Taking advantage of the Game Developer’s Conference (GDC) where video game industry professionals gather in San Francisco each year for the largest industry event, Electronic Arts gathered media together in the AMC Metreon theater to unveil developer DICE’s first next-gen game, Battlefield 4.
As expected, attendees witnessed the first showcase of 17 minutes of Battlefield 4 gameplay powered by the just-announced Frostbite 3 engine, but as impressions and previews have been published since, reactions indicate that EA may have partly failed to take advantage of the opportunity.
The Frostbite 2 engine made Battlefield 3 one of the best looking PC games and it’s been touted by DICE as being-next gen ready. Many of EA’s other games, including the yet-to-be-released Command & Conquer, Dragon Age III: Inquisition, and unannounced next Mass Effect and Need For Speed installments, are all officially announced to be running on it so the timing of the Frostbite 3 engine raises similar concerns to the numerically-enhanced Battlefield 4.
Is Battlefield 4 a big enough leap forward, in the same way that Frostbite 3 is a big enough leap forward, especially considering there’s been so little time for developers to take advantage of the technology? In the end, it’s just a number used for marketing and PR, and no matter what it’s called, the Battlefield 4 footage displayed was incredibly eye-pleasing. It’s one of the sexiest gameplay clips we’ve ever seen, but it’s also one that misfired for the press.
The Battlefield series is known – and judged upon- for its multiplayer, and not a single piece of footage or info was released on that front. Instead, the 17 minutes of gameplay focused purely on the single-player campaign of Battlefield 4, sadly revealing that the game does not address some of the key issues of Battlefield 3 – Much of the mission was scripted, linear, and there were even quasi-quicktime events asking the player to press a keyboard key to perform an action, working against the “new era of interactive entertainment” them, one of the EA key buzzwords/mantras throughout the presentation.
There was a neat scene of the characters – all cinematic, mind you – underwater, upside down in a car, but it didn’t involve any gameplay. Most of the action set pieces, emphatically enhanced by more memorable character moments, represented a case of “been there, done that.” So, from what we’ve seen, Battlefield 4 offers amazingly crystal clear graphics, greater draw distances and resolutions, cleaner animations and pretty destructible objects, but it also offered little that’s new in terms of gameplay and that’s where EA and DICE failed to impress. We already have Battlefield 3.
What really through attendees for a spin was the inexplicable closing remarks made by EA Games Vice President Patrick SÃ¶derlund after the gameplay footage:
“Revealing the game to you all today is a big deal for us. It signals a new era of Battlefield and, frankly, a new era of interactive entertainment.”
The statement about a “new era” was reiterated in the official BF4/Frostbite 3 press release, but nothing shown outside of the visuals offered anything new in interactive entertainment. Certainly, they aren’t referring to the “Press F to Cut Leg” scene, are they?:
Battlefield 4 offers players a glimpse into the future of interactive entertainment — a future that is more human, dramatic and believable than anything before it
The release continues, explaining that in single-player, players can use vehicles and direct squad mates, indicating that player progress will also be tracked. Again, social challenges, leaderboards, etc. are nothing new (or next-gen), but the details are vague at this point so we’re adopting a wait-and-see approach when it comes to the interactivity with the campaign.
Patrick Soderlund, Executive Vice President, EA Games Label, explains that it’s the player reaction that also signals next-gen:
“It is thrilling to witness peoples’ reaction when seeing the game for the first time. It really makes you realize that we are at the beginning of a whole new era for gaming. As artists and craftspeople, we are focused on creating a dynamic, open design that brings people together with amazing, surprising unscripted moments that they’ll talk about for days. That’s the beauty of Battlefield.”
Judging by the reactions, EA intentionally and strictly focusing on the Battlefield 4 campaign was not the best attack plan and most of the media previews and impressions say as much. Normally this wouldn’t be an issue and this PR strategy worked for BF3, but now that the industry has seen that, offered their criticisms on the final product, it was time for EA to respond accordingly. Where are the bigger, new multiplayer modes with possible 3-team skirmishes? Where are are the new features? Why do players still teleport inside of vehicles when they press ‘E’? Little and major gripes aside about what we think Frostbite 3 can do from our first introduction to it, a few other interesting bits of information came from post-presentation interviews with DICE devs.
Videogamer chatted with BF4 creative director Lars Gustavsson and asked about the rumors that there will be playable female soldiers in the game, something that’s been missing from previous installments and was a cause of controversy for Aliens: Colonial Marines:
“I can already now say that you won’t be able to play female in multiplayer. When it comes to single-player, last time you shuffled around numerous characters as you played and it was more about the geopolitical events. This time around, everything from direction to actors, to how we built the engine to deliver the human experience and connection to these digital actors, we’ve also chosen to go for one main character that you play, and with that, that is not a woman, as you might have noticed. The geopolitics is more of a backdrop to what happens, it’s more [about] you and your group, and we chose to pick a man for it. It seemed to suit the story.”
I’m not sure that explanation makes sense when it comes to multiplayer. There’s a female character in the gameplay footage after all. It’s more of a budget and timing thing that there are no female soldiers in the world of Battlefield multiplayer. What would fix that is mod support…
On the unsurprising front, DICE confirmed that Battlefield 4 is coming to the PS3, Xbox 360, PS4, PC (yes, Frostbite 3 works on current-gen consoles). It’ll of course come to the next-gen Xbox as well, but it’s not coming to the Wii U, much like EA’s Crysis 3 and Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel skipped it as well.
“I think overall for me as creative director, number one is to deliver a really great game and experience. Sometimes, at least for us, it’s focus on what you do well and what you know well, and ensure that you deliver something good than trying a bit too much, stretching yourself too thin and risking it. I’d rather play it safe, deliver something really good and then look at the future and what could possibly be done than trying a bit too hard and then, flat.”
Mixed reactions aside, Battlefield 4 – despite its overly linear campaign preview – looks incredible, exciting and fun. It will not be offering co-op in the campaign, another huge missed opportunity, which works against the idea of a “new era in gaming,” but there’s plenty to look forward to in the coming weeks. We’re dying to see how the three factions factor into multiplayer, and to see if there are new modes, more players, new features, etc.
Players who pre-order Battlefield 4 will get free DLC in the form of a “Premium Expansion Pack” which there are no details on at the moment. Battlefield Premium is returning after its success with BF3 and current premium subscribers will have access to the Battlefield 4 beta.
Battlefield 4 releases for the PC, PS3, PS4, and Xbox 360 this fall.
Follow me on Twitter @rob_keyes and let me know your thoughts on the unveiling!