Battlefield 4 Hands-on Preview (PC)

Much more exciting than cattle field.

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At Gamescom we got to play an early version of Battlefield 4 in a 32v32 player PC Obliteration match on the Paracel Storm map. As long-term Battlefield fans it was on of our most anticipated games at the show and EA had pulled out all the stops when it came to presentation. With two massive booths letting gamers play and a cinema in each showing a collection of trailers and dev diaries before you went in, they knew it was going to be huge.

In the trailers we learned a little more about the second-screen integration including the fact that you can change loadouts etc on the fly (for example when in the passenger seat on a vehicle or while waiting to respawn) and the changes will be reflected instantly in game. Similarly we saw a little more of commander mode where it appears that all the powers (UAV, Tomahawk strike etc) are on a timer that is constantly counting down, there was no indication of whether team performance will alter these cooldowns.

Once we sat down at the game stations we had a powerful PC to run the game on, starting off we could do a little customisation of our classes, giving us a chance to check out the options. Interestingly on the Assault class there’s now a medic bag and first aid kit as separate items. with the first aid kit being a quicker ‘instant heal’ rather than the medic bag’s heal over time ability. There’s also a much greater choice of anti-vehicle measures for the engineer, with the weapons with more guidance systems generally doing less damage or having less ammo with them.

The ‘obliteration’ mode was a fun twist on a mixture of capture the flag and rush. Somewhere in the middle of the map a bomb spawns and your team needs to pick it up and take it to the opponent’s bases. Each team has three bases and once you destroy all the enemy team’s bases, you win. Picking up the bomb is simply a matter of running over it and you can ride in vehicles with it just fine so it’s worth going after it with a helicopter if possible to get to the objectives more quickly. Once you reach the objectives you have to hold the action key to set the bomb and then it goes off after a shorter delay then the Rush bombs.

The map we were playing on, Paracel Storm is set in a tropical archipelago we’ve a huge amount of military hardware dotted around. There are bases and small villages on some of the islands and an array of boats from jetskis and patrol boats all the way up to stealth boats with hugely damaging rockets and a giant battleship caught up amongst some wind turbines out to sea. There’s no jets at least in the version we played and there was usually just a single helicopter in the air, we never discovered where it spawned. When you spawn into the map you come in via Parachute unless you spawn on a squad leader, definitely deploy your parachute as the sea isn’t deep enough to let you survive a drop straight in.

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At some point during the match you see the much-talked about ‘Levolution’ as the wind turbines are destroyed by a raging tropical storm and the battleship makes its way through the map before beaching itself on an island. All the way through this players can use the heavy weapons on the battleship’s deck and huge waves surge through the map throwing boats into the air and hiding them from rocket shots -putting them in quite a good position to barrage units on the land.

The biggest change from Battlefield 3 was the speed of the game. Many of the vehicles were focused on maneuverability and fights were often taking place as chases around the maps and rivers with players shooting at boats from cover as the boats stormed around the waterways picking off everything they could. The boats’ weapons seem hugely powerful and can dominate completely unless a team is prepared to fight them off with a concerted engineer effort. Players appear to have less health so a short burst is usually enough to drop them and despite the long sight lines on the map, snipers aren’t really needed as an SMG can drop an opponent from hundreds of yards.

Swimming has also been sped up, which is a good thing with the abundance of water, so while the enemy taking the bomb to an island can seem irritating, it was impressive how quickly everyone’s forces converged and wiped them out. At any point you can see who has the bomb and where it is, so you need a lot of defensive play in order to protect the carrier. IT was common throughout the match we played to see bomb carrier sniped before they took ten steps and it was important to lock down the area before you tried to do anything.

Graphically it is very similar to Battlefield 3, but as that game looks so excellent on PC that’s not a complaint. The water effects are much improved and definitely a focus of the fourth entry, with one map in the videos showing a city street area that gets flooded half way through turning into an American Venice. The game was running smoothly but the PCs were incredibly beefy rigs so it’s hard to take much away from that. The view distance was huge and given the open nature of the map you could see an awful lot going on at any given time, with helicopters and boats clashing all over the sea and players storming buildings and parachuting out of the sky.

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Audio was impressive, as it always is in the series and really stood out amongst the other (excellent) first person shooters at the show. DICE know how to make the battlefield sound intimidating and with high-spec headsets the environments comes alive with distant explosions and bullets buzzing past your head as the waves crash all around you.

If I had any criticism of the game it’d be that the levolution is distinctly less impressive than it would appear. I barely noticed the storm as the level barely got any darker and I didn’t even see the ship crash though the map until I was watching another screen after our match finished. Once you’re focused on the objective it’s easy to ignore incidental details and the storm changes things less than it could have. I’ve long pined for a multiplayer FPS where darkness is actually dark and that could have changed the game significantly. There were also a huge number of bugs and glitches with machines constantly crashing but then again this is still in alpha.

We’re incredibly excited about Battlefield 4, with bigger maps, a great range of vehicles and slightly faster gameplay. The new game-mode was an absolute blast (pun unintended) and avoided the static coke points of Conquest and Rush with a more mobile battle taking place all around the map. Battlefield 4 comes out in the UK November 1st and then will reach the next-generation consoles at launch. If you pre-order you can get into a beta test beginning in October.

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