Blog » A trapped wolf will cut off its own leg

I don’t think I could design a worse campaign for Battlefield 4 if I tried. Let’s look at the essential ingredients:

Why are there birds circling this area? There's no food! Unless you count the countless Chinese clone carcasses I'm about to create.
  • Starting in medias res because setting and tone are for sissies. The campaign begins with your squad in a car, underwater, and upside down. Some guy named Dunn is in the backseat and injured. As for who you are, where you are, and what you’re doing, you have to flash back 20 minutes for that. Even then you don’t get answers, because…
  • Mysterious plots lead you through the nose of an awful Tom Clancy ripoff. There’s a coup inside a global superpower (here, China) which means their stockpile of deadly deadly weapons is available for use against the United States. I think. I keep hearing that “Chan’s forces” are blocking this and that, which is supposed to make me shake my fist at my antagonist but really just puts me in the mood for dim sum. The writers don’t seem to realize that the player not having a full view of the stakes means they’re not invested in the game’s outcome. But that doesn’t matter, since…
  • You’re a silent protagonist and everyone speaks for you. Remember how nobody minded that your character in the Modern Warfare games never spoke because there was nothing much to say as you mowed down thousands of enemy troops? In Battlefield 4 there are tons of dialog opportunities where your character never says anything. Even halfway into the campaign there are several mandatory instances where I expected my guy to open his mouth. There’s a bit where you’re pinned under a car during a typhoon. The squad rushes to pull you out and says things like “look, he can get his hand free.” Later you’re in prison and your Russian cellmate instantly gives you a shiv and helps you escape. He has to preemptively declare that “I know you have no reason to trust me” when - cough - your character is the untrustworthy one. Which is odd considering…
  • You are squad leader since power fantasies sell games. We all see the elephant in the room that is Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and how Battlefield’s campaigns are desperate copycats. But for product differientation you’re not some generic grunt with a silly name who always does what the more experienced officers tell you to. No, not in Battlefield! You’re squad leader! You have a cool guy name (Recker)! And you always do what the less experienced officers tell you to! … huh? Yes friends, even as squad leader you never give orders. You never make decisions. Irish is always telling you what to do, whether it’s to open a door or rescue four hundred Chinese civilians or open another door. There are dramatic plot events that take you out of command or kill some guy so you’re back in command. Funny thing, there’s no difference between the two! Which hardly matters given that…
  • Characters are one-dimensional and incredibly annoying. Irish is the compassionate, humanitarian soldier with trust issues (ooh, does that make him two-dimensional?) and Pac is the generic “I dunno about that, boss” everyman. There’s some asshole Michael Ironsides-type commander who takes control of your squad at one point but dies before the end of the mission. He eats it after the ladder he’s climbing explodes. You know, the sort of thing Nathan Drake survives on his way to breakfast. You’d think the between-mission cutscenes would give the characters a chance to emote or show weakness, but it’s always the same jackass on an aircraft carrier trying to explain the plot without telling us too much of what’s going on. There’s also a Chinese woman on your squad as some kind of diversity double-whammy. She betrays you at one point, but it’s okay since she double-crosses Chan’s forces and breaks you out of prison. Irish spends the entire game saying that he doesn’t trust her, and how trust is earned, but once she gets you out of prison and says that her family was murdered or something Irish trusts her completely. Nobody brings up the electrical torture you experienced while in prison. You know, the sort of thing that would make the player really angry and ready to fight, if it weren’t for…
  • The lack of passion in the combat. You know that badass dubstep music in all the trailers? It’s barely in the full game. Heck, Forza 5 has more constant and inspiring music than Battlefield 4. On some level that’s welcome given the amount of environmental noise you have to slog through and the fact that the guns might as well have subwoofers in place of suppressors. But shooting these dudes feels dry. This is ignoring the fact that you’ll encounter resistance everywhere. Chan puts his limitless army in office buildings, abandoned construction sites, inside sinking aircraft carriers, and probably on the moon if we could contrive a reason to be there. The soldiers all shout at you in Chinese, which is authentic but doesn’t have the same menace that you get from German or Russian enemies. There’s a bit where you’re being tortured in prison for information. I hope you have subtitles on because the guy interrogating you has an accent thicker than Ken Watanabe in Inception. Here’s the funny bit: Irish accidentally spills the beans anyway. Whoops! He’s such a cad, considering the…
  • Dark overtones of the plot. This is a serious game with serious people and serious conseqe… ah ha ha, I can’t finish typing that. You know that muddy plot full of idiot characters? It’s full of some awful events. You get tortured! You leave sailors to drown because it would ruin your mission! You cut off a squad member’s leg! It’s supposed to be part of the “war is hell” tone, but really it’s you being an asshole. The writers are trying to match the gravity of the nuclear explosion from Modern Warfare and the grimdark protagonist murdering of Modern Warfare 2. They’re failing. The player is complicit in pretty much every atrocity. It’s like the No Russian mission where you play as Makarov.
Duh dun duh dun dun. Dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb.

What would a worse campaign look like? I’m not sure. On the one hand I could go all Peter Molydeux and envison something where you mash the triggers to do push-ups for eight hours. Use a Surgery Simulator 2013 interface to assemble your gun. You could be the guy in charge of the bridge-laying machine from the first level of Modern Warfare 2 and never kill anybody. Wait, that sounds kind of cool.

On the other hand, intentionally trying to write an awful military shooter video game campaign runs too easily into parody. You’re fighting waves of faceless foreign enemies, which would mean Nazis, except it’s the modern day, so… Neo-Nazis! And they’re from a country that hasn’t been used before, so… Australia! The plot involves the misappropriation of weapons of mass destruction or some future tech, so… ice-nine! Our brave multi-cultural squad of highly trained soldiers is led by you, code name Mustard, and you’re promoted to Colonel in the opening scene!

Kick ass, bro! Now go stop the schemes of the evil Dr. Vonnegut before his army of Killer Kombat Kangaroos can conquer California and soon… the world!