Battlefield 4 Review – A Frustrating FPS Masterpiece
Battlefield has long been one of the best military FPS games on the market. Ever since the days of 1942, Battlefield has made a name for itself with large maps, lots of players, and an great mix of infantry and vehicular combat unlike any other game on the market. As time has moved along, the series hasn’t had to do a whole lot of evolution outside of changing the theme and adding more weapons and vehicles to use. Eventually, developer DICE pushed the evolution to be an advanced physics driven game engine (in Frostbite 3) that would increase the environmental destructibility. Pushing the current gen consoles to the limit and slightly leveling the console to PC playing field, Battlefield 4 is a stunning Porterhouse steak of a game that is best served with a heap of patience.
Developed by DICE
Published by Electronic Arts
Platforms: PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Windows, Xbox 360, Xbox One [reviewed]
Released on 10-29-2013 (PS3, 360, Windows), 11-15-2013 (PS4), 11-22-2013 (X1)
With the days of Battlefield 3 behind us, Battlefield 4 looks to advance the franchise with massively destructive buildings and large maps filled with bunches of soldiers (up to 64 people on the PC, PS4, and Xbox One versions). DICE has managed to seemingly speed up the combat which always seemed to slug behind the speeds of the Call of Duty franchise. Now, soldiers rush and vault over structures and rubble at a pace that makes close encounter combat surprisingly more frantic. Once you tinker around with the thumbstick sensitivity a bit as well as the control scheme for various vehicles, moving around and aiming at your targets is a somewhat improved experience that may or may not actually be faster than CoD.
As with past iterations of Battlefield, the experience is tactical struggle the hinges on how well you work with your squad mates. Unlike CoD, Battlefield VIPs are one of two types of soldiers. Either you are an expert (at assault AND countermeasures) driver/pilot or your are adept at achieving objectives. This means takings flags in Conquest, blowing up stations (or defending them) in Rush, accepting, following, and giving orders to fellow squad mates, and just all around doing more than simply racking up a lot of kills. Battlefield’s point structure rewards teamwork and following orders rather than being Quickdraw McGraw. Using the command rose to call out enemy soldiers and vehicles to your teammates is key as these large maps can hide teams of snipers and foes for a time.
One of the key new features in Battlefield 4 that returns from Battlefield 2 is the Commander Mode. Here, you are tasked with leading ALL of your teammates into battle by manning a satellite fed viewpoint of the map filled with icons representing all capture points, all teammates and vehicles, and any identified enemy soldier or vehicle that squads have encountered. The commander’s role is to use strategy and his limited resources to plan out the battle and provide information to the squad leaders of your team. By highlighting and ordering squads to attack or defend certain points, you earn points as they obey your orders. You can also launch a cruise missile attack, launch an AC130 support plane to circle a specified area, deploy a UAV or EMP, drop a supply crate with ammunition and the ability to change classes on the battlefield without dying, as well as a few other orders. One of particular note is the ‘squad promotion’ feature. Here, the commander can directly enhance a squad’s abilities up to 4 times according to each soldier’s equipped ‘specialization path’. These paths are unlocked through progression (and Battlepacks) and provide different enhancements like +10% running speed, taking 10% less explosive damage, or decreases the time that you stay spotted by an enemy. Little bonuses like these can make all the difference and only the commander can activate them. This is a difficult and involved way of playing the game which takes time and practice to master. Those players more drawn to strategy and tactics will certainly gravitate to this mode of play just as often as playing as the field grunts. There is even an app that allows you to play this commander mode on your tablet.
Playing BF4 on the Xbox One is a beautiful and sonically dynamic experience. As with BF3, the sound design pulls you in with deafening explosions and sound effects that always make you feel as if you’re really in the midst of frantic combat. Background noise of gunfights across the map can be heard as well as the sounds of vehicles squaring off against each other. There is even the sound of teammates calling out orders and events as they happen in-game. At times, on the Xbox One, the background noise is filled with nonsensical conversations and such from teammates who’ve forgotten that their Kinect’s default setting is to have the microphone on listening to the room. Still, this is a minor annoyance.
Speaking of Kinect, the voice commands used to expedite the command rose work beautifully. No need to say “Xbox” beforehand of course. Once done, the feature allows your soldier to request assistance from the commander, issue requests to nearby soldiers, as well as the other commands on the rose.
Another improvement that is seemingly insignificant but helps a lot is at the spawn screen. There, the helmet cam of the squad mate that you have selected to respawn on is shown so that you can see if they are in a firefight or if they are safely hiding. This allows you to avoid spawning on a squad mate and then unsuspectingly finding yourself in a gun battle that you were not prepared for.
The real question is how does all of this play out in comparison to BF3. As stated before, the speed of all around you feels a tick quicker than the 360 version of BF3. Still, the locomotion about the rubble and obstacles still has that glitchy nature to it. While you can climb, swim, vault and sprint your way through the action, you’ll still find yourself getting stuck trying to run over small clumps of rubble that you wouldn’t think you’d have to vault over or not being able to climb ledges that seem to be a head level. There will also be times when shooting through objects doesn’t seem to work like it should. For instance, I was standing behind a grated staircase watching my foe creep around in the darkness looking for me. As he did so, I lined my sight up to shoot in between two steps and found every bullet ricocheting off of some unseen barrier as if the staircase was a completely solid structure. Other glitches as well as server availability and stability are problematic as well. DICE continues to work hard at delivering patches for the various platforms but frustrations throughout the Battlefield community continue to mount.
Still, when Battlefield is working and your squad is humming along and the points are flowing, Battlefield is one of the most satisfying military FPS games ever made. It forces you to appreciate the skill of helicopter pilots and realistic sniping as landing on rooftops and getting head shots from the top of a skyscraper on a moving target. Battlefield throws you into a gorgeous Frostbite damage riddled war zone where cover is never safe for long and melee kills are ridiculously satisfying (rather than cheap).
Too bad this exhilaration is lost in the sauce when it comes to the single player experience. While the canned animation moments are a wonder to see and rumble-feel, the actual gunfights against the ridiculously dumb AI take away all sense of accomplishment from the campaign aside from unlocking a few extra guns for use in multiplayer. While the story is ok with decent voice acting, the action itself suffers from the woeful ‘oh-I’ve-seen-this-take-cover-animation-before’ syndrome. Between than and wondering how many times you have to make a head shot to take down enemies, the single player mode can even become burdensome at times. This is only redeemed by the occasional vehicular combat you are allowed to partake in.
DICE and Electronic Arts have managed to take on the challenge of making the console experience as close to the PC experience as possible and they seem to have hit that mark. Unfortunately, that achievement has been marred by the host of glitches and server stability issues that also plagued the early months of the Battlefield 3 launch. At least this go around, when the game plays well, it is a pleasurable sight to behold that no other console to PC franchise can match to date.
4 out of 5