The PS4 has launched with three games from three of the biggest first-person shooter franchises currently in gaming - Killzone, Battlefield and, of course, Call of Duty. All three of them have some of the best multiplayer modes going, with millions playing matches at all hours, spending a fucking fortune on DLC and ‘Season Passes’. Deservedly so, too. Have you ever played a game of Battlefield with your friends, all communicating and working as a unit? Winning a match when you know your team outperformed your opponents is one of the most satisfying feelings in all of gaming. DICE, Guerrilla and whoever the hell it is who is working on Call of Duty these days have refined this stuff over years and years of incremental changes - some good, some bad - but they’re always focused on ultimately creating a fair, balanced and highly compulsive experience for you to share with others.
They also feature truly pish single player modes. Out of those, Call of Duty’s is probably the least offensive, but it is still the usual run-and-gun between set pieces, following some soldier (and sometimes a dog!!!) as they dictate the pace you travel through the experience. No running ahead, no room for improvisation. Spectacular though some of the moments might look, they’re masking what is a dull formula, and one that is now looking very, very tired. Battlefield 4 has jettisoned all of the open area combat that made the single player mode in the much-missed Bad Company games so much fun, instead opting to take the Call of Duty formula and replace it all with a po-faced plot that adds an extra layer of boring to the proceedings.
The question is, do these games actually NEED a single player component at all? Although the gameplay might be little more than half-arsed tedium, the presentation certainly isn’t. Killzone is one of the best looking games I’ve ever seen, Call of Duty reeks of dollars throughout the single player campaign, and the section aboard the destroyed battleship in Battlefield 4 might be the most spectacular bit of smoke and mirrors I’ve seen to date. This all costs money and takes up valuable development resources and time. Resources that could be used to polish the already excellent multiplayer.
Does anyone actually play Battlefield for the story? They flirted with interesting, well-written characters once with the Bad Company games, but have since sacked that off for the usual dull hyper-real war bollocks. I’ve enjoyed the three previous Killzone games, but I couldn’t tell you the name of the protagonist if my life depended on it. Soap McTavish, right? Call of Duty falls on the daft action movie side of the whole war thing, coming across a bit more Commando than Apocalypse Now, but its the same old thing every year. Some bad guy, some weapon of mass destruction, some flashbacks, some big bang to end the first act. This lack of imagination is really hammered home when, towards the end of the Ghosts campaign, the aforementioned ‘Battleship’ level from Battlefield 4, which was shown in almost all the pre-launch trailers, appears lifted almost wholesale from DICE’s game. Intentional or not, it shows that the modern war shooter is really struggling for new ideas.
Killzone has perhaps the most baffling single player campaign. The previous games were known for being little more than incredible looking shooting galleries that borrowed the usual modern FPS formula and stuck to it until the end, but with Shadow Fall they’ve actually tried to do something different. After the intro level, it shows some promise. An open jungle environment with objectives you can tackle in any order is a far cry (ha haa) from the grey cities full of rubble that made up the series’ setting to date. A level later, it becomes Dead Space for half an hour, as you trot about some abandoned spaceship looking for keys for generators and doors. Hmm. A change of pace, and not a particularly thrilling one. After that, it just becomes a bit dull. Not just in terms of the story - the Killzone games have been dull for YEARS - but in terms of the actual gameplay. Call of Duty may be the poster child for the set-piece filled modern shooter but at least it has a certain flair and bombast to the whole thing that partially distracts you from the monotony. Outside of Killzone looking fantastic, it falls incredibly flat. A chore to play.
At the time of writing, 16.8% of all Killzone Shadow Fall players have the trophy for finishing the campaign. 21.1% of the Battlefield 4 players have reached the ending on casual difficulty while Call of Duty commands a whopping 22% of players who have received the trophy for besting the game. Being generous, it looks like about quarter of all players play through the campaign mode. I’m willing to bet almost all of them play the multiplayer, too. Would they really miss it? Really?
Out of the three games, Killzone’s multiplayer is the most satisfying. Almost everything is unlocked from the start, so a lot of it is about you finding what you enjoy using and have the most success with, and it is impeccably balanced, so your choice never feels underpowered and you never feel like someone has a massive advantage over you. If you’re good with a certain loadout, then that is what you should use! There’s a decent selection of maps on offer, and the Warzone game type is still an absolute winner, forcing you to change tactics as a player and as a team on the fly as it throws objectives at you. Call of Duty multiplayer plays as good as it ever has. It’s gaming’s McDonalds - there’s nowt wrong with it, and most people like it, but if it is all you play it’ll fucking rot you from inside. They’ve attached some strange player and A.I vs player and A.I botmatch mode, where you level up your soldiers individually by playing the standard multiplayer and then test them out in a team vs team battle, which is a bit rubbish and slightly woven into the standard multiplayer experience. Really, if it ain’t broke, Activision…
Then there’s Battlefield 4. Battlefield has been one of the finest multiplayer game for years now, and in terms of pure gameplay this latest one doesn’t change that. Unfortunately, across the massive amount of platforms it is available for, it is almost fundamentally broken. If it isn’t the fact that it frequently crashes completely (usually when you’re playing the game of your life) it’ll fail to load, or bring up a load of servers that don’t actually exist, or have dreadful collision detection.. the list goes on. DICE have recently stated that fixing Battlefield 4’s issues required ‘all hands on deck’ with people being pulled from other projects to get it working. So far, they’ve fixed ‘some’ of it.
Your man Chet Roivas pointed out on a recent episode of the Chet and Jon’s podcast that the signs were always there for this. EA were launching Battlefield 4 on FIVE different platforms, with more content than ever before, as well as console exclusive DLC packs and a whole heap of other stuff that is going to further complicate matters. Reckon this would’ve been the case if they just didn’t bother with the frankly pointless single player campaign? I certainly think those resources could’ve been spent elsewhere. 75% of their user base seems to think the same.
And let’s be honest, the multiplayer aspects of these three games is so good, if they did scrap the single player mode and didn’t spend a single penny of that extra money and time on making the online game any better than what we have right now, does it matter? They'd make a greater profit, too. Well, maybe the creaky, broken Baffy 4 could’ve used it, but you see the point, right?