With a marketing budget that would make most hollywood executives drool, you’ve no doubt heard a fair deal about Battlefield 4, perhaps even played it. And with lingo like “Levolution” and “Only in Battlefield” it’d be easy to think that BF4 is just another FPS with more style than substance. But not only is it awash with new things to blow up and sights to see, Battlefield 4 has turned out to be an improvement on it’s already fantastic predecessor almost every way… or at least, every way that counts.
We say that because, once again, DICE has mistakenly decided that if there’s one thing a Battlefield game needs; it’s a singleplayer campaign. At this year’s E3 they even went so far to apologize for their lackluster efforts in BF3’s singleplayer while promising a more impactful, emotional, and engrossing narrative and gameplay in the fourth edition.
Taking on the role of sergeant Recker, the player leads Tombstone, a special operations squad of Marines, through exotic locations such as Azerbaijan, Shanghai, and the Kunlun Mountains. At first glance, the core of the plot appears to be Chinese political intrigue and the threat of a new world war between China and Russia on one side and the US and its allies on the other.
However, all these somewhat interesting narrative directions take a backseat to the interpersonal drama within the Tombstone squad, particularly with regards to sergeant Irish competently played by Michael K. Williams. Irish’s unwillingness to follow basic military protocol, chain of command, and common decency is made worse by the fact that you, as his commanding officer, is a silent protagonist. Making the main character mute isn’t exactly unheard of in first person games, but usually the writers circumvent this and make it work.
In BF4 however, characters will often talk directly to you. Even going so far as to ask you questions, leaving you with either an awkward silence or having one of your squad mates answer for you, which feels insubordinate. It left us confused and frustrated with the prevailing idea that the character we were playing was a horrible choice for commanding officer and his squadmates a bunch of egocentric teenagers.
Similar to the story, the campaign’s gameplay also feels underdeveloped and rushed. Though it looks absolutely gorgeous, and is filled with plenty of ‘baysplosions’, it ultimately boils down to defending a point from a horde of enemies or clearing out a linear path from an identical horde of enemies. There are a few instances where the game opens up and allows you to tackle a situation your way, even introducing some titillating stealth, but these are nothing more than rare teases at what could have been. If we could make a suggestion to Dice for their next singleplayer outing, it’d be to make use of the varied open world gameplay that makes the multiplayer a hit, more original Crysis, less Call of Duty. But then of course you aren’t really here for the singleplayer portion of the review are you?
The multiplayer of Battlefield 4 is, in a word; incredible. In no other game have we ever been able to follow our squad to a capture point controlled by the enemy, see them get gunned down from behind a corner, throw some C4 past the corner and net 3 kills from the blast, only to pick up our fallen comrades medic kit and resurrect the whole squad. As if that wasn’t enough our squad then proceeded to jump in the nearby BTR-90 anti-infantry tank, drive it through a building causing it to collapse on top of two enemy soldiers killing them instantly and capturing the point. Then, while driving to the next objective we got harassed by an enemy Apache helicopter. The resurrected medic, now carrying our dropped sniper kit then proceeds to get out of the tank, shoot the pilot out of the chopper, steel the chopper from them mid-air and help capture the next objective. Moments like this are rare and require a fair bit of luck and/or skill, but when they happen Battlefield 4 truly lives up to the slogan “Only in Battlefield”.
To those unfamiliar, Battlefield 4’s multiplayer revolves around vehicular, objective-based gameplay where team play and strategy are important factors. Modes like Conquest, Obliteration and Rush are all designed around this core concept, with objectives like capturing and holding bases, and protecting or destroying intelligence cashes. New to the Battlefield ensemble here is Obliteration, where both teams fight over possession of a bomb randomly placed on the map. The goal of the game is to plant said bomb at one of the three enemy bases and prevent it from being defused until it blows up. It’s a great addition that constantly moves the contention points around the map depending on which route the bomb holder chooses to take, making for some great and unorthodox encounters.
