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Battlefield 4 Review

by William Schwartz

Battlefield 4 runs into the same problems that Battlefield 3 did, and it’s just that DICE does multiplayer games far better than they do single player ones.  Despite their best efforts at putting together a memorable campaign to go alongside their always impressive online component, they’ve come up short yet again.

But like Battlefield 3, it doesn’t really matter.  The single player campaign may be a throwaway affair with little replay value for even the most ardent shooter fans, but Battlefield 4 multiplayer will make you forget all about it.  Battlefield 4 once again raises the bar of expectations for online shooter fans, and DICE has outdone themselves by adding meaningful changes to an already successful online formula.

The majority of the Battlefield fan base come to this game for the multiplayer, and its easy to see why.  DICE is one of, if not the, best multiplayer designer in the shooter space today.  Their mixture of realism and fun is unmatched.  There’s a reason why the slogan for this year’s game was “Only in Battlefield” —  because there are things that are being done here that just aren’t seen in other big budget online shooters.   Battlefield 4’s online suite is chocked full of game modes, whether you like small intimate affairs or massive destruction laden battles with vehicles of all sorts, DICE has something to sell you on.

Regardless of which mode you play, Battlefield 4 is a class based shooter with a wealth of customization.  The game takes you through five different XP systems.  One for your overall rank, and the others represent each class in the game.  Battlefield relies on squads to work together to complete objectives.  Players can select from four different classes who each have something special to bring to the table.  The Assault class can revive players or refill their health.  The Support class can drop ammunition to fellow players so they can keep fighting in extended battles.  The Recon class can spot for the team with an special scope that allows for greater vision.  And the Engineer class can repair vehicles.  Because of this dichotomy, Battlefield can be extremely fun to play, even if you don’t fire a single round in a match.  It’s something that other shooters just can’t match in this regard.

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But back to this “Only in Battlefield” thing.  Battlefield is the ultimate shooter sandbox, no round of play, or life for that matter, plays the same.  DICE doesn’t dare confine you to a single way of playing, and the many moving parts of vehicles, weapons, and objectives, make every respawn a new experience.  Want to load up your vehicle with C4 and run a suicide mission into enemy territory?  You can do that.  Or perhaps you’d like to find a nice perch to snipe from… well just hop in a helicopter and parachute down to a tall building to find your salvation.  If you can see it, or think it, you can likely do it in Battlefield 4.

Battlefield 4 is the ultimate multiplayer shooter sandbox

The amazing thing about Battlefield 4 is the incredible balance that is struck between these many moving parts.  Tanks thunder through the maps and are powerful adversaries, but can be stopped by using landmines, rocket launchers, or C4 by players on foot.  Planes and helicopters patrol the skies and can deal devastating losses to teams caught off guard, but well placed rocket launchers or missiles can clip their wings.   Every class, every weapon, and every vehicle has its place in Battlefield 4, and it’s a beautiful thing to behold in just about any match you come into.  This isn’t anything new, it’s been like this for quite some time.

Battlefield 4 launches with 10 maps and they’re a unique blend.  Like previous games, some maps focus on vehicular combat, some focus on infantry battles, and some focus down on very specific vehicle types.  One trend seen in Battlefield 4 is a heavier emphasis on amphibious combat.  A roster of attack boats and other seafaring vessels can be found in a number of the maps, and while it hasn’t been a huge part in previous games, they’re pretty damn fun to play with.   The core vehicles are back as well, and most maps will offer up helicopters, tanks, and other types transport vehicles, while others will let go full out with attack choppers and jets.  Not all levels are geared towards every vehicle in the game, or vehicles at all.  Some are obviously more tailored towards infantry squad play, and they’re just as fun to play on because the great level design and focus on team play.  Speaking of level design, a catch phrase that was dropped earlier this year from DICE was “Levolution”, it was billed as a literal game changer for the Battlefield series, one that saw dynamic changing levels on every map.  While beta players got a chance to see this in action with the Siege on Shanghai map and it’s massive destructible skyscraper, this theme carries through into all of the other maps in Battlefield 4.   Dams can be exploded to flood an entire map, key structures can be taken down by players, one map has a massive storm roll in.  Each level has it’s own unique “Levolution” feature.  Some aren’t quite as impressive and drastic as it was shown in the beta, but it is cool.

