As I prepared to sit down with Battlefield 4 for the first time, I had an epiphany. My normal routine when reviewing a game involves powering through the campaign, then jumping into multiplayer. Installing the disc has become a ritual. With BF4 these discs aren’t labeled, so I assumed the first disc contained the single player portion. I was surprised when I discovered that it in fact was not. This is the story of BF4. DICE and EA clearly wanted the main focus to be on the game’s multiplayer, and for good reason. This series continues to hang its hat on its amazing multiplayer.
That doesn’t mean strides haven’t been made in the campaign, quite the opposite. The traditional action-fest plays out much like I expected with stealth segments, tons of explosions and angry soldiers screaming at enemies. This is Battlefield, and the new Frostbite 3 engine allows for more explosions and destruction than the series has ever seen.
Once again there is a story being told here; and once again I can only vaguely remember most of it. The characters are forgettable, and the only one that sticks out is Irish, but that is most likely due to the fact that he is played by Michael K. Williams from The Wire. I half-expected him to pull out a shotgun and hear soldiers yelling “Omar is coming!”, or better yet, hear his trademark whistling. Everything else here is par for the course. Soldiers will die, profanity will be spouted and drama is constantly attempted…and failed. When the credits rolled my only thought was that it was finally time to dig into the multiplayer.
This is where Battlefield shines. The massive online experience is once again where players should spend the bulk of their time. The current gen version does have a few setbacks though that make it difficult to recommend it over its PC and next-gen counterparts.
The first is the player count and scaling. The 360 and PS3 versions of the game only support 24 players. While this sounds like a lot, take into consideration that BF4 was designed for 64 players. The PC, Xbox One and PS4 versions all support this count, and the maps were designed with this in mind. What that means for current gen is that maps have been scaled down. Control points have been reduced from five to three, and everything has to compensate for these changes.
Even with these setbacks though, the online is amazing. The inclusion of destructible environments including massive buildings paves the way for some truly memorable combat. Some maps will also feature insane conditions such as flooded areas and even natural disasters such as a typhoon. Being in the midst of it all is incredibly satisfying and makes for unique combat encounters each time. Even when I was losing, I was in awe of what was transpiring on the battlefield.
Map design is responsible for most of the enjoyment though. DICE has always excelled at designing enjoyable spaces for combat, and BF4 is no exception. The sheer size of some of these levels is impressive, especially considering most have been scaled down for 360/PS3. Transcending a level with a buddy on the back of an ATV is exhilarating, especially when a tank or chopper could mow me down at any second. Combing the canals of a flooded street or base jumping off buildings are just some of the highlights that stick out in my mind. Every match I played had some new experience that had me clamoring for the next session.
There are several modes to toy around with, but most are familiar. Conquest is, of course, the default mode, but the new Domination variant adds a more twitch feeling to the combat. Defuse involves players planting bombs while Commander mode focuses on one player determining strategies via a bird’s eye view. I found myself gravitating towards Conquest as per usual, but some of the tighter maps made for some intense deathmatch maps as well. It is nice to have variety. Commander mode was by far the most unique though. When matched with a good commander and a squad that works together is where BF4 shines the most.
The hardest question to answer about Battlefield 4 though is whether or not to wait. Those planning to pick up one of the new consoles (or even a new PC sometime soon) may be asking if it is worth investing. Thankfully, EA has made it a bit easier with the $10 upgrade program and offering to transfer stats. We haven’t seen how that works yet, so there is always a chance it will have issues.
On the graphics side, the current gen version can be rough in patches. The 2GB texture pack on 360 helps, but this game still showcases some nasty glitches, and in the online mode, some downright horrendous textures and visuals. This is a textbook example of why we need new machines. These eight -year old consoles are finally unable to handle what games can really look like. Still if players only own current gen and aren’t planning to upgrade, this is still a solid game, and the online is just addictive as it has always been.
Battlefield 4 is a solid entry in the series. The campaign is better, but still feels like a massive (and explosive) tutorial. The online is still the best in the business for me. I don’t have the moments and memories in other games that I get from the Battlefield series. It keeps me playing for months, and I cannot wait to get my hands on the next generation versions. This is my pick for multiplayer shooter this year, and fans should not hesitate to jump in as well.
Review copy of game provided by publisher. Primary play on Xbox 360.