"Gosh, that looks shiny."
Let's face it: that was the first thing we all thought when DICE unveiled the Battlefield 4 gameplay trailer. "Ooh," we gushed. "Aah."
And then I started thinking - really thinking - about what I'd just seen.
Right off the bat: it's clear that EA accidentally released the wrong trailer. DICE have been teasing images of boats, planes and tanks over the last week, yet subjected us to seventeen minutes of generic brown ground pounding when it came to the crunch. Obviously that was just B-roll footage. The real trailer naturally showed swarms of player-controlled aircraft screaming over enormous battleships, raining fire down onto well-organised squads of infantry battling for territory while tank squadrons rolled through the streets. Someone will probably get fired for that embarrassing cock-up.
But the second thought was much more exasperating. Why, oh why, is Battlefield still trying to be Call Of Duty?
You can't beat something by becoming it. Call Of Duty is Call Of Duty. It's a thing, it's out there, and it offers the kitchen sink. Fancy some singleplayer? Fine, have six fun if staggeringly generic hours of explosions set in wartorn cities. Want some ridiculously epic co-op? Here's Spec-Ops, Survival and Zombies. Multiplayer? You know how it works, get on in here buddy. Call Of Duty is all things to all gamers, and offers something for everyone for an inflated price.
Battlefield, however, is all about the multiplayer. It always has been and always will be. DICE are absolutely peerless at creating enduring, deep, involving and exciting multiplayer games, and Battlefield 3 was utterly superb. Yet it also made us shell out for a horrendously dull, generic and bland few hours of singleplayer misery that the vast majority of hardcore fans didn't even play (not to mention the vomitously awful co-op suite), and practically stunk out the room when we cracked the seal. "Call Of Duty has these things," reasoned EA, "so Battlefield must have them too. Only worse."
No, I say. No. Here, in a supreme demonstration of blatant arrogance on my part, is what DICE and EA should have done.
Sod the kitchen sink. When you look back at core franchise games, like BF2, BF1942, 2142 etc, Battlefield is a sensational multiplayer experience, and they never even bothered giving us a singleplayer campaign beyond some glorified (and awesome) botmatches. People play Battlefield for the multiplayer. So that is what, at launch, Battlefield 4 should offer.
A superbly solid multiplayer game. With loads of maps and modes. No singleplayer campaign whatsoever. For about £29.99 retail.
We've recently begun to realise that AAA games are becoming far too expensive to produce, and the lower overheads (sorry, you incredibly talented and hard-working DICE singleplayer designers, but I'm on a roll here) would mean that EA could cut the production budget significantly and deploy Battlefield 4 at a lower RRP. Compared with shelling out mad money for the next Call Of Duty, paying much less for a spectacular multiplayer proposition will be incredibly tempting for any number of gamers. Smaller overheads mean bigger profits, and smaller targets to hit before recouping development costs. Any number of people love Call Of Duty for its plethora of options, and that's absolutely fine, but many more people just want an epic online experience to get stuck into. Compete by being the ultimate fully-featured multiplayer package, at an attractive price that won't break the bank.
That, in and of itself, would be a fantastic return to form. But there's a second stage. A potential masterstroke. Something so glorious and yet so devious I've barely begun to comprehend the ramifications.
Here's the pitch ,EA. Once BF4 was well into production, you could start brainstorming a singleplayer campaign. Nothing enormous - perhaps just 6-8 levels - but wide, open, massive stages with an embarrassment of optional vehicles to use. Players could replay these missions any number of times and experience them in totally different ways, all the while unlocking new weapons and facing off against some randomised foes. With robust Battlelog integration and perhaps a soupçon of co-op, it would be a riot.
Except that it's not a generic military shooter campaign. There's no gravelly-voiced placeholders spouting nonsensical jargon. No rats to stab. None of that noise.
Instead, it's a Bad Company campaign.
The comedy value, the camaraderie, the pop culture references and banter make DICE's singleplayer stand out from Activision's rival, not to mention the enormously fun vehicles and tight fast-paced action. Find some contrived excuse to ship the lads off to Shanghai, give them loads of tanks and buildings to destroy, and then release the campaign as £10-£15 DLC a few months after launch.
Hardcore multiplayer fans won't bat an eyelid. Many players, on the other hand, will be happy to spend a bit extra on a fun and replayable campaign, especially with some amusing dialogue and an irreverent tone. Since the game released at a reduced RRP, we'd only end up spending the same as we would have for a full priced game, and only paid for the bits we wanted. Better yet, gamers who love Bad Company but don't hugely care about Battlefield (there are a few out there) might be tempted to drop a few quid on Battlefield 4 - oh, hey, it's less than £29.99 in a deal - and then bolt the campaign DLC on. You'd never have reached that audience without developing an entirely new game, with all the associated costs, yet you've just managed to flog them Battlefield 4. Job's, as they say, a good'un.
There's doubtlessly plenty wrong with this thesis. I have no business qualifications whatsoever, so there are probably plenty of kinks to iron out (let's get some feedback together and work on this). But, at the end of the day, we'll all be buying Battlefield 4 for its multiplayer... and should we really have to pay extra for the privilege of running around a brown shooting gallery that we'll ignore anyway?
But gosh, isn't it shiny?