Battlefield 4 Review

December 2, 2013

With Battlefield 3, EA and developers DICE hit a lot of right notes with an expansive multiplayer, that not only attempted to rear horns with Activision’s prevalent military warfare alternative, but left it with a few bullet wounds in the process. This year, right at the dawn of a new generation of consoles, they’ve brought in an upgraded engine and a whole ton of level-changing destruction – but is it enough to break through the enemy’s ranks, or merely fuel another year of holding the line?

Game: Battlefield 4
Developer: DICE
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Reviewed on:

BF4 box

Once again the team at DICE have opted for a traditional single player element to accompany their multiplayer mainstay. This time you’re Sgt. Recker who finds himself leading a small US Spec Ops team after the original leader is killed during a covert mission. In a plot that sees tensions wear thin between opposing US, Russian and Chinese governments after a Chinese Presidential candidate is assassinated, you’ll find little engagement. Normally frustration comes from narrative questions being unanswered, in Battlefield 4’s case, it’s more that the answers are far too underwhelming when they do come, even negating the entire conflict you’ve slugged through to some degree.

It’s unfortunate the plot never really gathers momentum because there’s plenty of moments that make the campaign warrant a playthrough. The voice acting in cut scenes combined with the animation and great direction can be impressive on the odd occasion, as are the hollywood-esque action scenes that despite precariously straddling the line between jaw-dropping and ridiculous, will often leave you with your heart in your mouth as you endeavour to stay alive. It’s fair to say that whilst the single player strives to create an intense, emotional experience for the player, it’s not delivered consistently throughout the campaign.

BF4 screen 2

Where Battlefield so often finds its feet though, is Frostbite’s technical marvel. The engine has been notched up to version 3 and houses some truly spectacular in-game destruction, diversity and beauty. What’s even better news is that after playing Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC versions, there’s very little to decipher between the three from a graphical perspective – PC still takes it by a thread, but differences are negligible, even with those pesky resolution squabbles in mind. That means 64 player battles running at around 60 frames-per-second across all platforms, in all the technical detail and glory that the developers intended – console gamers can finally rejoice, and the PlayStation 4 version looks simply stunning.

In the campaign, the destructive elements of the engine manage to lift the mode from the direness; in the multiplayer segment, it induces several of those stand-still-and-gawp at the surroundings moments. ‘Levolution’ is the DICE’s new buzzword to describe Battlefield’s ability to turn the large scale maps on their heads; a skyscraper can be brought to its knees, an entire map flooded, a massive satellite disintegrated into rubble. Some of these centerpiece demolitions are more superfluous than others, but most have a major impact on the way you approach the map by removing sniper points or creating a demand for sea-based vehicles for example. Even on a smaller scale the buildings, walls and trees will incur the wrath of players more so than they did in previous installments, in turn creating a hugely satisfying and immersive experience all round.

BF4 screen 3

Gun-play is as solid as ever too, once again holding true to DICE’s lust for loud, imposing weaponry. The sound design demands you turn your speakers to ten thanks to its authentic feel, whilst the actual variety in what you wield is as wide as it is customisable – scopes, torches, grips, silencers are all here in the bucket load. Multiplayer adopts the now traditional XP system by killing, suppressing and spotting being among a multitude of ways you can help your team to victory and rack up the points to unlock all those accessories and new weapons. You’ll instantly notice the smoothness offered by increased frame rates if you’re not familiar with PC gaming; Battlefield 4 feels great in your hands from top to bottom.

Perhaps the biggest improvement is superbly designed maps and strong game modes in the multiplayer segment. Conquest finally finds its true form thanks to the 64 player enabled matches – tanks dominating the landscape, planes zooming past overhead, bullets and building debris flying in from all directions create an absolutely engrossing scenario to be a part of. The chaos is cleverly tamed by dividing players into squads, like previous Battlefields, that gives focus to tasks and creates a genuine feel of battle that other games of similar stock can only aspire to. Even after a brief amount of time, many maps were jumping out at me as I revisited them –  there’s potential for many of them to become classics, for sure.

BF4 screen 1

There’s two new game modes to delve into, Obliteration and Defuse. The first is reminiscent of CoD’s sabotage mode that involves fighting over possession of a bomb, carrying it to a location and detonating. It’s better here though once you realise vehicles that might be instruments of chaos in other game modes can suddenly be used as effective defensive convoys for the bomb carrier. It’s these small twists on gameplay that generates so much variety from one game to the next. The second new mode, Defuse, might also feel familiar. One team gets a bomb to destroy one of the marked enemy locations with no respawns and no vehicles. It offers something completely different, demanding a bit more strategy and guile in your approach. Learning the maps is a big plus, and working as a unit might not be quite as effective as a team of strong individuals as opposed to the other modes.

Commander mode also makes a very welcome return. Reach level ten and you can opt to be your teams commander and general, providing direction, scouting and raining down heavy artillery from a tactical overview of the game map. If your team performs well under your command you’ll get more bonuses to wreak havoc on the enemy with, such as cruise missiles from AC-130 gunship – very, very entertaining, even if you do yearn to get back in the action after a while.

BF4 screen 4

At the time of playing the game has been patched, but still hosts a few connection issues and strange graphical glitching during online play here and there. My experience has been a largely bug free one, but it should be mentioned that it’s by no means been a flawless one either in that respect. When it works, Battlefield 4’s multiplayer can offer some truly memorable moments that has enough depth and variety to keep you coming back for months on end. Tearing down huge structures, finally learning to fly (thanks to a practice mode), small fast paced maps, imperious masses of land with every corner of it hosting its own story, it’s own mini-battle that might tip the game in one team’s favour – it’s all a joy to play.

VERDICT

So it’s easy to forget that Battlefield begun its time as a multiplayer only title, such is DICE’s eagerness to fall in line with what they perceive to be the biggest money spinning methodology. The seemingly endless tussle they’re engaged in to find a balance amidst a Call of Duty spawned identity crisis has slightly receded, but sadly, not completely ceased. Have no doubt though, you’ll want to buy this game for the excellent multiplayer despite a lackluster single-player campaign; one that would inevitably benefit from playing to its own strengths rather than anyone else’s. Next year may be different, but as we enter a new-generation of gaming there’s no better warfare multiplayer out there. Battlefield 4 is about as good as they come.

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