Battlefield 3 was the first video game by Swedish developer DICE built on the next-gen-ready Frostbite 2 engine. The game was praised for its visual prowess on high-end PCs more than anything else since the aging current-gen systems simply couldn’t support all of the same features, and it quickly became the fastest-selling game for Electronic Arts and one of the top-selling games of 2011 worldwide.
It wasn’t long before Battlefield 4 was was made official and it’s been fast-tracked for release just in time for the next-gen consoles and its head-to-head battle with Call of Duty. Unfortunately for the Battlefield faithful, its release is perhaps a little too fast.
Judging by our own experiences and the official forums, BF4 isn’t quite ready for release and much like its predecessor in Battlefield 3, its launch has been met with a wide variety of bugs, from the usual in-game exploits to game-crashing errors in both the game’s single-player campaign and multiplayer modes. When functioning, Battlefield 4 is mostly a return to form for the series on the multiplayer front, fleshing out the core gameplay mechanics with some animation improvements (players still magically teleport inside vehicles though) and increased control of weapon aiming, coupled with enhanced visual effects and user interfaces. But it’s not quite enough, at least just yet.
While the Battlefield series is known for its multiplayer offerings, Electronic Arts sees the value in strong singleplayer campaigns and with Battlefield 4, DICE set out to craft a story that’s more engaging with characters who matter, who are memorable and relatable. This is something EA hasn’t been able to do with its modern-set shooters, but they mostly succeed with Battlefield 4′s five-hour campaign. The story is chock full of over-the-top scenarios, melodramatic moments and insane action sequences, emphasizing a push away from the “authenticity” EA tried to push with Medal of Honor, but the the narrow path that the game forces players down is thrilling, if sometimes generic and predictable.
The fast-paced story takes players through a wide variety of environments, from snowy mountains to an open desert outside a city, sprinkled with a few obligatory vehicle sequences. The campaign serves more as a showcase of the visual fidelity of the Frostbite 3 engine with the most significant change coming from the in-game rewards system which, like in multiplayer, has players earning points for kills, headshots, etc. and completing assignments. There’s a progression system in place that controls how players unlock BF4’s arsenal in single-player (in addition to picking up enemy weapons). The points and unlocks however, do not carry over to multiplayer which hurts the campaign’s replayability.
Battlefield 4 takes a step forward on its campaign, but takes a few steps back in other areas and leaves much to be desired. Instead of improving the six-mission co-op mode of Battlefield 3, DICE dropped it entirely. AI-controlled bots are still sadly absent as well, even in the game’s Test Range mode, despite them being a key component of the earliest games in the series, so messing around with friends is not an option without the risk of losing a multiplayer match for other players.
So, it’s again all about the player vs. player game which will be very familiar to Battlefield veterans, and features most of the same modes the franchise is known for. Conquest and Rush are the flagship modes and are best appreciated with 64 players, something the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions cannot support. The infantry-focused deathmatch and domination modes also return, joined by two new modes in Obliteration and Diffuse, both involving carrying a bomb to an objective. There are no vehicle-focused modes or unique-challenge modes like Battlefield 3’s Gun Master but we expect to see some of that in DLC expansions.
The game ships with 10 maps offering a variety of tight urban environments, open outdoor areas, and islands but with slightly more emphasis put on naval combat and verticality. The launch maps seemingly favor snipers and vehicles, at least currently with the playerbase still in their early levels of progression. A big marketing point for Battlefield 4 however, is its even more dynamic environments and the “Levolution” feature that sees a unique event occurring in each of the maps. Some are epic and change the battlefield dynamic significantly while others are little more than gimmicks, but a changing landscape is an interesting one and generally, the map-changing events are exciting and pretty to watch – notably the warship crashing into land when the tropical storms kick up in the Paracel Storm map, providing players with a trademark “only in Battlefield” moment.
As for the units on the maps, Battlefield 4 serves up a similar set of weapons, mods and vehicles as its predecessor, with the same four playable classes. All four kits have access to carbines in addition to the marksman rifles and shotguns once unlocked, so players have a lot of control over their builds, and can essentially take advantage of any class’ unique gadgets and abilities with almost any type of weapon. Much of that comes down to the time players put into the game. Like BF3, there are a ton of unlocks and every weapon has its own progression tree for acquiring weapon attachments since they painfully cannot be moved from one weapon to another, meaning every unlocked weapon is a new grind for attachments. Configuring loadouts takes more time (more clicks) but the interface has been improved to offer more weapon details and to allow players to click on the map to choose where they spawn. BF4 also introduces an easy-to-use second screen function where players can view the map from a browser window on a second monitor, laptop or tablet. It’s a smart and welcome feature.
While having more of a shared inventory system like EA’s Mass Effect 3 multiplayer is sadly not the case in Battlefield 4, the game does embrace one key feature from its sci-fi brethren in its new Battlepacks system. Battlefield 4 awards player with unlocks along a predefined path, not letting players select what they want to unlock, but the Battlepacks reward players with a random set of items, from weapons, knives and mods, to weapon paints, experience boosts and gadgets. Battlepacks are rewarded for hitting certain experience milestones with their player and and weapon levels and add a fun dynamic to the progression system.
The progression is further enhanced by Field Upgrades which begin with players leveling up a specific class enough to unlock a set of Field Upgrades which ideally encourage and reward teamwork with stat boosts during a match. It’s a little complicated but once players reach high enough levels and when there are commanders and squad leaders issuing orders, the ability to dig deeper into a specific role will make them that much better at doing their job, whether it be being a super medic or that ninja sniper.
On its surface, Battlefield 4 is essentially more of Battlefield 3 but without its DLC maps and modes. It brings back Commander Mode from the Battlefield 2 & 2142 and more destruction elements from Bad Company 2, but it’s missing co-op and bots from previous entries. The commanders being useful, much like playing a large round of Conquest mode, is heavily dependent on teamwork and communication. At this early stage of the game, it’s not very common, partly due to the lower level players at launch, partly due to the profanity-laden in-game chat which takes some of enjoyment out of playing online. But when everyone’s on their game, seeing ammo and weapon drops land in front of you after securing an outpost, coupled with well-timed scans of enemy locations, help make BF4 the most immersive game in the series to date.
Then of course, there are the bugs. Searching for standard hardcore mode (which drops the HUD indicators and makes bullets a lot more damaging) doesn’t quite work as intended at the moment because of the way maps are classified and trying to get into servers that are near full can be frustrating since there’s currently no way to queue in for an available spot. These are just examples of why the game and the Battlelog system are lacking polish and we expect regular updates to rectify these issues quickly. The bigger issue is the game crashing. It began for us two hours into the campaign, and crashed at least another dozen times in trying to complete it. We even had to replay a mission from the beginning to move past an error and in multiplayer, similar game crashes are apparent. DICE is aware of the issues and are working on fixes.
With more maps that support more playstyles, more modes, and necessary bug fixes, Battlefield 4 – like its predecessor – will go from good to great. At the moment, it doesn’t do as much for players as Battlefield 3 does with its current set of offerings but it’s only going to get bigger and better as time goes on.
Battlefield 4 is now available for PC, PS3 & Xbox 360 platforms. PlayStation 4 & Xbox One iterations will launch just prior to their respective consoles. Game Rant reviewed the PC version of the game.
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