Call this the appetizer before the big dinner, and what a helluva appetizer it is too.
The gameplay in Battlefield 4 has improved significantly, especially when it comes to controls, non-linear movement/decision-making and overall feel to the game. Last year’s Battlefield 3 was a bit of a lopsided affair, as the campaign was a stale, linear mess in comparison to the refined multiplayer experience. The campaign mode tried to merely keep the players in line and driven by an empty, sometimes confusing storyline, while the multiplayer showed DICE at its best. This year there is a little more balance.
The world is on the brink of chaos, China is the tinderbox and the gamer is the inadvertent spark that could ignite a global conflict. As Sergeant Daniel Recker, fans will play as a member of an elite group of unlikely heroes known as Tombstone squad, navigating the turmoil around them as they fight to save the final hope for peace.
There’s a lot to be had here, though you’re still not going to get a full, beautiful Halo-like story that grabs you and intrigues you. For a good portion of the game, I was wondering what the hell was going on. I knew that the Chinese had pretty much taken over a good portion of the world. They’ve devastated and destroyed a lot of U.S. navel ships. Beyond that, I wasn’t quite following the overall storyline, rather the individual tasks at hand. Is that okay? Yes it is, because what it loses in story, it grabs you in terms of gameplay.
The first thing you will notice in the game, when you’re not going through a bevy of doors in a confined area (during the ship scenes, it makes sense to be a little linear), is that you have multiple solutions to get through the BF4 campaign. If one way doesn’t work out then another way can be found to get through whatever obstacle you’re trying to get through. For example, there is a mission where you made it through a snowy escape and wind up in a Chinese run city. You have to get down from a building, go to a crashed helicopter, equip yourself with C4 (there are other options, but I like this one the best — personal choice) and proceed to blow up a tank to push through to the next portion of the mission. I died about 3-4 times in this mission because of multiple failed attempts at destroying the tank and escaping. Every time I would light up the tank, troops would be alerted to my presence. While I probably should have gotten to cover a bit better during these moments and taken my time taking out the enemy, I just didn’t feel like it. Solution? Well, when I restarted the mission a fifth time, I noticed that the troops attacking me were being driven into the mission on two trucks. I planted the C4 on both trucks and let loose. I took care of the trucks, the troops and still had time to find cover and strategize with my NPC counterparts. This felt like freedom in the campaign, something that wasn’t readily available in BF3. It doesn’t seem like much, but it’s enough to expand the world a bit more, which is great when you’re trying to make your campaign relevant in comparison to your multiplayer experience.
Along those same lines, if you think you can do something within Battlefield 4 then it allows you to give it a shot. There aren’t a lot of restrictions in terms of trying new ways to defeat your enemy. For example, during the prison break in the game, towards the end, you’re trying to make it through the last door of the level (and you’re waiting on your new Russian friend to get you through). As you wait outside the control room for the giant steel door to open, several helicopters containing Chinese special forces fly in overhead dropping Chinese troops into the building. If you want to you can actually take down the helicopters or at least damage them enough to score some points. Again, this is an example of a more expansive, gamer friendly campaign that allows you to go in a few directions when it comes to solutions. Trying things during missions is at worst going to get you killed, but at best going to garnish some points for you.
Speaking of gamer friendly moments, a huge addition to this year’s Battlefield campaign is the ability to spot enemies so that your NPC can help you take them out. This helps in a couple of ways. The first, as I mentioned, it helps get the NPCs in the game with you. There is nothing more frustrating than having a bunch of NPCs charging in with you and then they do absolutely nothing to help the situation. It’s irritating and pathetic, and a big reason I despised the first Call of Duty: Black Ops campaign. If the game is going to simulate help then dammit let the NPCs be a part of the action and help the situation. Otherwise, why are they there? It’s a common theme in most forgotten first-person shooter campaign modes, but I’m happy as hell that DICE addressed it and helped it by adding ‘spotting’. It helps out a lot, but be careful because when you call out enemies then your NPC characters will open fire despite the situation (sometimes stealth missions call for not spotting).
