EA’s Battlefield 4 reveal was impersonal, cold, and uninspiring… but look at how pretty it is
The Game Developers Conference is filled with talented people speaking passionately about interesting projects. It’s also a place to do business, and to argue about the best ways to make money in the video game industry. You can also simply hang out and pick the brains of some of the most interesting people in gaming. It's hard to spend time here and not be inspired by the company around you.
If you're EA, you can also show off the first footage of a game in the flashiest, emptiest way possible.
The Battlefield 4 reveal has suffered leak after leak, and in fact many of us were watching a leaked version of the trailer in the theater before the actual reveal took place. This makes the flashlights EA representatives were shining in the eyes of the press to make sure there were no hidden video recorders in the audience even sillier than they would normally be. Any damage had already been done: People knew the game in question, and were dissecting some of the content that was supposed to be a surprise.
It doesn’t matter, as the video we watched is embedded in this post. You can take a look for yourself. The Frostbite 3 engine is beautiful, and of course the person driving the demo looked around as if their eyes were a camera, making sure the audience saw every special effect and explosion in detail. The game looks like most other war titles, outside of the next-generation engine, complete with scripted events and impressive set pieces. I’m reminded of the trailers for Battlefield 3 that did so well on YouTube and at press events, but if you remember the quality of the Battlefield 3 campaign you may be skeptical about the final product here as well.
The developers dropped buzzwords afterwards. This is going to be a human story, and we’ll feel like we’re right there, cutting off the legs of soldiers and narrowly escaping drowning in a sinking car. There will be persistent social features, which is a statement that should scare the shit out of you. They will talk about the multiplayer features later. After we watched the video we were escorted to the top of the Metreon in San Francisco, where we enjoyed the sight of the city’s skyline and ate fried macaroni and cheese balls skewered with wooden sticks.
The food was enjoyable. We were all given badges that said VIP. We were all equally special, and completely replaceable. We weren't here to report, we were here to drink free drinks, talk, and then later dutifully post the video we had just watched.
It was a reveal event utterly devoid of news, outside of a trailer that we could have watched on YouTube from our hotel rooms. It was stressed to us that the game would be “human, dramatic, and believable,” and this was said with a straight face after we watched a building fall on top of someone who survived the encounter. There will be Battlefield 4 news dripped out at future events and the game may even be good, but our first look at what seems to be an uninspired if technically proficient war game was impersonal, code, and by the numbers.
My ears are still ringing.