EA’s main contender for the First Person Shooter throne is back with the latest entry in DICE’s Battlefield series. Battlefield 3 saw them create a new universe for the single player, broaden the scope of the multiplayer once more, to include up to 64 players on PC and the return of jets. Does Battlefield 4 continue the push to an ever more refined version of this expansive wargame?
Battlefield 4’s single player campaign revolves around the actions of Tombstone squad and the USS Valkyrie, in the middle of a war breaking out between Russo-Chinese forces and the US.
There are some really nice ideas folded into the campaign from the multiplayer, which try to make the game stand apart from both Battlefield 3 and other shooters out there. The very first mission, Fishing in Baku, shows this off quite ably, giving you new tools and mechanics to play with in a level which features a more literal field of battle, rather than a disguised corridor shooter.
So you have at your disposal the Tactical Binoculars, which allow you to scan around to spot and mark enemies by holding the right trigger. Tapping that trigger when looking at an enemy will direct your squad to target them with a hail of gunfire, which might allow you to flank and get the drop on them.
Then again, you can just hop into a buggy and skid around the map with Irish, a squadmate portrayed by Michael K. Williams (The Wire, Boardwalk Empire), firing at enemies, go on foot and sneak up for stealthy kills, or almost whatever you like. It brings that element of freedom from the multiplayer back into the single player, and blends it with some of those more scripted sequences quite nicely.
Or it would if the whole thing didn’t feel like it was held together by duct tape and elastic bands. I found events failing to trigger and requiring me to restart a checkpoint completely, far too easily stumbled upon a number of enemy spawn points, and consider the ally AI to be distinctly lacking in intelligence, as they happily run past enemies, don’t bother to follow me around and couldn’t hit a barn door with their gunfire.
The story and script is similarly lacklustre, as the game’s short, seven mission campaign feels as though it’s missing a first and third act on either side. Major world events never feel fleshed out and characterisation is particularly one dimensional, where Irish irrationally despises and distrusts Hannah, only to change his mind at the drop of a hat.
The franchise’s roots have always been in the multiplayer, but after the fun-filled and cleverly pastiched single player of Bad Company 2, and Battlefield 3’s flawed but solid new foundations in a more serious universe, it looked like DICE might be getting the hang of single player campaigns. Instead we get this disappointment which is also, as a twisted upside, surprisingly short.
- Battlefield 4 adapts the control scheme, with a shoulder button or trigger now dedicated to spotting enemies and bringing up the CommoRose conveniently. For vehicles, the left stick now handles throttle control, making things more consistent for newcomers. Old hands might want to use the “Veteran” controls, though on PS3 this oddly uses L1/R1 for the throttle as opposed to L2/R2 from BF3.
However, it is the multiplayer which still makes this worth your time, bringing back the core gameplay of Battlefield 3, but with tweaks and changes across the board. There’s nothing too revolutionary here, so in general you should be able to pick up and play the game just as before, even with the altered control scheme.
The first thing you’ll notice when diving in, is that the game is a lot more lenient and generous to new players. Your starting load out on foot gives you two pieces of equipment and two attachments to your main gun, while all of the vehicles give you similar boosts. It’s a night and day difference when you can now hop into a plane and start off with flares, heat seeking missiles and radar right away, instead of having to struggle to get kills and points with just your main cannons, while those who have levelled up slaughter you merrily.
As you level up, guns you unlock will start off with iron sights once more, but through randomised Battlepacks, you can pick up new camoflague, weapon attachments and XP boosts. These are unlocked every few levels as an additional reward to the regular progression, and are an interesting twist, though I personally would rather have a standard and clear upgrade path.
The new game modes also shake things up, and though Conquest, Domination and Rush all return, we have new ideas such as the stand out new mode, Obliteration. This sees both teams fighting over and trying to deliver a bomb to each of three enemy locations. It’s much more like a sport, almost, but it set things up brilliantly for tense gameplay that absolutely requires teamwork and the use of vehicles to get the best result.
And vehicles are back en masse. Boats are given a much more integral role, and lead to more water-based maps. Paracel Storm and Flood Zone in particular absolutely require the use of boats, submersible LAVs and, of course, helicopters, to get around as quickly as possible.
The way that the water can easily bobble you about as the wind picks up and creates stronger waves in the middle of a tropical storm on Paracel Storm is quite fantastic. Combined with the new attack boats, which are effectively the LAVs of the sea, there’s a lot to like about this new addition, and what it brings to the gameplay.
There are a handful of neat tricks built into the maps, in the form of Levolution. They’re nice touches, that will open up or close paths and routes through a map, whether it’s locking a roof access ladder, or dropping the antenna into the dish of a giant Goldeneye-esque satellite dish. I’m still not sure it justifies the marketing term, but at their best, these are big events that can change the way a map plays.
For current generation consoles, you’re still stuck with smaller maps and 24 players, while PC and next-gen will see the full 64. At times, even with the narrowed focus, it can feel a little empty, with what are still large maps taking quite a while to cross in order to get to the action. Not to mention that, though I think it looks great for a PS3 game, it certainly suffers from detail and texture pop in, and the visual gulf to the PC on High setting is huge.
The best experience is always to play in a squad with friends, sticking together and spawning off one another. Additionally, I actually found that infantry only maps and the game modes which really push players to just one or two objectives help to keep things more entertaining on current consoles. However, it’s when maps can host 32, 48 or 64 players on PC and next-gen, that this game will really come alive.
Gamers have always been rather vocal when traditionally single player franchises add a multiplayer game, worrying about the diversion of resources. Battlefield 4 goes in the opposite direction, with a single player which feels tacked on purely to show off some of the online map locales.
But the multiplayer is the life and soul of the game, and lives up to and improves upon what Battlefield 3 had to offer. There’s greater variety of vehicles, maps which push off into new and interesting directions with changeable elements thanks to Levolution.
Yet finding a score is tricky. The single player is quite frankly poor, while there is quite a deficit between what current and next generation machines will offer. Though this score is weighted to reflect the overall package available, you personally need to take into account what you want from the game, whether that’s a good and solid single player, and what platform(s) you will be playing on now and down the line.
This review is based upon the current generation and PC versions of the game.