In one last push for the current generation, Battlefield 4 treads new ground and finds (mostly) success.
Here we are, waiting for the next generation of consoles to come into our hands, or at the very least, discuss the many topics that can be started over them. And if Battlefield 4 is anything to go by, I can say the timing for a new generation couldn’t be better.
To kick off, I’m picking arguably the most improved aspect of Battlefield 4: the campaign. Believe it or not, this 7 hour long trip is more than just a very good tutorial mode for the franchise’s main subject, multiplayer. DICE looks like they learned from Battlefield 3′s mistakes, and proceeded to fix them with the sequel, or at least tried to. Enter Tombstone Squad, what starts as a 4-man team of Marines on a top priority mission that goes awry. I appreciated the new direction the story took; unlike Battlefield 3, I can say this time it felt like being a soldier and not just a spectator that happens to hold a gun. You’ll visit many different locales, from the intimidating city of Shanghai to a huge warship, and from prison slums to a snowy mountain. Every level is connected, making the story feel like a chain, something Battlefield 3′s campaign structure failed to achieve. In general, you’ll encounter everything (hence “perfect training for multiplayer”): you’ll drive a tank, a boat and you can play around with a ton of weapons and attachments. Speaking of which, a new game-changing feature (for the campaign) is the inclusion of weapon crates across the map. Interacting with them lets you change your loadout completely; two weapons, and two equipment pieces. For example, for the biggest part of the campaign’s length, I rolled around with a carbine or assault rifle, a sniper rifle or a shotgun, and whatever equipment the mission asked for: from rocket launchers to C4.
What starts off as an interesting story for a military shooter with some twists, though, quickly stumbles on its own weight. After certain events, you’re appointed the leader of Tombstone Squad, and can order around your squad (which is very handy in enemy-heavy situations). But even then, you’ll encounter no shortage of “hey, open this door” while the supposed lower ranking members just sit on their asses and order around their leader. But at least, they’re not dead weight. Performing actions such as killing or ordering your squad for a kill and them successfully pulling it off awards you mission points. There’s three medals to be won through point accumulation for each mission, and they grant you new weapons for use in the campaign. Furthermore, you can search around the map for collectables, which unlock goodies like exclusive dog tags that can be used in multiplayer. I’m now wearing a Shakespeare dog tag alongside the Hellenic flag, which is titled “Good Play”. It’s almost as awful as my puns, so I loved it. Overall, it’s a very enjoyable rollercoaster ride, and serves its purpose well.
And with that said, we’re now getting to the meat of the Battlefield series: multiplayer. Ditching the unsuccessful co-op mode of Battlefield 3, you can only play competitively now in a slew of modes. A new, slicker and streamlined menu allows for easy and quick navigation, even in the server browser with its many filter options. Pick one of the seven modes, old and new, and start the battle. Whether you pick classics like Rush or Conquest, or new modes like Obliteration and Defuse, the fundamentals are the same. Battlefield always revolved around team play, so having the highest kill count can easily get you on the bottom of the scoreboard if no objective points were awarded. To spice up the formula, DICE introduces Levolution — as you might understand, this combines “level” and “evolution”. How does this translate into the game? In every map, there’s at least one building or point in the map where you can destroy it (given enough firepower) and completely change the course of the match. The most famous instance of Levolution hails from the beta map “Siege of Shanghai”, where the players can demolish a skyscraper that houses one of the objectives at its top. When it’s one with the ground, obviously the objective has become neutral again, and is in a completely different spot — adapt and you can win. This can completely alter the flow of a battle, and change the tides to your favor (or the enemy’s). Sadly, it’s not always as “wowtastic” in every map, and given the amount of time and firepower it needs, it’s a bit of a letdown when you don’t get something spectacular. Nevertheless, let’s not forget it’s debuting here, and DICE can further refine it in DLC maps and subsequent games based on feedback.
Another feature that debuts in Battlefield 4 are the Battlepacks. Earned through levelling up and through paying real money, they come in three tiers (Bronze, Silver, Gold) and unlock different stuff each; in the vein of Mass Effect 3. Having purchased the Deluxe Edition, I was entitled to three Gold packs, which unlocked camouflage patterns, attachments and dog tags, as well as timed XP boosts; nothing huge. If this is any indication of the nature of the unlocks, I don’t think they will prove to be harming the game’s delicate balance. After all, everyone has access to them through simply levelling, so “pay to win” claims hold no water anyway.
