This text first appeared in PC Gamer journal subject 367 in March 2022, as a part of our ‘DNA Tracing’ collection, the place each month we delve into the lineages behind iconic video games and studios.
At a sure level, a reputation like DICE turns into ironic. The Swedish studio behind Battlefield and Battlefront is not famed for taking nice gambles within the discipline of interactive leisure. As an alternative, it is identified for facilitating one factor: large-scale multiplayer shootouts. Nestled deep in EA’s company bosom, it is in no place to be agile or shock anyone. Shareholders do not particularly like surprises.
The final time DICE took an actual danger was over a decade in the past, with Mirror’s Edge. On the time, it was seeking to broaden its portfolio past Battlefield. “It is necessary that you just play to the strengths of the studio,” then-creative director Ben Cousins informed GamesIndustry.biz in 2007. “I do not suppose we might do a dancing sport, for instance. So we might be in search of one thing recent and fascinating, one thing that is commercially viable, one thing that, if there is a hole in EA’s portfolio, would slide in there – however one thing that matches the expertise of the studio.”
DICE discovered its reply by tapping into the worldwide craze for parkour. It wasn’t alone – within the following months, each Bond and Murderer’s Creed would do the identical. However solely DICE recognised the significance of the POV perspective to freerunning footage; the one-to-one connection that gives the vicarious thrill of tumbling between rooftops.
The studio had already lengthy specialised in immersive first-person motion, and Mirror’s Edge superior the craft with flailing arms and sliding legs – on-screen parts that oriented and grounded the participant in its platforming ranges.
Initially, DICE had defaulted to designing Mirror’s Edge as a multiplayer sport, about cops and robbers – however by the point of its launch it was singleplayer-only. Certainly one of its idea artwork characters grew to become Religion, a courier dwelling simply past the attain of an oppressive society rendered in stark main colors. Mirror’s Edge nonetheless stands out within the studio’s catalogue as an anomaly – a uncommon piece of coherent, directed worldbuilding amongst thinly-sketched shooter campaigns.
Oddly sufficient, Battlefield truly has its roots in a singleplayer-first FPS, developed by one other firm. Codename Eagle was a careless, kooky caper, launched in 1999 however set in an alternate Nineteen Twenties, wherein the Russian Empire conquered Europe. It evoked Half-Life and Medal of Honor – although with out the tight choreography that made each of its friends classics. What it did have was autos: tanks, vans, jeeps, helicopters and bikes with sidecars.
Disastrous netcode and frequent crashes made Codename Eagle nigh on unplayable in multiplayer, however those that endured found a sandbox for absurd Hail Marys – focused helicopter crashes, or plane-bailing parachute jumps onto the backs of blimps. Briefly, this was the prototype for Battlefield, which DICE bought wholesale with the developer, Refraction Video games. Refraction founder Patrick Söderlund would go on to turn out to be CEO, and finally one in every of EA’s strongest executives – driving that blimp all the way in which to the highest.
Battlefield 1942 mounted the netcode (although it should be stated, calamitous multiplayer launches stay an everyday theme for the collection to this present day). It jettisoned the marketing campaign. It redefined the sport round easy courses that served as prompts for co-operation – backing up a squad as a medic, or tending to a tank as an engineer. As soon as Battlefield 1942 grew to become successful, DICE turned its again on a historical past of pinball and motorsports video games to give attention to its promising acquisition.
In some ways, DICE by no means bettered the method, even because it folded in innovative visible results and destructible terrain. In final 12 months’s Battlefield 2042, the excessive factors have been nonetheless supplied by the identical feats of vehicular heroics that distinguished Codename Eagle. Sadly although the category system had been desiccated, in favour of Name of Obligation-style loadouts – so teamwork has been sacrificed for battlepass-friendly individualism.
DICE has lengthy been at its worst when copying CoD – sucked into an Autumn launch rivalry between two main publishers. In Battlefield 4’s marketing campaign, it staged a gulag escape – one thing CoD had already accomplished not as soon as, however twice, in Black Ops and Trendy Warfare 2. DICE even coupled the participant with a scenery-chewing Russian convict, within the mould of Gary Oldman’s inimitable Viktor Reznov.
The upshot of this mimicry is that DICE’s singleplayer choices have typically been suffocatingly linear. You possibly can’t deny that unintentionally leaving the fight space is a Battlefield custom – nevertheless it normally occurs at 200mph in a fighter jet. Doing so on foot whereas searching for the slim permitted route via a marketing campaign is much less thrilling, to say the least.
Latterly, issues have gotten a little bit higher. For Battlefield 1 and Battlefield V, DICE adopted a brief story construction for its campaigns that allowed it to leap between dramatically totally different spheres of fight, providing diverse backdrops and doling out heavy penalties for its fleetingly-met characters. Higher nonetheless, the studio has progressively caught on to the truth that its singleplayer choices are most entertaining when embracing the jeep-jacking freedom explicit to Battlefield.
It is an strategy exemplified by Nothing is Written, the Lawrence of Arabia story that closes out Battlefield 1. Enjoying as a Bedouin fighter, you undermine the Ottoman Empire by turning cannons, automobiles and horses in opposition to their house owners – free to deal with goals in whichever order you please, at no matter quantity you want. It is the proper thematic framing for DICE’s most literal sandbox.
But even at their most interesting, DICE’s campaigns have been derailed by bugs. Malfunctioning binoculars and enemies who watch via partitions make a mockery of moments of Far Cry-esque planning and execution. You ponder whether, within the clamour for post-launch fixes to its multiplayer modes, the developer has tended to depart its campaigns for lifeless – regardless of the plain love that has gone into them throughout improvement.
Maybe it was inevitable that DICE would trim down and give attention to multiplayer. It did as soon as with Battlefield 1942, and has accomplished once more with Battlefield 2042. Any more, storytelling within the Battlefield video games can be dealt with by a brand new EA studio run by Halo designer Marcus Lehto. It is a wise determination, and DICE is a developer that is relied upon to be wise. Nonetheless, it is arduous to not look again at Mirror’s Edge and consider the adventures that would have been.