Tonight EA lured us in to a darkened cinema, on the promise of news about the only-just-announced-even-though-everyone-knew-about-it-for-ages Battlefield 4. But while we knew it existed, we didn't know what it might contain. Um. Yeah, about that...
Once again, DICE revealed a Battlefield with its single player. It's odd. It was odd when they did it with BF3 too. Battlefield is a multiplayer game. But that did not trouble the presenters of last night's ludicrous misfire. Here's how it happened:
DICE (whom we must remember are NOT a Battlefield factory) introduce things by explaining that there will be no introduction, and promise us no rendered footage. And then begins a video, "Fishing in Baku", accompanied by, er, Bonnie Tyler's Total Eclipse OF The Heart. There's nervous laughter. "Oh, man, I don't want to die to this song," says a voice in a car sinking into the water. There's relieved laughter. That peters out into the realisation that this is single-player, and our time is about to be wasted at length.
The first actual in-game playable moment we see is a dank, grey corridor. It's like a statement, a declaration of intent. There surely cannot be the collectively lacked perspicacity to fail to understand what message presenting a dank, grey corridor offers us about the game. But I'll tell you what - what a dank, grey corridor. Water effects on the ground like I've never seen before. Wow, look at those particle effects, the cloth physics on those billowing curtains, lighting of the like I didn't think was possible. Frostbite 3 is delivering on its promises like a postman possessed. And what's that? "Press E to open." A game demo on PC.
Of course, it couldn't be shown on PS4 or Xbox 3: The Xboxening at this point, not that it was announced for them nor anything else. But oddly, the soupy movements show it's being played with a controller. Developers are weird.
But now, moving on from our dank, grey corridor, we're looking out from the fixed point of a dank, grey window, shooting up the streets to protect an NPC. It's achingly, all-permeatingly unoriginal, but utterly beautiful at it.
Suddenly we're in the woods, and good grief, the light on those perfectly rendered individual leaves on the bushes. Every thin branch bobbing, no 2.5D tricks, just the best foliage gaming's ever seen. This isn't a step forward in graphics, but a groin-breaking stride. Splashes as NPCs run through puddles, proper splooshes of water, like puddles do. Puddles in a grey building site, while the men shoot the ones facing toward them, because they're facing toward them, and press E on a car to drive it.
Details are rendered impossibly far into the distance. If it's trickery, it's the best trickery I've seen. A distant horizon meticulously detailed with grey, crumbling buildings of no interest, in dreary yet well rendered nothingplace. We see the men fire the chunky gun at the other cars for some presumably important reason.
There's a chopper on your side. Targets are designated, it fires at them. They blow up. They blow up more beautifully, and more extraordinarily than I've ever seen the targeted areas blow up in all the FPS games that are otherwise exactly the same as it. Now they're going up that FPS games' lift, and shooting at the FPS games' helicopter that you shoot at when going up that FPS games lift. It looks ridiculously amazing as it destroys the familiar FPS building you're running through, before FPS games' scripted sequence where the helicopter causes all your friends to fall down, and then a big brick tower falls through the roof next to you all.
You're knocked out, and then you come around all fuzzy, and your friend is looking directly in your face. You know the scene I mean, from the FPS games. But one of the men is hurt in the cutscene, and you have to cut his leg off at the knee by pressing F, then drive him to somewhere, but that Bonnie Tyler song is back and we know what's coming! The scripted sequence sees the helicopter that's still pursuing us seem to get shot down, and then we crash into the water. And then we're off to China. WUB WUB end.
"It's a new era in entertainment."
Says the DICE man on the stage, after the video of the same things happening that have happened in every FPS game ever. A sequence of events that could have come from any reveal of any war-based FPS single player campaign in the last two hundred years, not least the Battlefield 3 announcement footage.
"It's not about the polygons, the shaders. It's the emotional connection we make with players."
If emotions include "BANG!" and "CRASH!" then they've nailed it.
"The technology has enabled us to become better storytellers."
If you mean better at telling the same story that gaming has been telling for all of time, then yeah, possibly.
It's impossible to think anything other than: it's a multiplayer game! Why aren't you showing us that? What is this for?
If it was intended to be a demonstration of Frostbite 3, then as you'll see in the trailer below, I've never seen a game looking anywhere near this good. But beyond that, I have nothing useful to report about the game.
Right at the end Stage Man 2 said
"Social persistence to increase replay value... A single player game true to the Battlefield franchise."
I don't know what that means. He didn't explain. Like he did not about the multiplayer that's all anyone wanted to hear about. And indeed like the release date, or the platforms it'll be on. (Edit: Since the event, and impressively 20 minutes after the 11pm PST embargo, EA sent a press release explaining that it's out this Autumn.) Instead we were shown the same 18 minutes of FPS footage we've been dragged through in an inexorable loop for the last twenty years.
Tonight we were told that Battlefield 4 is the best looking game yet to have us dragged by our noses down dank, grey corridors. Information that precisely no one wanted to know.