The second way this new ‘spotting’ ability helps out is that it allows you to locate the enemies on the battlefield. Even though they might be hiding behind walls or charging in as a group, it helps bring their presence to life onscreen. To be fair, their indicators do eventually fade out of sight, putting them back into mystery positions onscreen, but it helps when you’re trying to find the right positioning on the battlefield, even for a moment. It’s a very cool addition to the game.
Now, sticking with the NPCs, for the majority of the time they’re helpful. Sometimes they tend to do their own things and become bossy, and useless, but for the majority of the time they’ve got your back. This is some good AI for a game of this caliber. For example, when you’re trying to extract VIPs from China, and you break into a hotel to get them out, Irish and Pac (your two comrades) shout out warnings of enemy positions and tend to have your back in the heat of battle. Specifically, there is a scene where Pac is unlocking a door to the upper part of the hotel where the VIPs are residing and you and Irish have to cover him. Irish does a great job with shouting out enemy position, while also keeping enemies from getting too close to your area. Again, it’s solid AI that is actually helpful.
With that said, the enemy AI is focused squarely on you. No matter where you are at or what position you are taking in the game, the enemy will find you and fire on your first before going after the NPC, or at least it seemed that way during my experience. This is something that is prominent in all FPS games, and something that needs to be addressed. While i understand the gamer is the main character of the mission, there are multiple targets to be had during the gameplay. It would add more depth and make more sense if the CPU enemies would once in a while try to take out your squad instead of focusing on you. While I appreciate the story of John Rambo, it’s unfair and illogical for one man to take out an army, or have an army go after him. 10 out of 10 times in real combat situations, that lone soldier will lose.
Having said that, if John Rambo had a weapons box laying around in every stage then maybe his odds would have been better, especially against the Russians. What’s a weapons box? Glad you asked!
Things to help you ‘win’ instead of lose in BF4 start with the weapons. As you pick up weapons from fallen enemies, or earn weapons as you progress through the storyline, you collect them in a weapons box. This box shows up in every mission and allows you to switch between weapons as you keep fighting. It’s a nice element to the game and it opens up a LOT of weapon opportunities, and replay opportunities, as the game goes on. I mentally compare it to the weapons boxes in the early Resident Evil games, as it’s easily accessible and somewhat cheating when it comes to bringing kick-ass power against your enemies.
Staying with weapons, a very improved aspect of weapons is how well you can control them. Their individual preciseness has been dramatically improved. Less kick-back, more stability when it comes to going nuts on enemies. Granted, each weapon has a varied amount of recoil during firing and such, but the process of controlling them and firing them has become more user-friendly. While hardcore gamers like myself prefer a bit more accuracy with the real things, I understand that less frustration when it comes to using/firing weapons is always a good thing. Along those same lines is the improvement when you look down your sights. I’m a FPS gamer that doesn’t really like firing from the hip. I prefer looking down my sights and trying my best to kill the enemies in one shot. BF4 actually rewards accurate players like me with better control and better results from doing this process. It definitely felt a bit more under control when I looked down my sights to fire. This counts for both multiplayer and campaign modes, so expect it across the board.
An aspect of the controls that I just didn’t get, but was highly touted, was the ‘lean and peek’. I’m not entirely sure what good this does you, especially in multiplayer, but I used it once or twice and just didn’t see the usefulness in it. It’s neat, don’t get me wrong, but it simply didn’t get much usage from my gameplay. Oh, and it’s not horrible, but I just don’t get it.
Now, something that is incredibly useful in the game, which might only be more useful in MP, is how you can counter melee combat. You have a small window to actually block a knife attack in the game and counter with your own. It’s a much needed addition and something that at least gives you a fighting chance. Granted, it might actually piss off a few gamers who make it their sole purpose to be knifing douchebags in the game, but it’s more true to life if your character can fight their way out of a melee combat situation. Flipping someone over, raising a knife and striking just seemed too robotic in the last game. I understand that it is a reward for being stealthy, but it seemed cheap and clunky. I’m really happy that DICE changed it up and made it a bit more interesting.
