Before I begin this short but hopefully completely justified rant it’s important to clarify that something being disappointing is not the same as something being bad. It’s a fairly common misconception, one usually found on teh Internetz, but disappointing merely means that the thing in question did not live up to your expectations, whatever those may have been, therefore it’s entirely possible for a game to be outstanding, but still ultimately disappointing. Of course disappointment and poor quality do often go hand in hand, skipping down the street like best buddies intent on ruining all of our lives.
As two examples I view Grand Theft Auto V as something of a disappointment because I didn’t find that the script and satire to up to Rockstar’s usual and thereby failing to live up to my expectations, but of course it’s still an amazing game. Meanwhile Aliens: Colonial Marines was both a disappointment because of how good it initially appeared to be but ultimately wasn’t and an outright bad game that should have been banned for causing undue distress. These are both examples from extreme opposite ends of the spectrum, though. Perhaps a more realistic example would be Deadpool: The Videogame. As a fan of the Merc with a Mouth I was pretty excited by the idea of a game in which he would be the star, viewing his combination of swords and guns as perfect fodder for a hack and slash adventure, and his fourth-wall breaking mad-cap sense of humour as a chance for developer High Moon Studios to flex their comedy muscles. My expectations were arguably higher than they should have been due to my own love of the character, and so the end result was a disappointment to me, though still a semi-decent action game.
Anyway, I am actually coming to the point here. I simply wanted to get that little rant out of my system as I see so many Internet lists and people who seem to view dissapointing and terrible as the same thing, often leading to mass confusion and much head scratching.
It’s with some sadness that I must announce that Battlefield 4 was the single most disappointing game I played in 2013. Even more sadly the very same issues that caused it to be disappointing have also rendered it a bad game in the eyes of many, the ultimate double whammy of bitter unhappiness for gamers around the globe.
What’s frustrating is that my experience with Battlefield 4 began exceptionally well, leading to a very positive review that I wrote, a review which I now almost feel ashamed of as it flies in the face of so many people having serious problems with the game. My only justification is that reviews are based upon my personal experience with the game in question, and therefore if my time is problem free the review will reflect just that. It seems that from the very beginning the Xbox 360 version of Battlefield 4 has been the most stable of all five platforms with a far larger portion of the gaming community than on any other platform being problem free.
Yes, at first playing Battlefield 4 was a pleasure. From EA I received a copy of the game for Xbox 360 to review and spent many happy hours shooting random people in the face, lobbing grenades like a crazed chimp flinging feces and driving tanks over players I had taken a particular dislike to. I encountered the odd little bug, but overall the experience was smooth with no note worthy problems getting into matches. I sat down before my keyboard and wrote my review, obviously condemning the pitiful singleplayer but praising the manic multiplayer, even with its sometimes dodgy netcode. Though DICE’s latest effort hadn’t changed very much since the days of Battlefield 3 the scale of the online warfare remained as impressive and fun as ever, meriting, to my mind, the score of 4 out of 5. After the review I stopped playing as I needed to move on to the next game awaiting my attention, though I vowed to return in order to play simply for my own pleasure, something which I rarely seem to do these days.
Still, I paid attention to the reports that were starting to appear around the Internet, reports detailing aggravating problems that were seemingly increasing in number as each new patch was released. Battlefield 4 is one of the few games I can think of where each new update, supposed to fix and mend what was broken, seemed to be making the game worse as more and more players found themselves unable to even play the game. Managing to scrounge together a bit of free time where no titles were awaiting review I got to fire the game up once again, and sure enough I did struggle to get into online matches, but still, it didn’t seem too bad, or at least not in comparison to what many others were going through. I played a few matches, and then found my free time consumed once again.
After getting my Xbox One I made the decision to upgrade my copy of Battlefield 4 in order to enjoy the better graphics and the epic fun that is 64-player Conquest, promising myself that over the December/January period I’d have plenty of free time in which to reacquaint myself with my lost Battlefield skills. Patiently I waited for the mandatory install to finish, and then rather impatiently faffed around as a 1.1GB update was downloaded. Hints of fear began to fester in the pits of my being – a 1.1GB update? Really? No game that close to launch should need such a huge update full of fixes. Sure enough upon finally starting the game up I ran into problems getting a match. Still, I was managing to get into servers and while the frequent waits were frustrating I was willing to push on because I enjoyed the battles that I did manage to get in to so much. But then another update arrived and the amount of time I spent playing versus the amount of time I spent searching for games seemed to grow ever more in favor of the waiting. Finally yet another update arrived and I found myself barely able to get a single match even after 20+ minutes of trying, only occasionally getting lucky and usually being rewarded with hefty lag for my trouble. Sometimes searching for a quick match displayed the message that I didn’t have the right content, sometimes it would simply do nothing, and most commonly it would join a game briefly before displaying a disconnect message. At one point I even joined a game to discover that the destruction portion of the game’s engine had seemingly vanished. Oh joy.
