The Battlefield series and I go way back. Some of my fondest memories behind a keyboard revolve around my core group of friends and I spending countless hours (and untold amounts of cash) at the local LAN center careening around the maps in jets trying to establish air superiority. As the series progressed over the years, DICE kept finding new ways to entertain me and make me feel like a key component in a war that much bigger than myself, something very few other titles even dare to try. Battlefield 4 doesn’t reinvent the wheel quite the way that Battlefield 3 did, but it does continue the series’ trend of offering what may be the best team based FPS title on the market.
Let’s start off by addressing the elephant in the room here. Simply put, I have yet to meet someone who is legitimately excited for the single player component of the game. I’ll admit it, I came in extremely skeptical, and I honestly wasn’t expecting much out of the experience. Even then, I feel my standards may have been a bit too high. At best, the campaign serves as a glorified tech demo, but at worst it’s a completely forgettable experience that serves only as a distraction from what makes Battlefield 4 so great.
The story revolves around a conflict between Russia, China, and the US in the near future, and while it’s not patently awful, it’s simply forgettable. The characters are more interesting than the dreary output found in Battlefield 3, and the initial set pieces do a fantastic job of showing off the Frostbite 3 engine, but beyond that it’s simply a hollow experience. The combat feels repetitive, and the times when you’re not actively engaged seem to drag the pace down to a crawl. Luckily, the campaign is a short experience, but there’s no real incentive to actually finish it.
DICE did remove the co-op missions found in the last go-round, and while they certainly weren’t fantastic, it’s usually more fun to go through a dreary story when you have someone you can share the experience with. Truth be told, I’m not even sure why the campaign is included at this point in the series. It’s obviously not the main attraction for the player or the developers, and it seems like it’s just there so they can place something else on the back of the box.
So, while nobody will remember the campaign after its over, it’s impossible for me to imagine someone not walking away with fantastic memories of the multiplayer component. DICE has wisely focused on advertising the “only In Battlefield 4” mentality that can be found in the game. I think I had my first one within 20 minutes of playing when I was piloting a helicopter with my entire squad in tow. We took a massive hit from somewhere, and it sent the aircraft spiralling towards a building. I’m not sure if it was bravery or stupidity, but I decided to ride the tailspin out, and was able to pull up just before careening into the side of the building. This was a completely random and non-scripted moment, and the hairs on the back of my neck were standing straight up from the exhilaration of somehow pulling that off.
The amazing part of Battlefield 4 is that these experiences aren’t all that uncommon. My buddy who volunteered to help me with this review found himself pulling off what he called “the luckiest shot of my life” as he was able to down a jet with one well-placed tank round as it was barreling towards him in a strafing run. The magic of the series is that you can create your own memories, and it’s absolutely amazing when these little miracles come together.
In an effort to break up the monotony that can come with being on the same map for a while, DICE has introduced “Levolution” to spice up the rounds. Ignoring the rather silly name, Levolution does a fantastic job of adding a dynamic element to the game. The most famous example right now is the collapsible skyscraper found in the “Siege of Shanghai” map. At the start of the round, the control point is at the very top of the skyscraper, requiring you to either be airlifted in or to fight your way up the elevators. As the chaos ensues and tanks start taking out the struts, eventually the entire building collapses, dropping the control point on top of a pile of rubble with a convenient access point from the sea.
Every map seems to have their own implementation of Levolution, and while some are more pronounced than others, they all do have a way of changing your strategy. Be it an oil spill that can catch fire, a tropical storm disrupting the sea, or a breakable levee that floods half the map, you’ll end up having to adapt to the game as you continue.
The only real complaint I have here is that eventually they start to feel a bit commonplace. You’ll probably stand transfixed the first time, but by the third time you watch the skyscraper topple, it will feel a bit old hat. I found myself always wanting just a bit more variety, a bit more control. I had to ask that if I can take down the skyscraper, why not another building? This isn’t a major complaint by any stretch of the imagination, but it already has me salivating over the idea of what DICE can do with this technology down the road.
One of the major things that have traditionally set apart the Battlefield franchise has been the vehicular warfare, and Battlefield 4 offers plenty of it. There’s a wide variety of tanks, boats, quad bikes, and aircrafts, each one feeling just a bit different than its counterparts. It will take time to learn how to properly operate all of these in a way that you’d be useful to your team though, and don’t be surprised to see the same problem of dicks taking a vehicle from spawn with no passengers just so they can get a sniping spot.
Luckily, Battlefield 4 includes a full Test Range that allows you to not only fire off your weapons, but to try a wide variety of the vehicles and hone your skills. I strongly suggest that pilots give this a shot so they can learn the intricacies of flying without using up the costly tickets your team needs to win. This isn’t as good as a full tutorial mode, but as far as “trial and error” goes, it’s a fantastic way to get your feet wet.
DICE has also introduced the Commander mode in Battlefield 4, giving you the position of an omnipresent overlord capable of setting squad objectives and offering support from above. This is a fantastic idea in theory, but it falls just a bit short in practice. Trying to get a team of 32 pick-up players to pay attention to your orders is the equivalent of herding cats with a water hose, and in the end turns out to be a rather frustrating experience if you don’t have a solid team to lead. I imagine this would fare a bit better in a more competitive environment, or if you’re playing the game from a tablet, but in just a standard multiplayer match it isn’t all that useful.
Staying on the topic of a tablet, being able to use my iPad as a second screen is a nice little touch. It’s not something that would prove crucial to the experience, but it’s nice to have a full map sitting next to my screen, or being able to adjust my kit while waiting for my transport helicopter to drop me off in a better location. If you have a tablet available to try it, I’d recommend giving it a shot.
Battlefield 4 comes with 10 maps and this might just be the best collection of maps that we’ve ever seen from a Battlefield title. Each of map has its own charm, offering something unique to the experience. There’s a few maps that are better suited to close-quarter engagements while others fit more to my personal play style of vast open landscapes, but all of them are a ton of fun.
In terms of technical aspects, the audio and visual elements in Battlefield 4 are simply stunning. Watching the bullets fly out of the foliage and hearing them ricochet off the rocks past your head does an amazing job of conveying a strong level of realism. This review is based on a PC version of the title, so I can’t personally attest to the graphics of the console versions, but I have been told they don’t quite compare. This, quite frankly, is fully understandable. With even the next-gen consoles running the title at 720p, being able to seamlessly run the game at 1440 resolution really highlights just how amazing the battlefield can look.
Truthfully, the only major complaint I have here is that the game doesn’t separate itself from Battlefield 3 in a way that casual gamers may recognize. If you grew to find Battlefield 3 a bit stale, I’m worried that you’ll probably grow tired of Battlefield 4 as well, and probably in a shorter period of time.
That being said, at the end of the day, I have immensely enjoyed my time with Battlefield 4. It doesn’t try to reinvent itself, but instead refines itself. If you’re willing to ignore the single player, this is one of the most engrossing shooters on the market. There’s a reason very few games try to compete with Battlefield 4 by trying to offer the same massive experience it does, and that’s simply because it’s already cemented itself as king. I think I’ve found my go-to FPS for the rest of the year.
This review is based on the PC version of the game.