Shifting gears just slightly, lets discuss the presentation in Battlefield 4’s campaign mode.
While I haven’t seen the Xbox 360 version of this game in action, I can tell you that the PC/PS4/XB1 version must look absolutely dynamite. How do I know this? I don’t, other than watching videos posted on the interwebs, but I do know that the textures in the PS3 version of the game are on and off at times (literally/figuratively), especially when it comes to rendering and pop-ups. There are some details in the textures (buildings, vehicles, people, etc.), depending on the objects you’re looking at, and there are some objects (grass, trees, organic things, etc.) that tend to look flat and uninspired. What I imagine is that they’ve built these great things for Battlefield 4 with next-generation in mind and had to lose some of it in the downward translation to current generation. It makes me excited for the next-gen stuff, but slightly disappointed in what I’ve seen with this version. I expected a bit more pizazz and a little less blah. That’s not to say that you won’t visually enjoy the details in some of the game, but you’re not going to be ‘wowed’ at all with the entire visual package.
Having said that, you’re going to be ‘wowed’ with how absolutely expansive the world of Battlefield 4 truly feels. In true BF style, you’ll get enormous environments to play within, even in campaign mode, and multi-tiered buildings that make sense. Even the expected destructible environments seem cool, though you have *ahem* expected them to be there. There’s nothing quite like having a tank blow up a wall you’re hiding behind. It creates panic and falls right in with pulling the gamer into the game. There’s so much to the world, even though at times it looks absolutely bland. You still feel like it’s a huge world that could very well be part of a real world battle and sooner rather than later you’re going to forgive the flaws and enjoy the experience.
The Frostbite 3 Engine has its moments of flash, but it probably won’t really shine until we see the next-generation systems rear their heads in a month. I’m excited about the possibilities, but just a bit disappointed with the results of this current generation. Oh well.
Moving on, let’s talk us some multiplayer experience.
The icing on this BF4 cake is going to be the multiplayer experience. It’s probably one of the main reasons, if not THE reason that you’re going to purchase this game. To be quite blunt, DICE doesn’t disappoint.
Inside of MP, you get the following matches right off the bat:
Conquest - Capturing and holding objectives never felt so good. With the huge environments to play within, the match just seems a bit more challenging when trying to capture and hold places. I enjoyed this one a lot, as I did in Battlefield 3.
Team Deathmatch - Kill or be killed, it’s as simple as that. Sadly, everyone was on Conquest during my review period, so I usually just explored the levels during my time in Team Deathmatch.
Obliteration - I had some fun with this one. You capture a randomly placed bomb and get it to specific locations on the enemy’s map. You then place the bomb and detonate it. Pure fun and it brings together teams pretty darn well.
Rush - Didn’t get a chance to play this one, but I’m familiar with it from BF3. If you have never experienced it, you basically try to blow up the other team’s bases or zones.
Squad Deathmatch - Much like team deathmatch, multiple squads compete against each other to try to reach the ‘kill limit’ before the other teams. It’s an expanded version of Team Deathmatch, but nonetheless an interesting one.
Domination - Capture the flag. You’ve seen this before.
Defuse - Again, no one was playing this at the time of this review, so I can’t give you a great opinion of it, but basically it’s either plant a bomb to blow up an enemy target or defuse the bomb before it’s too late. Sounded fun, but never got a chance to play it.
While reviewing this title, the two most popular matches to play were Conquest and Team Deathmatch (naturally, right?). Now, what about the environments you’ll be playing in? Here’s a breakdown:
Dawnbreaker - This is a gigantic cityscape that is just full of nice tall skyscrapers. The sheer scale of it all makes for a wonderful MP playground and is easily one of my favorites, especially if you can lay down some respawning devices in the appropriate spots. Lots of multi-tiered buildings, hillsides and whatnot reside in Dawnbreaker.
Flood Zone - It’s a third-world city lying between two major highways. You basically spend a good portion of your time running from rooftop to rooftop trying to find the appropriate positioning for this one. The unique flavor of this board is when the levee breaks in the city causing a massive flood. The streets you once walked/talked/fired in are now mostly water ways. It’s pretty neat and definitely in my top 3 for this game.