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Boots on the ground, you’d be hard pressed to feel any drastic changes in the way the game plays.  Battlefield has its own unique feel. Modes, maps, graphics, Battlefield 4 looks and plays a lot like its predecessor. But there have been some changes made. Control schemes have been switched up for console players, in what seems like an attempt to fit in and make accessible, things like Comorose. Vehicles control differently as well on consoles, and they have a much more intuitive and beginner friendly feel to them. For those that have put in a lot of hours in Battlefield 3, it’ll take some getting used to.

DICE also returns to a more Bad Company 2 style of destruction in Battlefield 4. Where Battlefield 3 had less destructible environments on the whole, Battlefield 4 will let you collapse buildings, shred their interiors, and just cause more all around destruction across the game’s 10 maps. If you missed the destructible nature that was introduced with Bad Company, you’ll love Battlefield 4 for this.

DICE has stripped the controversial suppression from Battlefield 3, and added a new leaning feature for infantry to exploit. The new peeking over cover feature and leaning out of cover feature are both intuitive for online players to pick up and use, but again, Battlefield faithful will need to adjust to these new mechanics. Furthermore, some of the gadgets, weapons, and vehicles will be familiar to fans of the series, but there have been some small changes to the starting kits for each class, making some classes play differently than they have in previous games.  And DICE is really looking to get squads to work together.  One new feature is the squad upgrades that reward teams for staying alive.  Get a good group of guys/gals together, and you can earn rewards for doing well.  The rewards aren’t drastic in nature, and won’t make you invincible or anything, just nice buffs to you and your teammates to give you a small edge in your next encounter.

Conquest is still the star of the show, but its got competition

Conquest is still the star of the show in Battlefield 4.  It’s the showcase game mode, it allows DICE to offer up the biggest maps, with the most vehicles and insanity that players can come up with.  But there are plenty of other modes to dig into in Battlefield 4.  The popular Rush Mode from the Bad Company series makes its return, and the more intimate Squad and Team Deathmatch modes from Battlefield 3 also return.  In these, you play on smaller portions of the bigger maps, and it’s quite hectic.  There are a couple of new game modes to explore in Battlefield 4 as well.  The new Obliteration Mode and Defuse Mode are newcomers to the series, and its probably too early to tell if Battlefield fans will gravitate to these new options early on, with so much fun to be had in the legacy favorites.

The progression system in Battlefield 3 ushered in a new era for the Battlefield series, and DICE takes it a step further with Battlefield 4.  It’s strucutred similarly to how it was in the last game.  But DICE uses some new mechanics to influence better team play, and focus players on tackling objectives, or at least reward them for doing so.  The biggest change is in the way that players are rewarded with points, just for trying to secure an objective.  Points are added to your overall score for trying, even if that attempt fails.  It shepherds players into doing what they’re supposed to do, and those that play Battlefield “the right way” will rank up quicker.  So why is this important?  Well, this rank is the gateway to new weapons, scopes, camouflages, and other customization perks for your character.  And these aren’t just cosmetic upgrades, these are guns shoot differently, attachments make them more powerful, and add-ons can also be earned for vehicles as well. Gaining XP will also put you on the road to securing Battlepacks, another new addition to Battlefield 4.  These are random rewards that come bunched together as you hit various milestones during your time in Battlefield 4.  Without a doubt, it’s the most well thought out and expansive progression system that the Battlefield series has seen to date.

Commander Mode

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The cherry on top of it all is the return of Commander Mode.  Admittedly, this mode is not for everyone.  Some just might not be interested in the tactical aspects of helping their squad to victory without ever looking down the barrel of a gun. Commander Mode allows two players (one for each team) to have an overview of the map and call in all types of perks to help their team.  You can call in UAVs to help your squads see what they are running into, you call down missile strikes on your enemies, and even order teams to specific zones on the map.  In Commander Mode you’re the conductor of a massive bloody war — it’s exceptional.  Especially when you start to discover the nuances of playing against your rival Commander on the other team.  Calling in precise UAVs and EMP Drones to disable enemy intelligence is a cat and mouse game that’s pretty fun to play.  It might not be quite as fun as what’s going on on the ground, but for a game mode that involves you staring at a map for 20-30 minutes it’s fun.

