Friday, February 23, 2018
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'Battlefield 4,' 'Call of Duty: Ghosts' waging a losing battle

While many of you are tearing into your newly procured PlayStation 4s this week, Geek Speak has to take a moment to look back at the latest salvo in the war between EA's Battlefield series and Activision's Call of Duty franchise. It's fitting that this latest round, the last for the current gen, should come in such close proximity to Armistice Day, because both factions are looking pretty weary.

It's not that DICE's Battlefield 4 (Oct. 29) and Infinity Ward's Call of Duty: Ghosts (Nov. 5) aren't spectacles in their own rights, but long gone are the days of being blown away by their release. I'm not the only one thinking that, either: Ghosts' sales are down some 50 percent from last year's Black Ops 2, and Battlefield 4 is down almost 70 percent from Part 3.

Some of that decline is no doubt attributable to the release of next-gen consoles. Ghosts will be released for PS4 on Nov. 15, while Xbox One will get it Nov. 22. Infinity Ward's WiiU version is already out, while DICE didn't bother to port for Nintendo. Not so easy to explain is the hit Battlefield 4 took, since its next-gen counterparts came out at the same time as the 360 and PS3 versions.

"Next-gen has historically created a bit of a challenge for all games from a numbers standpoint," Infinity Ward studio head Mark Rubin told the BBC. "I think it will be spread out a little bit. It's harder to do the day-one (sales) … but I think we're in a good spot."

But if those numbers don't bounce very much at all, there's good reason: Gamers are probably tired of the same old show. Both titles have abandoned their gritty, uber-realistic roots in favor of fanciful near-future exploits. Battlefield 4 involves a fictitious war with China and Russia, while Ghosts goes so far as to implement an alternate historical timeline, in which much of the Middle East has been destroyed by nuclear weapons. Hey, you can only port just so many World War II campaigns onto home TV screens.

The campaigns are arguably just window dressing, however, because these two have long focused on their multiplayer. It's become so apparent that DICE and Infinity Ward are more concerned with populating servers than growing their fan base through narrative that the campaigns in both feel almost tacked on, an excuse to keep the machine on while waiting for your friends to come online.

Mostly, though, each series is looking tired. Both are using gimmicks in an attempt to seem different. Ghosts adds female soldiers. Battlefield features scads of vehicles. Ghosts has an alien horde mode called Extinction. Battlefield wants its conflicts to feel truly chaotic and overwhelming (64-player capability is available on PC and next gen). All of these features are really trained to distract the gamer, the one paying $60 a pop for these titles, from one salient point: There isn't much gas left in these concepts.

There is hope on the horizon; Bungie is preparing Destiny, which promises to reshape the first-person shooter genre with RPG elements, while Respawn's Titanfall is shaping up to be Destiny's chief competition. Both are rife with futuristic elements and detailed mythologies, something Battlefield and Call of Duty seem to be attempting to emulate with games full of UAVs and space-based kinetic weapons. That's ironic, since that's when both the elder series began to decline.

Maybe there's a little bit of art imitating life at work here, with the game-buying public growing restless with conflicts that drag on for years and years with no hope for resolution or satisfaction. Or maybe FPS games are experiencing an inevitable ebb in their interest in very similar titles.

Only one thing's certain — we'll have to wait until the next generation to find out for sure.

Joshua Gillin writes about video games and entertainment news for tbt*. Feel free to challenge his opinions at [email protected]

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