Despite Battlefield’s fame for all-out vehicle warfare, there are also plenty of modes and maps that support infantry gameplay that’s more suited to those who want to try their luck absent of teamwork. Domination,Team Deathmatch, Squad Deathmatch, Defuse, and Rush are all pretty much infantry exclusive modes. With Defuse being a new e-sports friendly, no respawn, arm and disarm game mode. But the other modes aren’t entirely without hiccups. When these modes are played on maps clearly designed with large scale conquest in mind, it leads to frustrating stalemates and games of sniper whack-a-mole. Luckily, the maps Flood Zone, Hainan Resort, and Golmud Railway avoid these pitfalls.
Like the third game in the series, Battlefield 4 uses EA’s pride and joy stat-tracking, match-finding, and friends-listing service Battlelog. This time around Battlelog is also available in-game and on consoles. Instead of the flat progression system, Battlefield 4’s unlocks and points are split into three tiers. You can unlock weapons, attachments, camo’s, and weapon paint-jobs through either accumulating points and leveling up your different classes, unlocking the new Battlepacks through level checkpoints, or completing special assignments. It’s a pretty great change up since it’ll now take much longer to unlock everything in the game, keeping it interesting and goal oriented for the millions of completionists out there. Despite this, and due to the sheer number of weapons, attachments, and paint jobs available, it never feels like you’ve gone too long without something new to play with.
(here I’ll include a annotation instructing people to watch the BF3 review since we covered most of the other aspects of Battlelog in that)
When choosing your loadout before a match you’ll get the choice between the assault, engineer, support and recon classes. The Assault uses assualt rifles that excel at killing at medium ranges, while also getting access to medical kits that can regenerate or revive teammates and underslung grenade launchers and shotguns. The Engineer is the ultimate anti-cavalry class, using deadly close range personal defense weapons and all manner of rocket launchers for killing anything mechanical whether it’s on land, sea or air. The support class carries around heavy LMG’s that are the best suppressive weapons in the game, they also supply teammates with extra ammo while deploying nifty gadgets like claymore mines, C4, mortars and more. The recon class used to be considered a lone wolf largely useless in the grand scheme of a conquest map, but now they’ve been given back their C4 and are once again adapt tank killers. While sniping from long ranges they are also ideal for spotting and laser tagging enemy aircraft. In addition there are three weapon types all classes have access to. Carbines are basically assault rifles lower recoil and higher firing speeds at the cost of shorter range and lower damage. DMR’s are semi-automatic sniper-rifles, not as accurate or powerful as their bolt action cousins but faster and easier to use. And shotguns are well, shotguns…as in guns that fire shots. (Two Smoking Barrels reference, please leave this in). No matter which you pick you’ll no doubt eventually play all a fair amount as the play style is vastly different and no one class can be said to be the best.
Speaking of weapons, not only are there over 90 weapons, with over 20 attachments each, and over 100 paint jobs, each and every one of them feels unique and impactful, suited for their own situational use. A handful of the guns are flat upgrades of each other, but these are very minor statistical differences and even then they’ll usually sport different available attachments making them suited for different styles of play or preference.
Most of the vehicles have returned, along with a few notable editions. There are now several different attack boats that function more or less like speedy tanks on water, dominating the waves on maps where water is a constant. Some jets can now carry dumb-fire bombs, able to down buildings and obliterate vehicles in a single flyover. The mobile artillery vehicle can be strategically positioned to rain death and destruction down from safe distances. And the A-130 gun ship gives players a birds eye view of the battlefield complete with thermal optics and giant cannons. So while infantry combat has gotten a larger portion of the pie this time around, there is no doubt that vehicular warfare is still the core battlefield experience.
Of course, all these new tools of destruction don’t only exist to blow enemy players into tiny bits. The environmental destruction in Battlefield 4 has once again been taken up a notch. While you can still completely decimate most, if not all smaller scale buildings, the destructibility of Battlefield 4 makes itself known most obviously in the levelution mechanic. Each map now has one or more of these major events. In Paracel Storm a typhoon creates massive waves to use as cover for boats, changes the overall look and feel of the map and can even cause a massive ship to come crashing into one of the islands. In flood zone players can blow the levy of a flooding river, causing the water level to rise in the cramped streets of below, giving boats and rooftops a new importance.
