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Battlefield 4 and the single player FPS

22:5910/02/2014Posted by Zoheir Beig4 Comments

If you’re playing Battlefield 4’s single-player mode, then you’re playing it wrong, goes the famous videogaming cliche. This seems to be borne out in the wider discussion surrounding EA’s big 2013 FPS hope; D+PAD’s own review meticulously detailed the various changes in and merits of the multiplayer (and was only updated at a later date with a critique of the solo campaign), while EDGE Online recently eulogized BF4’s central component, concluding: “f Battlefield 4’s multiplayer arenas are an orchestra constantly building up to a glorious cacophony, then playing on your own is little more than singing to yourself in the shower”. The irony here is that Battlefield 4’s campaign mode is the best of all the three big shooters currently available on PlayStation 4.

Battlefield 4 was first released in early November 2013 on the ‘previous’ generation of consoles, before making its way to Xbox One and PlayStation 4 later that month. My only prior experience with Battlefield was the download-only Pacific Theatre-based Battlefield 1943, whose tight focus and accessibility was, I imagine, designed to appeal to gamers like myself with no prior hands-on understanding of the areas in which Battlefield traditionally excels: teamwork, a class system, large maps and a more considered approach to online multiplayer than the rapid cacophony of Call Of Duty, to give four well-documented examples.

Inevitably it didn’t take long to mention the three words that have perhaps done more than anything to shape Battlefield’s current approach, from a marketing perspective at the very least. Activision’s juggernaut defined itself – and arguably first-person shooters during the last generation – with the release, in 2007, of Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Not only did Modern Warfare’s single-player become a basic template for military shooters, its multiplayer mode was, at the time, revolutionary, expertly calibrated for a new audience of console gamers hungry for a quickly-gratifying yet endlessly rewarding experience. So successful was the basic format (lavish rewards of XP leading to a rapid climbing of ranks, coupled with intense online competition creating a perfect feedback loop) that, in the most recent chart of Xbox LIVE activity published on December 5th 2013 by Major Nelson, 4 Call Of Duty titles occupied the top 10, with Battlefield 4 present at 7, ahead of just one of the Call Of Duty games (Black Ops).

Uniquely, 2007’s Modern Warfare was as memorable for its solo campaign as it was for the way that it shaped a large portion of console gamers’ online habits for the subsequent six years. Indeed, just a few weeks ago Videogamer published an article celebrating one of Modern Warfare’s most troubling (and prescient) sections, the Death From Above mission in which you piloted an extremely realistic aerial weapon solely through the means of targeted video footage. As comments on the way modern warfare was now an increasingly detached, dispassionate arena, it still hasn’t been bettered.

Although Battlefield 4’s campaign has little of this sense of innovation, it still manages to find the time to do some interesting things. Foremost of these is the way various multiplayer dynamics have been weaved into the structure of its single-player mode. Most levels feature sections that play out in wide, multi-tiered arenas, and offer a variety of approaches with which to tackle the enemy. When coupled with the excellent scoring system, which rewards kill streaks and high-risk moves such as melee kills, solo Battlefield 4 quickly turns from derivative afterthought to becoming a neat little sandbox for experimentation. I regularly reloaded checkpoints to maximise my points haul from certain sections, tailoring my approach until a swift flow of headshots, claymore placements and well-timed grenade throws ensued.

The integration of multiplayer into the campaign is also present in the ability to switch guns at every weapon cache, effectively offering you the ability to constantly tailor with loadouts, as well as several vehicle-based set-pieces that introduce you to their handling. The Call Of Duty-style beats remain of course – America is, after all, gravely threatened in each chapter – but Battlefield 4 has done something here that first-person shooters had almost lost sight of: offering a quite subtle introduction to its daunting multiplayer to someone, like myself, who rarely ventures into playing online.

Call Of Duty: Ghosts and Killzone: Shadow Fall suffer by comparison. The former was the most lackluster entry in the franchise’s history (albeit with incredible fish AI) while Killzone, whilst technically impressive, fell frustratingly short of its early promise, with a first act of excellent pacing and expansive worlds giving way to dull linear plodding. Battlefield 4 feels fresher, tighter and thanks to the scoring system, more fun than both.

Although, given the examples above, the industry has appeared to drift a long way from the impact of Modern Warfare – understandable given the economic value of dependably regular earners – Battlefield 4, with its laudable combination of single and multiplayer, may itself quickly be seen as a cute anachronism. The great big FPS hopes for 2014, Destiny and Titanfall, have embraced persistently online infrastructure, with Destiny in particular sounding especially exciting, with talk of events occurring organically outside of the developers’ controls. Both games, notably, don’t have traditional single-player modes. This is where the real shake-up in mainstream first-person shooters will come – not in the annual unveiling of new perks, but with a structural shift in the way we take our solo dreams of military glory into the online world. In the meantime Battlefield 4 has taught me that singing in the shower isn’t so bad, if you don’t care that nobody can hear.

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  • Scubafinch said:

    Nicely worded article. I felt exactly the same way about Killzone’s campaign. It showed so much promise in the first half. I’d like to return to it to see if the regular checkpoints remove some of the frustration I had with the latter half of the game.

    As to Battlefield 4, I was having a fantastic time with the campaign until I returned to find my save game wiped. I’m waiting on confirmation that the issue with this on the PS4 is resolved before even attempting to play it again.

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