In this totally subjective and wholly arbitrary series I’ll be comparing two similar games, one a AAA release from a major publisher and the other from an independent developer. Is the AAA title always preferable to the indie release, with a greater budget and usually with more polished graphics and user interface? Or do indie games have the edge on their larger cousins, with streamlined gameplay and often more responsive developers?
I should note that the once-black and white definition of AAA and indie game has changed in recent years and there’s now a greater spectrum between the two release models. However, for the purposes of this series I’ll be using the traditional labels of AAA and indie.
The first two games I’ll be looking at, Battlefield 4 and Insurgency, are superficially similar: both are tactical squad-based first person shooters set in a contemporary world with realistic weapons and gameplay. However, Battlefield 4 is a AAA title from Swedish developer DICE, published by EA and with a long franchise history while Insurgency is a recent release from independent developer New World Interactive and began life as a source mod for Half-Life 2. However, the scope and gameplay of the two games are very different and this difference is at the centre of what makes the comparison so interesting.
Traditionally, Battlefield games were defined by their sweeping scope, including not only tactical infantry combat but also varied ground and air vehicle warfare across huge maps and varied terrain. Battlefield 4 continues that tradition and offers a variety of gameplay modes and experiences. There’s something for all FPS fans in BF4, whether you prefer close quarters infantry combat or fighting for air superiority in an attack helicopter. Across the four different and unique classes, all with their own tactics and abilities, there are dozens of available weapons and hundreds of attachments to unlock.
The range of gameplay modes and loadout options points at the scale of BF4 and this is both a strength and a weakness. While there is potentially something for everyone in Battlefield 4, the game itself is massive, growing larger and more complex with each expansion and threatening to succumb to bloat and feature creep. Basic gameplay issues like hit detection and client/server net code are neglected, with developers focusing on implementing new maps and game modes. Granted, the new features have been welcomed by the majority of players but the core game is at risk of suffering.
I’ve played a lot of Battlefield 4 since it was first released but I haven’t been playing much recently. For the most part I’ve moved onto new games but the main thing that keeps me from coming back to BF4 is the gameplay. I prefer playing on infantry-heavy maps like Operation Locker but these maps are rendered nigh-unplayable by the amount of grenade and explosive spam. You can find servers that ban explosives but even these devolve into chaos, with choke-points becoming meat grinders. There’s nothing particularly fun or tactical about constantly running into certain death when two teams are fighting over one corridor.
These situations are caused by a confluence of weapon balance, map design, and player mentality. Unfortunately, as there are many moving parts there’s no easy solution.
Insurgency started off as mod for the popular and flexible Source engine, responsible for classic first person shooters Half-Life 2 and Counter-Strike. Developer New World Interactive recently released a standalone version of Insurgency, offering squad-based military combat with an emphasis on realism and tactics. Much like Counter-Strike, the opposing forces in Insurgency are split into two groups, here security and insurgents. Players choose a class and loadout at the beginning of the round but unlike Battlefield there are no unlocks or character progression.
Insurgency can’t compete with the scale of Battlefield 4 (there are no vehicles, for instance) but makes up for it with a tighter focus on infantry combat and strategy. The Source engine is renowned for having excellent net code and firefights feel snappy and reactive.
Teamwork is essential as there are limited HUD elements and no mini map for spotting enemies. One key controversial gameplay element is the lack of a kill feed; you won’t know if you’ve killed your target without seeing him die. Good communication is key if you want your side to be successful. Unfortunately, the Insurgency player base is still small and finding populated servers can be difficult at times.
New World Interactive initially released Insurgency as an early access alpha and they were very responsive to player feedback, incorporating a number of suggestions and fixes into the core game. They’ve also released an SDK for custom maps and modding, an area in which Battlefield 4 is lacking.
At the moment I’m enjoying Insurgency more than Battlefield, even though I tend to die a lot. The gameplay doesn’t feel as random as in BF4, even when I get suddenly killed with no explanation. I especially enjoy being able to lean, something sorely lacking in Battlefield. It’s a shame there aren’t more players as Insurgency fits nicely halfway between stripped-down Counter-Strike and feature-heavy Battlefield.
So, should you play Battlefield 4 or Insurgency? Well, like I said in the intro, this is an arbitrary comparison from my own personal experience. At the moment I’d say Insurgency but I did have a lot of fun with Battlefield 4 in the beginning.
If you like a variety of gameplay modes, vehicles, and loads of different unlocks (and are willing to put up with some frustrating deaths), try Battlefield 4. The game is still one of the best-looking PC games around, with a high level of polish and attention to detail. This polish doesn’t come cheap, however, and Battlefield 4 has a AAA price, even before considering additional DLC or Premium.
However, if you’re looking for something a bit smaller, more tactical, and with surprisingly deep combat gameplay, check out the indie alternative. At a third of the price of Battlefield (even before the inevitable sales), Insurgency is a lot of fun at a good price.
(This article was originally published as a video on youtube.com/HeyBeardo.)Colin Le Sueur