[Artbook Review] The Art of Battlefield 4

You might just find yourself in a battle of trying not to fall asleep while looking at this artbook.

Battlefield 4 has seen the fiercest battle in the history of the series. Unfortunately, this battle is raging outside of the game between dissatisfied customers and E.A./DICE. Despite launching to largely positive critical reviews, the game is plagued with bugs, crashes, and server drops. This is best illustrated by a Metacritic score of 83 by critics, and a 6.0 in user reviews. There are currently 318 negative reviews to 280 positive reviews on Metacritic. 

With Microsoft giving out refunds to people who purchased the Premuim Membership for the Xbox One version, the fanbase for Battlefield 4 is definitely shrinking. There are also several law firms with class-action suits that have E.A. in their iron sights. You can imagine then perhaps the market for a premium hardcover artbook for the game could be somewhat limited at this point. 

Thankfully, this is an artbook, so no internet connection or updated drivers are required. 

I was highly impressed with Titan Books' The Art of Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag artbook, so as I removed the shrink wrap from The Art of Battlefield 4; I was expecting the artistic equivalent of driving a tank through a building lobby in the game. 

What I got instead was the equivalent of wanting to go into the settings to turn the brightness up in the game. 

I had praised Ubisoft for their brilliant painterly approach to Assassin's Creed IV's concept art, so good that it reminded me of the French masters Rembrandt, Monet, and Gauguin. DICE, the developers of Battlefield, are however Swedish, not French. Perhaps rather than a painterly approach, they would take a more cinematic approach akin to legendary Swedish director Ingmar Bergman. 

You might not be familiar with Bergman by name, but you have seen many modern day tropes that originated from his films. The most common one comes from The Seventh Seal, in which a knight plays against the Grim Reaper in a game of chess in order to cheat death. In fact, that's even where the term “cheating death” originated. As I started looking through the book, it turned out my hunch came true. There are quite a few storyboards and the Senior Concept Artist talks about the cinematic inspiration behind the game. 

Much to my disappointment, the cinematic approach was much more in the direction of Michael Bay than Ingmar Bergman. Battlefield 4 was designed from the beginning to look like a high budget Hollywood blockbuster. Correction, the Call of Duty series has been imitating that style of movie and Battlefield 4 is an imitation of that. Ironically, 11 years ago Battlefield 1942 launched in the same year as Medal of Honor: Allied Assault: which was a game by the creators of Call of Duty before they left E.A. 

It makes me feel somewhat sad, that in a way, Battlefield 4 has to look a certain way only because Call of Duty has been such a successful franchise. DICE definitely showcased their artistic abilities with 2008's Mirror's Edge, a game that used bold colors and stylized animated cutscenes. Looking at The Art of Battlefield 4, it would almost be impossible to tell that the same developer made both of these games. 

The art of war isn't supposed to be pretty anyway, right? 

Military gear by design isn't meant to stand out or draw attention, so all the camouflage and olive drab should not come as a surprise to anybody.

What did surprise me was how different this book is from The Art of Assassin's Creed IV. The page count is about the same, close to 200 pages... and the volume of artwork is almost the same as well. The book says that DICE created between 1,500 to 1,600 pieces of art for the game, yet there are only 8 pages dedicated to the characters and the rest is pretty much exclusively environmental art. Also for a game where you primarily shoot stuff and drive vehicles, there is not a single weapon design or vehicle present in the artbook. 

I wouldn't complain about 180 pages of beautiful environmental concept art, but it all looks very dark and depressing. I also find it to be an odd choice for a game with a 4 hour single-player campaign, there are 9 chapters dedicated to that portion of the game; the popular multi-player mode only gets a single chapter. The vast majority of the artwork is either night time, underground, or during a storm or blizzard. You can't tell me that the next gen Frostbite 3 game engine isn't capable of rendering a little bit of sunshine and blue skies. The only artwork that really caught my eye was the billboards and graffiti for the Shanghai level... which only gets 4 pages. 

Perhaps the monotony of the artwork could have been broken up with some annotations by the artists, but there is only an occasional comment from Senior Concept Artist, Robert Sammelin. 

I'm obviously not a fan, but should you get this book? 

 

After reviewing one of the best artbooks I've ever seen based on Asssassin's Creed IV, I can't help but see all the missed opportunities in The Art of Battlefield 4. To me this book is over 100 pages of drab environmental artwork. There is the occasional splash of color, character art, storyboard, or interesting fact about the game, but nothing that kept my eyes on a page for more than a minute. 

What I got instead was the equivalent of wanting to go into the settings to turn the brightness up in the game. 

Much of the art from the book is on sale as prints from the art dealer Cook & Becker. On their site you can track how much of the artwork has sold by which edition numbers are still available. Much of the Battlefield 4 artwork seems to have not sold a single print yet. The Mirror's Edge artwork available from the same dealer is outselling Battlefield by a pretty large margin. 

I found The Art of Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag to have better artwork, better variety, and interesting annotations from each artist; and that book is the same size for the same price of $34.95. I know that Titan Books is capable of putting together a better book, and I know that DICE is capable of producing much better artwork. If there is ever a The Art of Mirror's Edge 2 or The Art of Star Wars: Battlefront, I hope they turn out much better than this. 

Our Rating
6
You might just find yourself in a battle of trying not to fall asleep while looking at this artbook.

Featured Columnist

Lifelong gamer, artist, writer, lurker, occasional troll, and 1994 Blockbuster Game Tournament Store Champion.

Published Feb. 12th 2014
  • Marco.Bishop
    Correspondent
    Does the book freeze in the middle of flipping a page? At least the book doesn't come with the intermittent connectivity issues. :D

    Wonderful post Ryan, I think personally that Battlefield 4 has been hyped up way too much. They should have focused on creating a solid less buggy game vs an art book.
  • Ryan Kerns
    Featured Columnist
    considering how much EA is betting on the Frostbyte 3 engine with all their major upcoming games... perhaps this wasn't the best way to showcase the new engine by the guys who made it. :P

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