Golmud Railway - I didn’t play this level too much, but it’s a very wide open board that doesn’t leave many places for you to scale or hide inside of during MP. It certainly has some charm to it, but it’s not one of the more sophisticated areas on the MP side of Battlefield 4.
Hainan Resort - This was the first level I played, which pretty much revolves around a centralized hotel. It’s pretty flat and open with the occasional wall wrapping around and up the hotel sides. It’s a very restricted, small place to play MP and does well with close quarter combat.
Lancang Dam - I want to play this, but haven’t. It looks absolutely fascinating. Still hoping to run into it soon. A crumbling dam above a power station, what more intrigue could you want?
Operation Locker - Remember that prison I mentioned earlier in the review? This is it. A multi-tiered prison that leads out into a snowy landscape. It features the ability to close and open cell doors to screw over your enemies, which is nice in the long run. It’s an interesting place to play MP, as there are plenty of places to hide, but it still isn’t in the top 3 of my favorite MP levels.
Paracel Storm - You’re fighting around a base that is going through a tropical storm. As you progress in this level, the storm worsens, which brings about new challenges. I would have loved to see some tougher weapon aiming as the storm progresses, but the intensity of the situation is enough to be impressed. It’s a very small area to fight in during MP.
Rogue Transmission - Much like Lancang Dam, I haven’t been able to play this level yet, but it looks fun. It looks like a huge environment and anytime you can bring down a gigantic satellite dish on your enemies is a good time in my book.
Siege of Shanghai - You’ve seen this in the trailer, the demo and it’s still fun to play in this level, even after the overdose of exposure from EA and DICE. There are a lot of fun elevators to the rooftop in this level and it gets really going during Conquest. Definitely one of the more impressive creations for BF4.
Zavod 311 - This one really didn’t stick with me. It’s a small board that revolves around an abandoned weapons factory. The factory is the only interesting part of the level, as you can climb to the roof and snipe the shit out of people from afar. It’s a bit too confined, which makes it quick and cheap during gameplay. It’s not very inspired in my opinion.
Well, if you’re looking for a helluva thrill ride on the multiplayer side of Battlefield 4 then DICE does have enough variety here to make your experience interesting. Even as I’m typing this, I’m dying to wrap things up, so I can get back to playing the damn game. Before I get too far from this review, let me just add that each above level has its own ‘Levolution’ to it, which means you can destroy some massive piece of the level. In Shanghai it’s the building in the center. In Lancang Dam, it’s the dam. In Zavod there is a large smokestack you can collapse. It’s a neat addition to the MP experience and one that I hope DICE continues to evolve as the series continues to get better and better. Believe me, the Levolution counts for something and it sucks when you’re caught in one (I was on top of the Shanghai building when it started to collapse, pretty terrifying).
Before this review begins to wrap up, let me just add that you get a fair amount of unlockables, upgrades and such as you progress through the game. You’ll still have a lot of familiar mixes/matches to customize your experience and you’ll spend a large amount of time finding the one configuration to make you happy. Those of you who have a style of play that you like, you won’t be disappointed with how DICE delivers the goods. One last note about this is that you should expect a bit more mathematical slowdown to the leveling in the game. Unless you play every waking moment in BF4 (and maybe you should — if you aren’t married and have kids), you won’t be maxing out too quickly. Is that a bad thing? No. It extends the gameplay on the MP side of BF4 a bit, which is what you want form your MP experience.
So, in the end, is this game fun? Hell yes it is. It is certainly one of the best efforts to come out of the DICE camp in a while. It’s a more balanced game than the last title. While the campaign mode is much stronger in BF4 in comparison to BF3, it’s still not quite the equal experience as the multiplayer campaign. Of course, in this day and age, most fans of the series aren’t looking for a mind-blowing single player experience to begin with, unless you’re old like me, so everyone should feel a bit more comfortable with this entire package. You’ll get about 6-10 hours of gameplay from the campaign (which is typical) and an endless amount of fun from the MP experience.
Onto the summary!