Battlefield 4 Multiplayer is exceptional. Single player, not so much

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DICE did at one point have something going for themselves on the single player front with the Bad Company series.   But lets get this out of the way.  No, DICE did not take notice of the poor reception that Battlefield 3 single player received, and pretty much did the same thing, again.   It made a bombastic tech demo for the Frostbite 3 Engine, took itself way too seriously, and made a game that is not as fun to play as it is to watch.

It does nothing out of the ordinary to set itself apart from the legions of other Call of Duty wannabees in single player.  It takes you down a largely forgettable 6-hour time sink, that really never hits any sort of emotional highpoint or lowpoint.   The best thing I can say about the single player campaign in Battlefield 4 is that it’s a good primer for multiplayer.  It introduces you to some of the weapons and vehicles you’ll be controlling in multiplayer, so there’s at least some benefit to checking it out if you are new to the series.

It falls into all the traps that bad shooters do.  It uses excessive gating, you’re are constantly waiting for your AI squad mates to show up and open a door for you.  It introduces broken mechanics that are supposed to be pillars of the gameplay.  The single player works around a squad mechanic that allows you tell your AI squad who to attack and when, but it doesn’t work half the time.  The AI is bad on both sides.  Enemies will just stand there, mindlessly firing round after round at you, and your team will fire back for minutes without hitting anything.  The end result of most firefights is that you just end up going in and killing everyone, yourself.  Your team just ends up being a group cheerleaders, telling you nice shot after you’ve completely decimated a small army on your own.

Because it doesn’t work on so many levels, it’s hard take it as seriously as it wants to be taken.  Despite an excellent performance by Michael K. Williams (Boardwalk Empire) as Irish, the cast of characters is largely forgettable.  The game just never got me to buy in.  The things that should have prompted an emotional response, didn’t.  It’s felt flat.  There’s a point at around halfway through that you think they might turn the corner into something more fun, as DICE introduces a stealthy prison break sequence, but they don’t, they just go back to the same bad shooting galleries and door prompts.   What makes it far worse is that it’s only shooting galleries and door prompts, there’s very little meat on the story here.  What very little that DICE does tell you about the story is vague, and it’s hard to buy in to any of the characters because of it.  Who are these people?  I still don’t know, other than Irish, and only because he had a few memorable instances where they actually tried to develop the character slightly.

That said, the Battlefield 4 campaign has zero replay value.  There’s a scoring system that rewards you with medals for scoring a certain number of points, and achievements are tied to these points, but that might be the ONLY reason to go back and play it a second time.

So where did they go wrong?  It’s not a bad looking game.  The shooting mechanics are similar to the ones found in multiplayer, so that’s not terribly bad either.  But the AI stuff and the lack of story were the delimiters of my enjoyment with the single player portion of this game.  It’s hard to make people buy in to characters in games.  It’s even harder when you don’t even try to expand on them with some kind of story that adds color to the reason why you are where you are, doing what you are doing. DICE thoughtfully introduces a couple of strong female characters in the game, but they could be purple hermaphrodites and it wouldn’t make a lick of difference without more exploration of their characters.

 The Verdict

Battlefield 4 is just about everything you would expect from a Battlefield game on the online side of things. Single Player is a bit of a letdown, but then again, my expectations weren’t terribly high. The fact that they failed to meet them even being as low as they were, says something about DICE’s need to really examine what they are trying to do on the single player portion of the game. It doesn’t get much better than Battlefield 4 multiplayer though. The sheer excitement that can be found in each and every online match is unparalleled, and when next-generation consoles drop, it’s going to be a glorious thing to see these games they way they were meant to be played. The console versions of Battlefield 4 are held back on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, but are still a hell of a lot of fun to play. If you’re looking for a great online shooter experience, Battlefield 4 is a can’t miss for 2013.

"loved"
loved

Battlefield 4

  • Available On: XB1, PS4, PS3, X360, PC
  • Published By: EA
  • Developed By: DICE
  • Genre: Shooter
  • US Release Date: October 29th, 2013
  • Reviewed On: Xbox 360
  • Quote: "The console versions of Battlefield 4 are held back on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, but are still a hell of a lot of fun to play. If you’re looking for a great online shooter experience, Battlefield 4 is a can’t miss for 2013."
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