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So Linear It’s Insulting: The Trouble With Battlefield 4’s Campaign
Gun in hand, I ran through a decrepit building behind the others in my squad while a hostile helicopter rained hell fire down upon us. Plaster, wood, and glass shattered and flew around me in a flurry as bullets whipped through the walls, the building occasionally losing larger pieces of its structure to the odd missile.
I sat back in my chair while playing through this sequence in Battlefield 4’s campaign, approaching the situation carefully, attempting to logically reason things out. After all, I’ve played a lot of shooters, and this isn’t the first time a massive vehicle has tried to kill me in a video game.
In an effort to protect myself, I chose to take cover underneath the windows, intending to move from cover to cover every time the onslaught paused for a brief second.
Just as I attempted to move in, a blast erupted, and the screen turned black and white while slowly panning up toward the ceiling.
Dead. Dead for trying to move methodically.
Okay, I reasoned with myself. That didn’t work. Maybe this time, try continuously moving instead of trying to take cover?
The game re-started at the checkpoint, I ran back to the exact same spot, and kept pressing forward on the left stick.
BAM! The same missile claimed me again, almost taunting me with the same end game screen.
Annoyed, I considered the event for a third time. It was a reckless and sort of stupid idea, but maybe sprinting would do the trick. I mean, something had to, dang it.
The game re-booted. I clicked the left stick immediately and ran as fast as I could, passing up my squad mates and entering into an empty top floor of the building as the helicopter continued its onslaught.
Oh. Of course. So, instead of trying to use reason and approaching the game methodically, I’m supposed to haul ass to the top floor while bullets spray everywhere around me and leave the others behind?
This is but one of the many frustrating moments in Battlefield 4’s campaign that not only takes away control and logical reasoning from the player, but forces you to run from set piece to set piece in order to progress through the game. Why? Because ‘sploshions. Because the game wants to blow up the world around you while you sit back and admire how pretty it is, regardless of the fact you had very little to do with anything outside of moving forward and shooting.
This isn’t the only game guilty of such a sin, either; Battlefield 3’s campaign was equally as egregious, Modern Warfare 3’s campaign was a snoozefest made up of hammy dialogue and impossible set pieces, and Black Ops II’s campaign, though attempting innovation, frequently fell victim to forcing a player to progress one way rather than allowing us to be thinking human beings.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: this is a military shooter, and I should be expecting a poor campaign, since they’re habitually par for the course. But you know what? I reject that idea. These games, whose multiplayer functionalities are frequently innovative and often set the bar for how all other shooter multiplayer modes are made, have no reason to contain single-player campaigns as poorly designed as these.
It’s a common theme in the gaming community to ask what truly qualifies a game as a “game”, and what gameplay should be made up of. This most often arises when discussing some of the more niche genres such as adventure games or the interactive narrative types like Beyond: Two Souls. Now,whether or not you agree with the sentiment, when compared to popular standards of what qualifies one experience as a “game,” it’s often argued that these barely make the cut. But, I’d be brave enough to say that campaigns such as this one should be thrown in the mix as well.
The problem with linearity as strict as this is that it encourages the player to literally turn off every instinct and logical reasoning they’ve ever developed in their many years of playing games. Rather than giving us a creative setup of a battlefield and asking us to solve the equation on our own a la Halo, these games only allow us to shoot, progress, and play exactly as they want us to.
Doing so is so restricting that it’s almost insulting. It’s a bit like the game is completely disregarding your previous experience and giving you the equivalent of training wheels, like you’re experiencing a first person shooter for the first time.
Why are they like this? Why are they designed so that we often over-think things because of our instincts, rather than bending to the game’s ability of sacrificing meaningful gameplay for funneling us from one awesome set piece to the next? I can appreciate a pretty explosion just as much as the next person, but I’m more inclined to remember a particularly satisfying and challenging level in a shooter than I am a neat collapse of a massive building.
I suppose the biggest question is why these campaigns are even included in the first place. Sure, they might be a decent place to introduce some of the mechanics of the game, but most shooters adhere to the same control standard with the exception of a few outliers, such as items, grenades, and crouch/jump controls. Instead of giving us poorly designed campaigns, why not completely cut out the single player experience, give us the ability to use bots, and throw in an introductory or tutorial level that gives us a taste of what to expect from the multiplayer modes instead? Doing so would allow people to learn about a game’s mechanics while also getting a sense of what they could expect from the multiplayer match once they finally decide to take the plunge.
Really, it’s kind of an all-or-nothing approach in my mind. Call me spoiled, but when I pick up a shooter that promises a single-player campaign, I want something more out of it than hoo-rah moments and big set pieces. I want meaningful challenge, good AI to do battle with, and the ultimate satisfaction of walking away from a battle and knowing I barely survived using only my own wits and skill. After all, that sentiment is really the foundation upon which the entire genre is built.