One major complaint about blockbuster AAA video game titles that is commonly heard is the “on-rails experience.” It is a set piece in a video game where the player has zero to no control of the character’s movement other than the option to shoot. Games often use this tactic to create a cinematic experience.
There are 3 major reasons why this method often causes problems. Firstly, it creates for little replay value. Once the cinematic is over the player will never experience that part of the game again. The surprise is forever gone. Secondly, should a player die during the set-piece then there is the tedious process of reloading the level and re-watching the cinematic before even trying again. Lastly, it creates an already linear game to feel even more linear. Most video games are linear, and that’s fine, there problem is that most shooters are already extremely linear and extremely short. Why would anyone want to be shoved from point A to point B against their will when the aforementioned elements exist in the game?
I am not saying that “on-rail” segments are bad, they just need to be done right, not overused, and with moderation. Battlefield 3 suffered from “bad” on-rail sections as described here
Remember the skimobile chase section in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2? It was highly restricted, short lived, but at least you had a modicum of control over what was going on. Best of all, it was a burst of fun, action-led insanity that delivered a jolt of excitement after a fairly slow and tense mission.
Battlefield 3 features similar on-rails sections, but they are just so, so painfully dull. The jet mission Going Hunting should have been your first taste at controlling the multiplayer jets, but instead the level opens with you checking wing flaps and rudders. Fun.
Once you’re in the air, all you’re doing is occasionally pressing one button to fire missiles, another to deploy flares, but only when you’re allowed to. Compare this to the nonsense, but still fun Vorkuta bike chase scene in Call of Duty: Black Ops, and you can see that DICE is a little bit out of its depth.
Later on, you have section that sees your character repelling suicide bomber cars from the turret of a tank. It should have been fun, but it’s just long stretches of driving and nonsense chatter from your comrades, which is occasionally broken up with quick bursts of gunfire. These moments feel like a chore, rather than fun. “
How does Battlefield 4 fit into all of this? Well, a recent interview with executive producer Patrick Bach and single-player producer Tobias Dahl, from Battlefield 4’s development team, by GAMES.ON.NET shed some light on this pressing issue over the game’s campaign. They stated, “We’re bringing the player into all of [the game’s] epic set-pieces. It’s not press play, watch people move, and then go back to shooting.” They then explained how they would go about this and elaborated that players will be able to choose how they want to accomplish the mission. The player can choose to different paths, whether to engage the enemy or not, and whether to use a vehicle or not.
Even though there are still those set-pieces, such as what was demonstrated in the demo, where you are trapped in a vehicle underwater, it seems that the game will be less restrictive as to how you reach these points in the game. After all, they still want to attempt to deliver a cinematic experience as supported by their words,
“We want the player to react to the environment”. “You’re in a hostile situation where you need to adapt and survive. Free roaming would not fit the theme or the genre. We want to take Battlefield to the extreme, and create a Hollywood movie version with you as an interactive player in it.”
No word yet on “on-rail” segments.