The last time I played Battlefield 4 was probably a week before Christmas. I got a single game in after trying to get into one for nearly half an hour, leaving me frustrated and, of course, hugely disappointed. And I certainly wasn’t the only person still struggling with huge numbers of players still reporting serious problems with the game. In fact the backlash was so vicious that EA had to announce that DICE had ceased all work on DLC for the game in order to released a continuous stream of patches. Things are so bad that EA are now facing a lawsuit for releasing a product that they knew was unfit for purpose and it seems like there’s a very strong case there. To be honest the outcome of the case isn’t as important to me as the simple fact that companies like EA need a solid kick in the pants to remind them that this sort of behavior is a disgrace.
But what has surprised me most is how Battlefield 4’s has highlighted the fact that a disturbingly large portion of gamers now seem to willingly accept crippling problems and unfinished products at launch as a cultural norm, and will even go so far as to actively defend the game and its problems. Now, of course there are numerous lucky people to have simply been unaffected by the game’s many problems, so I’m in no way referring to them, though there are a worrying amount who claim there’s no issues at all and that the entire thing is overblown, simply because they’ve personally not experienced anything, therefore thousands upon thousands of other human beings must be lying about it all. No, I’m referring to the many people you can find on forums, videos and other websites around the world who are suffering from the same issues as the rest of us, and yet are defending the game, sometimes with a fierceness that borders on fanatical.
Wading through these comments and posts it’s hard not feel like gamers have been carefully manipulated to the point where broken games are an acceptable thing, and that someone like me who actively raises his voice against such products are despicable for doing so, and, laughably, are being unfair. They argue that the game will be fixed soon, citing how DICE have fixed their games in the past. But isn’t that the problem? The key is in their argument is that DICE have had to fix their games in the past too. Meanwhile the companies responsible for release broken games often don’t even acknowledge the existence of a problem/s, and thus the person’s prediction of a fix is nothing more than an assumption that may or may not even come to fruition. Sure, X game may be fixed by next week or even be better by that time, but it could also not be fixed, or possibly even worse than it was.
I’ve encountered this strange attitude before when reviewing games. I’ve talked about serious problems with the title I’m playing, and after publication of the article recieved messages about how I’d judged the game unfairly simply because these issues will fixed and I shouldn’t use them as a justification for my view of the title in question. I was politely told several times that my review of Defiance was stupid because the game would clearly be far better a few months down the line after some updates had been released. Patches can be wonderful things and are arguably one of the greatest tools to be placed in the hands of developers since the dawn of the industry, but call me old-fashioned and a little cynical I firmly believe that the product I buy at launch should be as problem free as humanly possible. A day one patch should never, ever be required for anything other than chucking in some extra content that the developers created in the time between sending the finalised code for certification and the game’s actual release, or for fixing a couple of little niggles. Developers and publishers now rely far too heavily on patches to allow them to throw an unfinished product out of the door so they can meet a deadline, and gamers are becoming worrying okay with that practice. As consumers we’re getting shafted, and lapping it up.
I personally don’t expect a game to be absolutely perfect when it’s released. It’s a simple fact that as technology becomes more complex and the games equally so there’s far more room for errors and problems to crop up, hence the old adage of keep it simple, stupid. Therefore if a complex game has some issues at launch I’m usually pretty forgiving provided they’re nothing too serious that’s could seriously ruin someone’s experience. I also understand that testing a game can’t always find every potential problem, especially in the case of something like Battlefield 4 which is primarily multiplayer. No amount of testing can entirely compare to millions of players doing all manner of crazy stuff on hundreds or even thousands of servers, and so some small issues sneaking in are acceptable. But that’s it. Past that I, and you, should expect a working, polished product upon release that doesn’t require immediate patching to make it playable or bring it up to a decent state.