The other half of Battlefield’s multiplayer DNA is the class and progression system. Actions like suppressing the enemy or healing and providing ammo to your teammates earn you points, apart from FPS staples like killing and assisting kills. These work your XP bar up, and with each level (general soldier level or class-specific level), you earn new attachments, perks and weapons. It’s amazing how much stuff there is to combine in Battlefield 4; guns, multiple attachments, player skills, camouflage, dog tags — there’s no shortage of rewards in this progression system. The four classes — Assault, Engineer, Support and Recon — are very versatile and can accommodate various playstyles. For example, the Recon class is not limited to long range sniper rifles anymore, and can equip shorter range weapons to complement its gadgets, the stuff that defines each class. You can get up and close for recon using your Recon tools, and are no longer restricted to fighting with a sniper rifle against a shotgun, should the occasion arise. There’s also the fact that knife attacks from the front allow the opponent to counter-attack, whereas backstabs net you the usual dog tags as a reward. And speaking of guns, I will need some of your opinions: I believe the gun sounds are the most fantastic a Battlefield game has had so far, and might I say, some of the most impressive sounds in any FPS. Would you agree?
What defines Battlefield, though, is vehicular combat combined with infantry battles. In the course of one minute, you can literally fly a jet, jump off and parachute to the ground, ride an ATV, reach and swap it for a tank, and invade the enemy objective. It will bring some smiles to the faces of seasoned players to hear that aerial combat is now more balanced out. Given that each class has access to weapons that can, given enough effort and support, bring down a helicopter, spawn camping with a chopper is no longer viable unless your team hands down allows it. Refined controls allow for better control of vehicles and foot soldiers, and I can say I adopted DICE’s new control scheme and haven’t looked back since. Having the “Spot” ability set to the R2/RB, for example, allows for much fluider spotting as opposed to the old scheme where the button was set to “Select”, and wanted me to let go of the left analog stick. The new, more convenient scheme lets you pull off Battlefield classic crazy stunts better than ever before, chaining the actions that lead to parachuting through a window or dropping to the ground to deploy your bipod for quick suppression more easily.
The re-introduction of Commander Mode allows tablet users to jump in the battle and aid their teammates, should they prove effective enough, as it all depends on trust, relationships and team coordination. As a Commander, you can perform feats like sending in UAV’s, which can prove invaluable. How the Commander handles the flow of the battle from above earns or loses the trust of their teammates, and can allow them to kick the Commander off his seat. And as far as new modes go, Obliteration involves bringing a bomb to the enemy’s objectives and defending it until detonation, and repeating this step three times. Defuse is, basically, a 5 vs 5 Counter-Strike mode, where everyone has one life and attackers defend a bomb the defenders have to… Defuse. Domination is Conquest bar vehicles, which adds an interesting twist to the usual Battlefield formula, though for me, Battlefield means vehicles and infantry. Lastly, a Test Range is also in place, a much requested addition that allows you to experiment with weapons, attachments and vehicles without having your teammates pray to God when you try to fly a helicopter, for example. But still, from my experience so far, some people neglect it and proceed to learn how to do basic things like driving during ranked matches.
However, it’s not all rainbows and roses. New modes like Obliteration are not always at home in every map, since most of them feel like they’re designed around signature modes Conquest and Rush. Plus, it’s disappointing that current generation consoles can only handle 24 players at most and in some modes only, and thus the maps feel awkwardly big at times. Couple that with many graphical shortcomings and glitches, and the overall graphic quality, and you know that PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360′s age shows very much. By all means, though, Battlefield 4 is not an ugly game. But keeping in mind that PlayStation 4 and Xbox One can accomodate up 64 players max in the corresponding modes, you understand where the need to upgrade stems for. Aliasing is also an issue, with textures sometimes looking not much different than Battlefield 3′s, even though the Frostbite engine running Battlefield 4 is an upgrade.
So, summing up: the campaign is a step up from the previous game, but nothing spectacular, although still great training for the multiplayer part, which also includes a training mode for the first time. Maps and modes are great, old and new, but they don’t always match up so good. Tons of stuff to be earned through levelling up, and Battlepacks can make it easier for dedicated players. But technical shortcomings on the consoles’ side, while not breaking the experience, it doesn’t allow it to shine through.
Does this all mean the game is bad on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360? Hell no, it’s probably in the top three Battlefield games ever released, combining aspects from nearly every Battlefield game to date. But if you’re going for it, and want to get the most out of it, you might want to do so on a PC or next-gen. Keep in mind, upgrading your Battlefield 4 game from a PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One version (respectively) will cost you $10, so you can just as well buy it for your current-gen console and upgrade once you get your hands on the next-gen console of the same family. And if you like shooting games in general or just Battlefield, you will want to play this series’ love letter sooner or later.
Deluxe Edition: Buying the bigger Battlefield 4 edition will net you access to the China Rising expansion pack that will release soon, three Gold Battlepacks, and a neat steelbook. For just $10 more, if you’re not the type of gamer that spends tons of money on games each week like I am, I can’t see why you wouldn’t want to go for it. If you’re lucky, you might even get some good stuff through the three Battlepacks.