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Much has been written about silent protagonists in games, and whether or not their silence really aids in our immersion. However, regardless of what you think of them, they almost always share a certain important personality trait. They’re followers. From Gordon Freeman to Link to the amnesiac hero of Bioshock, the silent protagonist is one who takes orders. They’re told what to do and how to do it. This makes perfect sense. If we can’t talk, we certainly can’t give orders, so we may as well be the one taking them instead.

Battlefield 4 breaks this mold, giving us a silent protagonist that others often turn to for advice. It’s awkward, bizarre, and unintentionally funny, but also kind of fascinating when you try to piece together what exactly makes it so awkward and bizarre and unintentionally funny.

Battlefield: Hardline opens with a brief shootout in a tiny room, and a frantic car chase that ends when the fleeing suspect crashes his car. Battlefield 4 opens with your team jumping/falling out of a building as a helicopter shoots it to pieces, and a frantic car chase that ends with you hanging out an open door and blowing up said helicopter with a grenade launcher before the car flips off the crashing wreckage and into the ocean.

One of these openings feels like an introduction, a brief tease of action that leaves plenty of room for escalation throughout the rest of the game. The other feels like a climax within itself.

I like watching people play FTL, a roguelike space adventure in which we’re a lone ship fleeing a powerful rebel empire, but I don’t like playing it myself. The random nature of events that define a roguelike and that make it so much fun to watch also made for a frustrating and disheartening play experience. For me, at least.

The first episode of Battlefield: Hardline ends with an action scene—and a cheesy joke. Nicholas Mendoza and his partner Khai are investigating a suspect’s house when they get attacked by gunmen. Khai gets shot in the shoulder, and I hold the wound closed while fending off bad guys. They blow open the front doors, then crash through the front wall with an armored truck, but I still manage to kill them all. As S.W.A.T. teams storm the house (where were you literally five seconds ago?), they find our suspect and ask me, “Who’s this?” Mendoza gives them a smile, “Him? He does spreadsheets.” Fade to black.

It’s a callback to a line from five minutes earlier, from just before the gunmen attacked. It’s a joke that’s entirely unearned: Mendoza is pretty serious up to this point, and these two men literally just met. They haven’t had a chance to grow into any natural cop/criminal buddy banter. It’s a cheesy joke that falls flat, and it’s the exact moment when I started to like Hardline.

Braid made it look easy: Take one part platformer, one part puzzler, sprinkle in some “deep thoughts” between the levels, and presto—instant critical and commercial acclaim. But Braid only made it look easy. The puzzle-platformer may have become the indie go-to genre of choice in the wake of Braid‘s success, but that doesn’t mean that those kinds of games are easy to make, especially if they, also like Braid, aspire to be about something greater than their puzzles and platforming.

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