want crazy stuff again, I want a game with a world that has 2 Suns, Purple trees Green Skies. Or really anything that isn’t “here is Earth with Magic and Elves”.

    I just want something different again, please? :(

    Edit: I’m aware Bi-Star worlds exist, examples n stuff.

    #18 2 years ago
  19. manamana

    Too be fair, Battlefield IS about realism – no need to bring pink unicorns in here. But at least change the storytelling, the gameplay and the friggin AI.

    #19 2 years ago
  20. LordSkyline

    Well of course not for Battlefield, but as Dave says, this isn’t just about Battlefield, it’s about the broad scale of things. And that scale is largely Beige, Brown, Grey these days, sadly.

    #20 2 years ago
  21. xAKUM3TSUx

    @manamana- Yeah, from this standpoint I agree. Maybe just a few new mechanics would do. In full, it would surprise me what they actually do add and if it doesn’t bother the game itself.

    #21 2 years ago
  22. SplatteredHouse

    A new cycle should be a time to start over. Reset. Think again. More than that, though; to impress me there must be established new foundations (where before were piecemeal, glued together layers of fixes, ultimately changing little, so constrained were they by the previous frame.)
    I’m glad I decided to read the other reaction article, after all.

    It was a distinctly lacking trailer, and what will be all the worse, would be if EA refused to understand, and recognise from where the disappointment stems. The most exciting part of it, was when I realised they were taking some colour palette cues from Spec Ops the Line, in attempt to un-bland their VAST fields of battle, just a little.

    #22 2 years ago
  23. ActionGameKing

    Another great article like the one Sam Clay wrote last night. It’s true that we should have realistic expectations from these big budget titles, but at the same time we as consumers should definitely demand more.

    @7 That’s the best point I’ve ever seen you make. Right now the industry is reaching gameplay fatigue. Publishers won’t allow massive risks for innovation because the games have to sell hotcakes. But there are a few big ones we could surely get excited about. eg. Destiny & GTA 5

    #23 2 years ago
  24. laughing-gravy

    I agree on the stale piss bit. This just looks a bit meh! Same old, same old but with shinier graphics. We need progress in gameplay more than we do in graphics. Only Media Molecules presentation at the PS4 announcement showed any real ambition. So I’ll wait to see what they are doing before I buy any new hardware.

    #24 2 years ago

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