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Battlefield 4: why it's time to go back to the future

Ed makes a case for Battlefield 2143

EA's Frank Gibeau would like to remind you that Medal of Honor: Warfighter is not a Battlefield clone, should you have any doubts as to the clear and unambiguous gulf between one's brand of gritty death and the other's brand of deathly grit. "We are very careful that Battlefield and Medal of Honor stay differentiated," he told Game Informer this week (via AOTF). "There is an inefficiency to having two different brands coming out alternating like that, [but] there is some upside. You don't have the annualized sequel fatigue. With Medal of Honor we tried to embrace that the game is real. The multiplayer is different than Battlefield. We're trying to use a sequencing strategy to keep it as fresh and different as possible."

If you're anything like me, you're struggling to decipher the above morass of corporate speak, like a dog at the beach trying to make sense of some passing fish. What the hell is a "sequencing strategy", Frank? And what do you mean, "embrace that the game is real"? Are you trying to suggest that Medal of Honor is more realistic than Battlefield, Frank? Because from where I'm sitting, they both seem to adhere to the same strand of so-called "realism" - thunderously brown, heavy-footed affairs in which enormous, beautiful guns make the scenery cough particle effects.

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Yes, Medal of Honor's got a different kind of story behind it, charting a soldier's efforts to keep his relationship alive, but the visceral results are hard to distinguish, and Gibeau's greasy wording belies his awareness of this. To be frank, Frank, I think you were better off with the Bad Company games. They're recognisably of the same stock as the numbered Battlefields, but that strain of trashy humour remains unique. No other real-world military shooter has quite the same capacity for tomfoolery. There's even a two minute monologue on the nature of Heaven and Hell, buried in incidental chatter.

Last time OXM broached the subject of Bad Company with DICE, they seemed depressingly dismissive. "The Bad Company games were our first stabs at making story and character-driven single player games, while of course bringing the franchise over to next generation consoles," studio boss Karl Magnus Troedsson explained in October, shortly before Battlefield 3's release. "I think the changes we've made now when it comes to style and tone are more because this is the kind of game we want to build." Humour, apparently, is no longer to DICE's taste, and while nobody's ruling out a third game, Gibeau's comments suggest that Medal of Honor has quietly taken Bad Company's place as the EA answer to Black Ops.

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Which leaves us with two, dispiritingly similar games, alternating possession of the same yearly foxhole. Given the growth of digital, that alternation may not work quite as successfully for Danger Close and DICE as it has Infinity Ward and Treyarch in the past. Battlefield 3's been on shelves for over months, but EA has kept the game afloat amidst the log fumes of public interest via robust DLC packs, high-profile tweaks and the Battlefield Premium service. When Warfighter hits the ground in October, its older sister should be alive and kicking. Perhaps the marketing teams will find a way to thrash out the differentiating factors with neophytes, but I doubt their efforts will be much appreciated by battle-worn shooter fanatics - struggling to see the point of yet another breach sequence, yet another handful of dogtags, yet another slum town waiting to be powderised.

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