Only one of the levels has a field, they all have battles though!
Battlefield 4 is upon us and we’ve put in an ungodly amount of hours already. It’s testament to a fine game when you struggle to write a review because you want to go back to playing but duty calls (heh) so here it is. While we can say without any hesitation that Battlefield 4 is an excellent game, the real questions people will be asking are 1. Is it better than Battlefield 3/Bad Company 2? and 2. Is it better than Call of Duty? We can’t really answer the last one, it’s such a different game now, but we can definitely help out with the first.
Battlefield 4 on the surface looks exceptionally similar to the third entry – the engine may be new and it might be set in a different part of the world but when you load it up it’ll all look very familiar. Games work in the same way (it uses Battlelog on the PC again which is a surprisingly elegant solution to server browsing as you can save server pages to your favourites bar or be sent links via chat programs), the same classes are back, the objectives are mostly the same and many of the vehicles and weapons are similar. Of course there’s a clear argument that if it isn’t broken then don’t fix it, but some will be wondering what justifies this game being a proper sequel to Battlefield 3 when so many Battlefield games (2142, Bad Company, 1943) don’t deserve to be part of the numbering system.
The big headline change is levolutions. In each map ( there’s nine maps in total which doesn’t sound like a lot but when the DLC starts coming out it’ll expand greatly, nine is plenty for now) there’s some kind of feature that changes the way the game is played. The map from the beta – Shanghai- has a giant skyscraper in the middle that can be toppled if four supports are destroyed at the base. Another map shown off extensively in previews – Paracel Storm – is set on a small archipelago where a storm breaks out and if you destroy a burning Wind Turbine you can release a battleship that crashes into the map. These changes really do alter the map fundamentally – moving a capture point on Shanghai and greatly reducing visibility in Paracel Storm. The other maps are a little hit and miss – Zavod features a chimney that falls through the center of the map and creates a bit more cover but doesn’t really change anything – another map has a rising flood that turns streets into canals – altering the entire map completely. While the big central levolutions are always going to be the focus (and even the disappointing ones look spectacular when they happen – and thanks to them requiring player interaction they don’t always happen) the smaller ones are often the most useful. In the 12 hours of multiplayer we’ve put in, we used a large levolution ( a collapsing Dam in that case) precisely once as part of a strategy. We had a big build up of forces in the central canal locking down our movement from the right to left side of the map – so we dropped a dam on them and it was glorious. In contrast we find ourselves using the smaller changes nearly every time we play on the maps that feature them. For example in Dawnbreak there’s some shop shutters that can be lowered that surround one of the objectives in Obliteration. Earlier today we ran inside carrying the bomb and hit the shutters to close off all the access points. After arming the bomb there were two or three enemies just outside trying to work out how to get in and by the time they did it was too late and the bomb went off, we could raise the shutters again and make our escape. The concept of levolution is simple but when it works it’s amazing, when it doesn’t work you still get treated to a little bit of a spectacle.
In terms of new game modes the big new objective based game is the aforementioned Obliteration. Here both teams race to grab a randomly spawning bomb from the centre of the map and then take it to one of the opponent’s bases and arm it. The team that destroys three bases first wins. This ends up playing a little like Rush but without the drag of just defending or attacking all the time, the action focuses around the bomb carrier and teamwork is vital as the bomb carrier can get into vehicles so you’ll be hunting them down in an alleyway only to lose sight of them and then need to get into cover as a helicopter gunship roars out of a nearby clearing with the bomb on board.
For new weapons and vehicles there’s definitely a wider selection but very few of them change the game dramatically. Some have been adjusted to be more dangerous – you will learn to loathe snipers even more – and the new boats are a huge amount of fun on the maps that feature them. This is probably the area where the game has progressed the least though – with many of the lunlocks feeling far too similar and therefore not as exciting. Lots of balancing tweaks have been made to equipment – so recon and support now both get C4 – the assault class can’t revive people more than once – ammo and health packs start off fairly weak and can only heal one person until you unlock the bigger bags later on – but these are all for the better and seem to be designed around a philosophy of keeping the battle moving. It’s very hard to get entrenched into a position now as everything conspires against you. Battlefield is about movement and strategy, and huge explosions.