What amazes me the most is that this is hardly EA or DICE’s first rodeo. It’s not like either company is lacking experience, nor should they be lacking the foresight required to avoid many of the problems accosting Battlefield 4. EA, of course, are one of the biggest videogame companies in the industry, if not the biggest, and yet insist on repeating their mistakes over and over again, culminating in pitiful showings like SimCity earlier this year and now Battlefield 4. They’ve gained a reputation as a company not to be trusted and for pushing broken games out of the door, and are doing little to prove that reputation is unfounded. Meanwhile DICE have released 11 Battlefield games since 2002 and 12 expansion packs, and thus far to my knowledge not one of them has been without a few relatively serious problems, most of which should have been spotted and fixed long before the game arrived on store shelves. So far Battlefield 4 is by far the worst, though.
At this point it seems clear that EA chose to force DICE into releasing the game before it was ready in order to beat Call of Duty: Ghosts to market, which is incredibly stupid really as it’s hard to imagine that they stole very many sales from Activision as any gamer unable to afford both titles and who was waiting for Ghosts is unlikely to buy Battlefield 4 just because it was out a week prior. Though I do place most of the blame on EA at this point, unless evidence is provided to make me rethink my position, DICE do still take some of the responsibility as well. Sorry, DICE, fans, but it’s the simple fact of the matter.
I’m rarely very disappointed in a game because I tend to go in with as little expectations as possible in order to try to form as fair an opinion as I can based purely on what the game is rather than what what hype says it should be. Still, I’m human and thus it’s impossible for me to entirely banish my own expectations, so it’s worth talking about the fact that there were other games from 2013 left me a little disappointed for various reasons, other than those that I mentioned near the start of this article. Call of Duty: Ghosts and Infinity Ward failed to meet my expectations because they abandoned Treyarch’s notable changes and improvements witness in Black Ops II, modifications to the formula that gave the series a much needed kick up the arse. However, in truth Ghost’s betrayal of Black Ops II’s advancements were hardly surprising given the 2-year developement cycle. DARK left me feeling let down because there was genuine potential there. However, I’m glad that I didn’t play games like Total War: Rome 2 which, having watched Angry Joe’s videos, was truly a mess at launch, and is still in the process of getting beaten into shape with patch 8.1 having just been released.
But those neither Ghosts nor DARK or any other game I played in 2013 compare to the savage sting of disappointment that was Battlefield 4. Against my own better judgement I had allowed my expectations to over-ride my common sense. I expected better from DICE and EA. Considering how long DICE have been doing this and that Battlefield is one of EA’s biggest franchises I find it pathetic that the game could be released in such a state. Nor has EA and DICE’s communication with their loyal fanbase been impressive, leaving players in the dark.
As bad as the launch of Battlefield 4 can be viewed, though, I don’t think it’s going to have damaged the brand or EA. Though the Internet would have you believe everyone hates EA the simple fact is that people lap up their games, and with good reason because under their banner lies numerous brilliant games, with many more, like Titanfall, to come. As for the Battlefield brand despite what speculation and claims by other Internet sites I don’t see it as having been damaged, at least not in the long-term. At the moment hating on Battlefield 4 is sort of the cool thing to do, as is bashing Bioshock Infinite, but that trend will vanish soon enough and I have no doubt the next entry in the series will sell just as many copies. And therein is part of the problem: companies can and are getting away with this kind of thing, because as much as people complain they continue to buy the products. And don’t think I’m claiming to be better: I’ll doubtless be reviewing EA’s next big title, and if DICE finally get around to making Bad Company 3 I’ll probably be first in line for it. In all liklihood refusing to buy something reported to be a broken product is probably the only genuine way of getting companies to listen, but you should still raise your voice and speak out against such things, not defend them and insult those who refuse to remain quiet.
Even if the game is fixed, and I sincerely hope it will be, it will remain a disappointment, yet another stain on EA’s reputation and a black mark against DICE. Even if one argues that these problems have been overblown by the media and that only a small minority of player’s are being seriously affected, that’s still pitiful in this day and age. Some small hiccups are acceptable, but not the clearly hefty problems that have plagued the game since launch.
I love Battlefield 4 when it works, and in 2014 I hope to spend many happy hours flying jets, driving tanks and gunning down players. It’s far from the worst game of 2013 – I’ve already talked about those – but it’s ultimately the game that left me feeling the most let down. I’m glad it’s slowly getting mended, but regardless of what happens going forward it’s my biggest disappointment of 2013, as is the fact that a large portion of the gaming community actively defended being sold a title clearly not ready for release.
Categories: Opinion Piece