When you think FPS, chances are you're not thinking about the single player experience. As such most shooters either leave it out entirely or relegate it to a few "training" missions. To many a seasoned FPS player that's the proper role for a single player mode. Get a feel for how the game is played, lock down your display settings, map your keyboard controls and that's all the depth you need.
But with the rise of immersive single player franchises like Bioshock and Elder Scrolls (Skyrim) straddling the line between shooter and RPG, the modern FPS is as dependent on story as it is scenery. It's about more than survival in these games, it's about advancing a story even if you never bother with the single player campaign.
The reality is that anyone can make an FPS. Regardless of the stunning realism of the trees or the crumbling ruins of a war torn landscape, it's really just another shooter without at least some involvement in the narrative.
Without the story, the opponent is hollow. In most FPS games, you can't tell friend from foe unless there's some indication of the opposing team hovering above their heads. That may be enough for some players but it's more fun to know why the bad guy IS the bad guy.
That's why games like Call of Duty continue to set the standard regardless of their technical failings. I've said it before but playing the single player campaign of Call of Duty is usually like being a part of a Tom Clancy novel. The story sells the game and it's that reality that's brought a focus back to single player campaigns in Battlefield games.
The Battlefield franchise got its start back in 2002 with Battlefield 1942. Groundbreaking for its time the game's single player campaigns functioned as little more than the aforementioned "training ground." Setting was important but story was not. It was about an expansive multiplayer and co-op experience with a number of gameplay modes to explore
But where Battlefield catered more and more to the online gamer, Call of Duty was more story focused with its online component less refined. Where Battlefield multiplayer allowed tactical gameplay Call of Duty was more of a deathmatch affair with survival your primary tactic.
Something changed around 2011, however. Perhaps it had something to do with Call of Duty's track record of 98 million to Battlefield's 26 million total sales to that date. Or maybe it was the fact that Battlefield's best selling title was Bad Company 2 which just so happened to be the most narratively focused game in the series.
So with Battlefield 3 (BF3) we finally saw the single player experience attempt to be more than just target practice. With an entire campaign complete with it's own achievements and unlockables it appeared that Battlefield was going to try to be more Call of Duty than the real thing.
Of course the effort fell short and the few who played BF3's campaign mode rained more complaints than praise. If Call of Duty was James Bond, Battlefield 3 was Inspector Clouseau.
Battlefield 4 continues the trend, however, and has again included a single player campaign. With a story more fleshed out than its predecessor, Battlefield 4 has moved closer to Call of Duty. A bit too close at some points.
Battlefield 4's campaign revolves around the adventures of a special operations team called "Tombstone."
It's 2020 and you're Sergeant Recker, a member of "Tombstone" and with your team you undertake missions amidst a backdrop of war between the U.S. and China and to some extent the Russians (again.)
Just like Call of Duty Modern Warfare, Black Ops and Ghosts, the single player campaign in Battlefield 4 tries to evoke a virtual camaraderie between your AI scripted teammates. Unfortunately while it's a better experience than BF3, the story still falls short. It's almost as though the story was crafted around the gameplay rather than the other way around. Which is precisely why it doesn't work.
While you have the freedom of an open world in the single player campaign (unlike Call of Duty), you'll frequently find yourself frustrated. Objectives spread too far apart, inadequate weaponry and game bugs work against the fantasy. It's in those times that the campaign mode falls back to its training ground roots.
There's ample opportunity to pick up new weapons from felled enemies and weapons crates spread around the maps as well as special in-game trinkets. Finding them assumes you have enough time to go on a treasure hunt, however, as even on the Easy setting the action can be overwhelming.
If Battlefield 4 is anything it's consistent. You'll find the same annoyances on the same single player battlefield as you do trading ammunition with the masses online. Can't miss shots that do, map bugs that trap you in between textures not to mention flawed AI that never seems to be where you need them when you need them there. On more than one occasion I found myself literally trapped on a platform unable to move to cover because my AI teammate wouldn't get out of the way.
Getting through the single player campaign will take you between 6 to 10 hours depending on the level of difficulty and whether you bother to stop and smell the roses. Stick to the objectives and things move along quickly: ignore them and expect a grind.
My single player experience with Battlefield 4 was a haphazard commitment at best. Like most Battlefield players the game's multiplayer was far more compelling. As would be the cooperative mode if Dice had chosen to add one. Still, I did manage to complete the campaign if only to see if the climax of the story arc was finally on par with Call of Duty.
The video below chronicles the last campaign mission for Battlefield 4 called Suez. Spoilers aside, the mission manages to encompass the entirety of a a single player Battlefield 4 experience. See for yourself...