No one can really deny that, for years, Call of Duty dominated the first-person-shooter market. Not that we need to go into the backstory, but that franchise quickly became an entertainment powerhouse, spawning its own built-in audience. The fact that, for a while at least, it lacked a credible opponent also meant that it was given crucial time to entrench itself into the minds of gamers around the world. Lately though, EA have been stepping up to the plate: a perky David trying to take on Activision’s towering goliath.
As far as PC gamers are concerned, DICE were already masters of their craft, but they perhaps lacked a certain mass-market appeal that Call of Duty had nailed early on. Over the past several years, the Swedish-based company have been steadily improving their formula, and have earned a lot of respect in the minds of the console audience. Now the question of “Battlefield or Call or Duty?” is as prominent as the annual choice of “PES or FIFA?” The year is 2013, and we have two new contesters entering the ring: In the EA corner, we have Battlefield 4, whilst Activision is throwing in Call of Duty: Ghosts. Now, really, the two franchises have grown to offer subtly different experiences that even the average gamer can clearly see, but competition is the name of the game and in today’s climate it’s a lucky gamer indeed that can manage to acquire both, let alone spend the amount of time necessary to get good at it.
Lately, I’ve had the sneaking suspicion that Call of Duty is secretly a MOBA in disguise. With Ghosts representing the tenth mainstream offering of the franchise (man, it’s been a long time since Modern Warfare, eh?), the series has started to settle into a place where they don’t really need to experiment or revolutionise what past years have shown to be a record-breaking formula. A typical Call of Duty experience is two-fold – an action-packed, Hollywood-style single-player ‘experience’ (arguably, you don’t really ‘play’ a COD campaign anymore, you ‘experience’ it), and a multiplayer environment that’s meant to foster elite, competitive gameplay. Having gone hands-on with Ghosts’ multiplayer mode recently, I found myself recognising many elements of the design that I’d seen in MOBA’s like League of Legends et al: levels that had clear lanes, with some random paths in-between, and a Soldier Creation section that was about fine-tuning and optimising your guy for the single-purpose of killing your enemy. MOBA’s are highly competitive environments that demand excellence, and everything in Ghost’s multiplayer seems to evoke this particular line of thinking. About the only thing COD doesn’t seem to follow is the need for everyone to play a particular role, something that Battlefield manages to do better.
I’d argue that DICE’s iconic franchise is still trying to find itself a little. I always felt that Battlefield 3 (at least on initial release), was trying a bit too hard to emulate certain aspects of Call of Duty. The single-player was full of set-pieces, twists, and tried to throw in some of the series’ unique points in Combined Arms and vehicular warfare, but I felt it all fell a bit short. The odd random elements that clearly had no purpose at all other than to show off (*cough* jet mission *cough) certainly didn’t help either. Thankfully, the multiplayer seemed more free to do what past Battlefield games did best – and with the comprehensive DLC plan that’s rolled out in the time since release, I think the multiplayer portion of that game has definitely hit its stride. I’m hoping that DICE’s success with Battlefield means EA have given them the trust they need (and deserve) to have a bit more freedom, and what I’ve seen so far has me cautiously optimistic, even amidst obvious gimmicky catch-lines like ‘Levolution’.
Playing Battlefield 4’s multiplayer recently, I was immediately hit with a sense of comfortable familiarity – despite the control scheme changing (spot, for example, is now RB on the Xbox One pad) which meant I was constantly fighting my BF3 muscle memory. It would be easy to say that it’s ‘more of the same’ but since Call of Duty has been doing that for a while now, I think Battlefield is allowed a couple of games to iterate. One thing that Battlefield multiplayer does have over Call of Duty, in my mind, is atmosphere. COD has always felt kind of clinical – move, kill, move, kill, perk, kill move… Battlefield is more of a team-focused experience: working together, sticking to your role are just as important as taking out the other guys. I get better sense of actually being on a battlefield then I’d ever get from COD. It’s the little things that are going to make Battlefield 4, coupled with some hopefully excellent level design that fosters team-work and combined arms over close-quarters combat. The (re)addition of the Commander mode as well should be interesting, although it’ll be a brand new experience for the console crowd. EA have to be careful to make it meaningful and worth a player choosing to do that over choosing to actually be present in a match. The fact that Commander mode is also available with Tablet’s is a smart move, although Companion/Second Screen gaming is still in its infancy.
One thing to consider for both games though is that they will span two generations of hardware. I actually feel sorry for the line-up of games that have to span both generations. Despite what the official line is, I find it hard to imagine that designing a game so that the experience is consistent across two very different hardware specifications wouldn’t prevent it from reaching its full potential on the more powerful machine. It’s fully possible that despite being excellent experiences to round out the current generation, they may not be fully ‘next-gen’ worthy. Saying that, next-gen Battlefield 4 will have 64-player matches, which is fantastic, and well overdue.
This year, I feel Battlefield 4 will definitely give Call of Duty: Ghosts a run for their money. Activision’s franchise is still sticking to its guns, as it were, and despite a few tweaks the multiplayer experience is largely the same. There’s nothing particularly wrong with that, but Battlefield has grown to a point where it can provide a credible and genuinely different experience – those who’ve already gotten tired of COD’s highly competitive ‘running and gunning’ may find a new home in Battlefield 4, and given that EA are planning to release first again means that, depending on what platform you go for, you’ll have anywhere from a week to a few days to try it out.
Battlefield 4 is being published by EA, and will release on PC|360|PS3 on October 29th, 2013, Playstation 4 on Novemeber 12th (NA) and 22nd (EU) and finally Xbox One on November 19th (NA) and 22nd (EU), 2013. Call of Duty: Ghosts is being published by Activision, and will release on PC|360|PS3|WiiU on November 5th, 2013, Playstation 4 on November 15th (NA) and 29th (EU) and finally Xbox One on November 22nd, 2013.
Call of Duty: Ghosts is being published by Activision, and will release on PC|360|PS3|WiiU on November 5th, 2013, Playstation 4 on November 15th (NA) and 29th (EU) and finally Xbox One on November 22nd, 2013.