I’m going into this one with my eyes wide open. I’m fully aware that a single-player mode on Battlefield 4 is about as useful as the vestigial tail on human being. Almost literally no one plays Battlefield games for the single-player. No one except me. Normally, I wait for these types of games to hit $10 or so, pick them up, and blow through them on the weekends. It’s my version of going to see a big, dumb Michael Bay movie. I’ve done it for every Call of Duty game after Modern Warfare (the last truly good single-player campaign in a Military Shooter), the last couple of Medal of Honor games, and Battlefield 3. The worst of these that I’ve played has been Battlefield 3.
Until now. I’m not going to get into EA’s Origin client here, as it would easily double the length of this review, but they’ve recently started a Game Time feature. It’s inaugural event was a week’s free playtime on Battlefield 4. Decent deal for those waiting to pick it up for the multiplayer (if there’s anyone still waiting to do that), but even better for someone like me. This type of game generally tends to have about 4-6 hours of campaign time, and according to Origin, I have approximately 6 hours start to finish logged, including a couple of bathroom breaks and lunch where I left the game paused.
Story-wise, this is pretty much what you’d expect from a Modern Military Shooter. Take a country that the US is currently not on great terms with and have them make an unfeasibly effective strike on the US or its forces. Pretty much the same storyline as Battlefield 3 or your pick of any recent Call of Duty game. Characterization is weak, save two of your squad, and the mcguffin of the story is a man who seems to have telepathic powers of persuasion. I reached the end of the game, and I still seriously didn’t understand why he was so important. Your squad consists of super-competent Chinese security agent Hannah, borderline-insubordinate Irish, and newbie-cipher Pac. I found myself shouting at Irish at several points and wondering how he became such a high-level operator given his total lack of respect for pretty much every other character he interacts with. Hannah seems almost a bit too competent at times, and Pac is just there. Until he’s not.
Technically speaking, I marvel at Crytek. How a developer so well-respected can fail so hard on basic competencies of programming is beyond me. Battlefield 4 came out on consoles, so I know absolutely that they know how to program gamepad support. And while pads are supported in the PC version, that support is so lackluster and lacking that they may as well not even have coded it in. There are no button prompts for the pad. Every action from opening doors to navigating menus is hard-coded to the keyboard prompts. The fact that there are no sequence-breaking QTEs that can only be performed with they keyboard (like last year’s Battlefield 3) is balanced by the fact that the weapons menus during gameplay can only be used with a mouse, even when they are activated by using a gamepad. Pad support isn’t the only problem, though. Missing event triggers, AI pathing problems, and collision detection are terrible eyesores. I ran to the top of a building only to have my squad hit the roof and freeze. I had no idea what to do next, so I ended throwing myself off the building so I could restart the checking point (after I’d found a wall not guarded by an invisible wall). Next time up, there was a helicopter waiting for us. I lost count of the number of times an NPC would walk straight into me and push me around the map. I was hit by a tank doing at least 30 MPH and instead of dying was just pushed right along in front of it. Sniper shots were foiled by the empty spaces between bits of scaffolding, as bullets ricocheted off of empty space.
This may be a great multiplayer game, and even that’s debatable given the problems its had in its early life, but as a singleplayer game, Battlefield 4 is yet another argument that online shooters really should just do away with the mode altogether and leave it to games like Spec Ops: The Line that want to use the format to tell a proper story.