Its winter, which means there are new games with army men saving the country, or the world, or the universe, or some comparable landmass. Over the last several years, weve seen dominance in the first-person military hero genre coalesce into a two-pronged competition: Battlefield vs. Call of Duty. This year, we have Battlefield 4 (PS3; rated M; $59.99) and Call of Duty: Ghosts (X360; rated M; $59.99), transitional-console-generation entries into the venerable franchises.
For all of the emphasis placed on the Call of Duty franchises multiplayer popularity, these games typically also feature a bombastic single player campaign designed to draw you into the game and kick the tires on the skills youll be using for hundreds of hours of multiplayer. The single-player campaign of Ghosts is perhaps the best single-player campaign in the whole series, in that it completely ditches the facade of ultra-realism or grit in favor of a polished sheen and a whole mess of utterly ludicrous situations.
The first gun battle you participate in is in zero gravity aboard a space station. Youll run like hell to stay afloat when an entire city floods, and youll end up in scenario after scenario where youre ducking into whatever cover you can find to stay out of the way of massive explosive missiles. Its both ridiculous and ridiculously fun, and well worth the six or seven hours it takes to power through once.
Ghosts cant quite sustain that level of bombast through its multiplayer scenarios. While its interesting to put a few friends together and come up with a squad that will gain levels and perks, squad mode in general doesnt feel all that different from playing with a random team. The game modes are largely variations on the capture-the-flag and death-match game modes that are well-worn staples. The Ghosts entry into the off-the-wall variation collection initiated by Zombie Mode in World at War is an all-too-short cooperative scenario involving aliens. Its entertaining enough, but at this point we know what were getting into with Call of Duty multiplayer: It aint broke, so theyre not about to fix it.
Battlefield, on the other hand, has never been particularly renowned for its single-player scenarios and Battlefield 4 feels a little like they threw in the towel on single-player. It functions well enough, but theres very little here to make a seasoned player excited about doing anything other than the multiplayer. Past a few nice set pieces, its really a matter of hunkering down, shooting at whatever moves, and running to the next spot which is not that different than the Call of Duty scenario, except with fewer wow moments to break up the monotony.
The multiplayer experience, however, is a different story.
The multiplayer modes are, again, variations on the old themes, although the three-team (U.S., China, and Russia) format keeps any one group from getting too dominant. What sets the multiplayer apart, however, is the level design. Sometimes it feels like just about everything in every scenario can be destroyed, which puts limits on players ability to camp out and pick off opponents. Many levels also typically feature game-changing events that happen sometime after the halfway point. A skyscraper might fall and cloud up a level, or a flood may arrive and force you to swim around. Its exciting to watch these things happen, and exhilarating to be a part of them.
All of that said, proceed at your own risk: The release of Battlefield 4 has been plagued by tales of glitches, lost connections, and poor matchmaking, particularly those on the brand-new consoles. It could be some time before patches turn Battlefield 4 into the game it actually aspires to be. My own experience had some hiccups but was generally playable.
Once the dust settles, however, you wont go wrong with either of these games (assuming those Battlefield issues get fixed). This is such well-trodden territory at this point that both games are merely perfecting already-great products. The only thing that might legitimately keep you away is military video-game fatigue. Flip a coin. You really cant go wrong either way.
New This Week: Most publishers have pretty much finished out their release year, but Nintendo has one more trick up its sleeve for the flailing Wii U: Wii Fit U. Wii Fit was a tremendous hit and may well have sold as many consoles as Wii Sports. Can Wii Fit U live up to that legacy? Probably not, but itll be nice to have a reason to dust off the old balance board.