Saturday, March 23, 2013

From the Borderlands to the Battlefield


There's two types of games I tend to play the most often and it's no surprise that one of them is a good First Person Shooter.  The other is a good driving game but since there's been few really good titles and I can't afford a good control setup to adequately experience them I spend a lot of time shooting at virtual people. 
I like realism but I know it's still a game and that short of a Star Trek style holodeck I can't expect too much.  Still I want an interesting environment to look at and challenging opponents that have just as much chance to win as I do.

Angry Birds and The Simpsons: Tapped Out may be popular with the masses but aside from a convenient time sink they don't do much for me.  They're considered "casual games" and after awhile they stop being fun and start turning into a career once you pass a certain level.  That's their hook and it's something I recognize in games in general.  How obvious that hook is separates a good game from an also-ran.

In the past few months I've spent a lot of time with Borderlands 2 and Battlefield 3.   During that time I've been trying to identify exactly what it was that made one more engaging than the other.  A good game draws you in and before you know it entire evenings have evaporated without notice.

Borderlands is like that.  Both the original and the sequel have this subtle quality of being just challenging enough to keep you coming back but not so easy as to become repetitive.   The story is as over the top as you can get but does a great job of setting the mood.

A hallmark of the series is the seamless gameplay experience between single player and cooperative mode.  The ability to help out your friends on a particularly difficult single player mission is nothing short of brilliant.  Another nice feature is how  your accomplishments follow you regardless of the play mode.  That's far more valuable than any badge on somebody's leaderboard.

Battlefield 3 is a whole different story.  It's a game with split personalities.  A single player mode that had no bearing on multiplayer and seems like it's just tacked on.   I've had "epic moments" with BF3 but most of the time I'm just waiting for the ticket count to drop to zero.

It's this trait that's most like its Activision competitor, Call of Duty.  You could literally spend  days in the single player mode and have nothing to show for it when you were done.  The gameplay is very linear much like Call of Duty but without the saving grace of a good story. 

Battlefield's multiplayer was a completely different experience and the real focus of the Battlefield series since the release of Battlefield 2.  And it's obvious with features, achievements and rewards only available in its online multiplayer mode.  Too bad Dice couldn't get a handle on the cheats, hacks and glitches that plague the game. 

I've spent over 200 hours playing BF3 and about half of that on Borderlands 2 so far.  Yes I know they're vastly different games and have a different focus but the success of one shows the failure of the other.  They're both FPS games and emphasize the development of your player character.  Battlefield does it with rank and unlocks while Borderlands does it with level and stat boosters. 

The difference is that Borderlands concentrates on the gaming experience where Battlefield concentrates on the game environment. 

Nobody in their right mind would ever say that Borderlands was anything but an arcade shooter.  Invisible rocks block your path, physics are a mere suggestion and controls can be vague.  Battlefield, on the other hand, strives to be as realistic as possible with highly detailed scenery and physics effects.  Aim and shoot and chances are you'll hit something in Borderlands,  Battlefield makes you seriously consider things like bullet drop, armor and firing position if you want to hit anything smaller than the broadside of a barn.

That's ok but it's tough for developers to keep making near photo realistic environments with all their physics along for the ride.  It may be great for selling DLC every 6 months but it ruins re-playability.  After awhile it gets tedious when you constantly reminded that you're just in a very pretty sandbox.  Play Battlefield 3 and you're guaranteed to  know more about the map than your opposition.  Borderlands 2 is the reverse.

 I've mentioned before that Battlefield 3's multiplayer experience has been going downhill for the past year.  If I buy a DLC pack it might extend my interest another month or so but ultimately I'll get burned out on it too.  With cheating so rampant it's roughly a 1 in 5 chance of having a good multiplayer game in BF3.  Worse, where DLC in Borderlands extends your co-op and single player game, DLC in BF3 offers nothing to its single player mode. 

In short Battlefield is being supported by a regular parade of DLC and paid add-ons like the shortcut kits.  Borderlands 2 has these as well but they enhance an already good gaming experience instead of trying to crutch a marginal one.

Don't get me wrong, I like Battlefield 3 when it's good.  It's just that it's not good that often and the only response from EA/Dice is to buy more DLC. 
I don't believe 2K/Gearbox is driven by any greater humanitarian philosophy but they have made a more playable game. 
Games are about having fun regardless of  the motivations of their creators are.  If I'm not enjoying the experience what's the point? 

I mean, why should I invest tens of hours in something that only serves to aggravate me.  Battlefield does that now and the blame lies squarely in Dice's lap.  They made a good looking game with great potential but never fully delivered.   Adding insult to injury they relentlessly push DLC and subscriptions to the exclusion of all else.

If you're going to have multiple ways to experience a game they need to be seamless and I don't mean forcing me onto a website just to start the game.  Who cares how realistic the explosions are if the game modes and thus anything I accomplish in them are completely isolated from each other?

This is the same mistake Call of Duty makes over and over again.  It has a great story and good looks but the Multiplayer is stuck back in 2002 and is easily exploited by those with less than honorable intentions.  In short it's not much fun for anyone but a hardcore player or a cheat.  

Battlefield 3's design comes closest to Call of Duty's and makes the same mistakes with the only difference being where each game's strengths lie.  Call of Duty is about the Story, Battlefield is about the environment but in the end they fail in the same way.

Borderlands 2 is like playing a character in a comic book.  It's a good looking game but it's not about  a game engine or realistic bullet drop.  it's about having fun blasting bad guys with goofy looking weapons.  All of this framed within an interesting story and a unified single and multiplayer experience.

If I buy DLC for Borderlands it's because I want more of what I already have.  Which is exactly why I won't buy it for Battlefield 3.  In short, I'm not satisfied with what I got from the core game so why would I throw more money at it in hopes of a better experience?

 I'm hopeful that Battlefield 4 will learn from the mistakes of its predecessor but EA is all about the money machine these days.  That means it will probably look great and you'll be able to count the rivets on every tank.  It just won't be very interesting past that point. 

Dice will continually fiddle with the physics and EA will push them to release DLC packs to keep the money machine humming along and I'll probably be writing the same article a year from now.
 If you ever see an (Updated) in the title you know what happened...


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