Beyond these major events, players can also initiate cool little micro levelutions. Shooting a fuse box will turn the lights off, disorientating other players. Blowing up a bridge will deny cavalry safe passage. Locking off different sections of a map will force the enemy to take a different route. And detonating stationary explosives on Golmud Railway will instantly destroy vehicles caught in the blast radius.
Making a triumphant return from Battlefield 2 and 2142, is the commander mode. As a commander you take on the role of team guide, deploying UAV’s, radar jammers, supply crates and artillery strikes in order to help your team take objectives and kill high valued enemy players. Commander mode can be accessed at any time on your PC or console as long as the spot is open, or it can be controlled remotely from your tablet or smartphone, though this functionality has yet to release. It’s not quite as fun as being down in the thick of it with your squad, but successfully coordinating with your team to outsmart the enemy commander is exhilarating in it’s own right. Also newly available is the ability to spectate games, allowing you to view the battle from a top down tactical map or the eyes of each individual player. It’s a great feature that could be a valuable tool for community organized tournaments, now if they could only give us a battlerecorder.
Sadly it’s not all butterflies and rainbows. There are problems with the BF4 multiplayer that simply have to be addressed. The netcode (meaning the time it takes for the server to register player actions and transfer the information to the other players) desperately needs improvement. It’s understood that a game with as many complicated variables as Battlefield will never have as good a netcode as games like Call of Duty and Counter Strike, but right now the amount of times we’ve been shot while behind cover or been killed by nonexistent enemies is downright silly. Hardcore mode also needs some serious retooling, friendly players often won’t show up as such until you’ve looked at them for a good second or so, leading to many accidental team killings. In addition while enemy players have less health than in normal the same does not appear to be true for vehicles, skewing the balance significantly in favor of mounted players. Then of course there’s the slew graphical glitches and weapon balancing complaints that seem to follow the release of all games of this type. These are by no means fatal flaws, and while Battlefield 4’s multiplayer is still some of the most fun we’ve ever had in an online shooter, there are undeniably major problems that needs fixing.
When playing Battlefield 4 on a high-end PC you’ll get an audio visual experience unlike any other. Enabling the War Tapes audio option makes the battlefield come alive with realistic sounds from both the surrounding environment and the chaos of war. Similarly turning the graphics up to 11 will produce gorgeous vistas, incredible particle and volumetric lighting effects, and a texture quality you’d be hard pressed to find in any other multiplayer game, or perhaps even singleplayer. We can also happily report that after updating to the latest graphics drivers the game seemed to run surprisingly well on our now somewhat outdated machine, even outperforming the visually inferior Battlefield 3 on ultra settings. Of course given the need to run recording software simultaneously we had to lower the graphical settings to a mix of medium and high for this review, but as you can see even that looks incredible.
While the singleplayer campaign leaves a lot to be desired. Battlefield 4 is an absolutely fantastic game that takes its tried and true multiplayer formula to new and thrilling heights. With some of the best map design the series has ever seen in Paracel Storm, Zavod 311 and Hainan Resort. A stupendous amount of great new weapons and unlocks. The long awaited return of the commander mode, artillery vehicles and bombers. The amazing effect of the destructible environments on the strategic points of each map. And the absolutely breathtaking presentation values. Battlefield 4 is one of the first games we’ve ever…been so disappointed we couldn’t give an Elders Choice award. Sadly the problems with the netcode is just too important to overlook. But if Dice manages to fix the net code and patch out the numerous bugs currently plaguing the game, we have no doubt it will deserve the award. For right now; worth buying.
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Title: Battlefield 4
Reviewed on: PC
Available on: PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Playstation 3, Playstation 4
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: October 29th, 2013
Rating: 4 out of 5 “Worth Buying”