Commander mode is returning from 2142 and lets one player on each team take control of the whole side – issuing orders to squads, getting an overview of the entire map and doling out bonuses and missile attacks. It’s a great idea and when you have a team that is listening it can lead to a much more strategic game. Being able to spot holes in the opponent’s defence and then exploit them, backing up your troops with vehicles and supplies or faster respawns as they rush across the map to take objectives. You spend the whole game from a top-down view, like on a map and if you zoom in enough you can actually see everything happening in real time. As you click on a squad or UAV or missile you can actually see a little picture-in-picture view as if the soldiers have helmet cams feeding to your screen, this isn’t that useful but it sure looks cool. You earn your abilities by the troops capturing points so suddenly the central points become much more important as that tends to have the cruise missile which is by far the most fun thing to use.
Sadly not everything about Commander mode is great and most of the time you’ll be trying to give orders only to be completely ignored as half your team sits on a hill sniping without effect, throwing the game away while you’re helpless to watch. There’s also very few abilities available so games get repetitive very quickly. The general pattern is ‘use UAV, spend bonuses on drops, fire cruise missile/block cruise missile with EMP, repeat’. It’d be nice to have a wider range of abilities so commanders actually have more to do.
The other things Battlefield has always done well is maintained here. The sound is phenomenal, the battlefield is a terrifying place to be particularly if you’re playing in hardcore and don’t expect to see a tank roll up on you or a missile barrage strike just outside your hiding place. The whizz and crack of sniper shots gives you information as well as increasing the tension – this is a game you want a decent sound system or headphones for as DICE are well-known for going all out when it comes to sound production. Destruction is similarly excellent, and dialed up from Battlefield 3. There’s a few maps where many of the buildings can be brought down fairly easily, leading to a much flatter landscape by the end of the match. Even on the mission where very little can be destroyed altogether (such as Flood Zone) there’s so much destructible cover that it’s still immensely satisfying to fire a rocket or throw a grenade at enemies in cover only to see debris flying all over.
The single-player is a let-down, much as it was in Battlefield 3. They’ve made a more likable cast of characters who you actually care about by the end, but the plot is almost incomprehensible (unless you’ve read the book apparently) and ends with more of a fizzle than a bang (although there is a literal bang). The best scenes have been shown off extensively in trailers so there’s very few surprises. This is one area where we feel we can compare the game directly to Call of Duty, and Call of Duty wins hands down. Battlefield’s set pieces are few and far between, there’s huge amounts of repetition and the gameplay just isn’t that much fun. The AI does seem to have improved, with enemies moving from cover to cover as you destroy it and occasionally attempting to get behind you, but they also pop their head out at regular intervals to give you a target to shoot down. Handy for the player but slightly dull in terms of challenge. All of the interesting features in Battlefield (destruction, vehicles, sniping physics) are used once or not at all, and never in any kind of satisfying way. It only takes 5 hours and graphically it looks amazing, so is probably worth the effort – but if you weren’t planning on playing multiplayer I would stay well away from the game.
Overall, Battlefield 4 is an excellent addition to the series. It doesn’t change too much, but is an improvement in nearly every way and you’ll get plenty of entertainment for your money. The single player is admittedly poor but that doesn’t bring down the score as I don’t believe anyone is going to be buying this mainly for the single player. At least there is a single player and it’s not awful. As far as multiplayer shooters go, this is one of the best – Call of Duty is going to have to work hard to pry our attention away next week.
We only just received a copy of Battlefield 4 on Xbox 360 and will be testing it over the next week to see how different it is. We already know there’s a reduced player count but we don’t know how much fun it will be. Once we’ve made our mind up we’ll add our impressions to the bottom of this review.