The lights are on
Like many gamers, I'm susceptible to the occasional bout of shooter
fatigue. Thanks in large part to the indie scene, there is an ever-expanding scope
of different gameplay experiences to try – always interacting with a virtual
world via bullets can get old. This year, however, the next-gen consoles
renewed my interest in gaming's two biggest military shooter franchises. It was
time to step back on the battlefield and see if war really never changes.
I've always preferred Battlefield to Call of Duty, but have
fallen off both series recently. I played through the campaign for Modern Warfare
3 back in 2011, but didn't play much multiplayer and skipped Black Ops and
Black Ops II completely. I played about half of Battlefield 3's single-player
campaign in 2011 as well, and spent a couple of weeks playing online after
launch before dropping off and never returning.
After making a rather impulsive launch-day decision to buy a
PlayStation 4, however, I was looking forward to checking out a bunch of different
games. I spent a weekend with Call of Duty: Ghosts and Battlefield 4 recently,
and walked away impressed by both.
Call of Duty gets a lot of grief for always being more of
the same, and although the gameplay does feel similar year after year, I still think the criticisms are unwarranted. For one, that gameplay still
features the most polished and satisfying shooting mechanics of any series – I
don't see how you improve on it, and I'm glad Infinity Ward and company aren't
just tweaking it for the sake of doing something different.
Secondly, Infinity Ward genuinely tried to do something
different with Ghosts' story, and even though the narrative is absurd, it still
provides a fun ride. While I found the underwater and space segments
frustrating, running through a flooding city and infiltrating the enemy's
headquarters were some of the cooler moments I've had with the series. I still
don't know why you could remote-control Riley, but having him chomp on enemies
during slow-motion breaches made me never want to go into battle without a
canine companion again.
I also had a lot of fun on the online front as well. Given
the server problems publishers have faced this year, Activision doesn't get
enough credit for how stable Ghosts has been (then again, I was playing the PS4
version, so they had extra time to prepare...though that hasn't helped EA much).
Some have complained about Infinity Ward forgoing the Pick Ten system that
people liked so much in Black Ops, but I was intrigued by the ability to level
up different squad members. I've never been a huge fan of COD's twitch-based multiplayer,
but I found Ghosts' maps to be more forgiving, and really enjoy modes like Kill
Confirmed and Infected. I definitely plan on going back to Ghosts' multiplayer,
even if I'll never manage to unlock and level up a full squad, which seems
balanced for hardcore players who are used to prestiging multiple times.
I've always been fond of the Battlefield series, but found
myself disappointed with Battlefield 3. I resented DICE's approach to the
single-player campaign, which traded the wide-open warzones and vehicular
combat of the Bad Company series for a linear, scripted campaign that simply
couldn't compete with Call of Duty's bombastic setpiece moments.
That said, I have so far found Battlefield 4's campaign more
intriguing (I'm about halfway through). The story frequently falls flat even
with the talented Michael Kenneth Williams fighting at your side, and there are
some dumb detours, such as wandering below deck on an aircraft carrier. However,
the gunplay is still great and skirmishes feel less scripted than in Battlefield
Battlefield's real draw is still its multiplayer, though, which
has been plagued by bugs and server problems. Fortunately, my experience on PS4
has been great. Granted, I've only played a couple of times, but I was able to
hop into some 64-player matches without any problems. Playing on such huge maps
is less intimidating, and DICE is still king at giving you ways to contribute
to your team even if you aren't racking up kills. I also plan on playing more
of Battlefield 4's multiplayer, and have once again been swayed back into DICE's
One dumb aspect I was surprised to see in both games was the
incorporation of a silent protagonist in the single-player campaign, presumably
to make you feel like the star of the show. In both cases, it fails miserably. Aside
from the fact that not everyone who plays Call of Duty and Battlefield is a
white male (as your hand clearly indicates), both games have their share of
immersion-breaking moments due to their mute leading men. During one mission in
Ghosts, you become separated from your squad and – despite having a functioning
radio – don't respond to the calls of your allies because...well, you can't. In
Battlefield 4, you spend most of the game as the leader of your squad, which
creates uncomfortable situations where your teammates call out the orders you
would have presumably given them, and then carry them out. Does this really make
anyone feel more immersed in the game? Are gamers that bad at roleplaying that
a character's voice would ruin the experience? I don't know about you, but I'd
rather play as a fully realized character than a gun-toting mime.
Thankfully, my biggest fear – that both games would be less
impressive due to their cross-gen status – was unfounded. Both games look
terrific and have reaffirmed my satisfaction with taking the next-gen plunge. I
still look forward to what a next-gen only Call of Duty or Battlefield might
entail one day, but I don't feel shortchanged by this year's offerings.
Ultimately, both shooters did indeed feel familiar to what I
remembered of the series, but I guess I don't see why that's supposed to be a
bad thing. Both games feature new stories, a host of multiplayer modes and new
maps, and more replayability than virtually any other game on the market. If the
military shooter formula doesn't appeal to you, I certainly understand – but I
for one am happy to be on the frontlines again.
Email the author Jeff Marchiafava, or follow on Google+, Twitter, and Game Informer.