Release Date: Out Now
Players/Online features: 1, 2-24 online
It’s been two years since Battlefield 3's release and nearly thirty minutes of installing the game's inconspicuously marked discs '1' and '2' to my hard drive. Battlefield 4 is now ready to be played, but what's this? Both discs need installing again?
This had better be good…
Unfortunately, the tone had already been set. I was willing to forgive some minor annoyances provided that the game was good, but no. My first attempt to play BF4's campaign mode resulted in the game freezing at the very first loading screen, forcing me to restart my system.
Did I mention that there's also a glitch that regularly deletes a player's saved progress? On moderate difficulty, Battlefield 4’s solo campaign can be completed within four hours provided that you don't run into the freezing and game-save bug. There are other issues, namely terrible A.I., inconsistent collision-detection (think invisible bullet-proof edges to environmental objects and cover) and strange audio/visual glitches throughout. It isn't all bad, but for every example of decent pacing and voice acting, there's a laughable or cringe-inducing moment to counter it and ruin the immersion.
the online multiplayer experience is brilliant—when it works.
Fans of the previous Battlefield instalment might also bemoan the lack of signature vehicle-based campaign levels, and the absence of any cooperative play. Determined and very patient gamers will of course get some enjoyment out of the story, because when it works it can look, sound, and feel intimidatingly beautiful; but for the casual gamer who doesn't venture online much there is very little here to recommend.
Veteran Battlefield players are no doubt stroking their chins at the moment, grateful for this extra barrier to casual gamers. Battlefield has always, always been about the online multiplayer experience, and the online multiplayer experience is brilliant—when it works.
There are ten maps and seven game modes on the disc, with more to be added later as optional extras. Conquest and Rush game-modes are the staple diet of most Battlefield players, and typically take place on expansive vehicle-laden maps with twelve players aside. Team Deathmatch and its variants take place in walled-off sections of the larger maps, providing faster, more accessible games. Modes similar to Battlefield's arch-nemesis Call of Duty seem to be creeping in; those of you who have played Search & Destroy might find Battlefield's 'Defuse' mode familiar, and the also new 'Obliteration' mode feels very much like the child of Capture the Flag and Headquarters.
Returning to the series is 'Commander Mode' which adds another tactical layer to online matches. A 13th player can now join each side and manage their teams via a top-down overview interface, allowing them to promote individuals and squads, manage and deploy assets like cruise missiles, Predator drones, and vehicle deliveries. Interestingly, Commander Mode is also available as an app for Android and Apple touch-screen devices allowing Commanders to command not just from their sofas, but from their bathrooms too! You can even be a Commander while posing in Starbucks, provided they haven't already banned you for downloading filth over their WIFI.
Commander mode isn't for everybody. Most players when quizzed will likely label it boring compared to regular Battlefield gameplay, yet it does have some appeal for those who like to be anal about tactics, or prefer a less confrontational approach to war games.
Team play is very important in Battlefield, to the point where lone-wolf style play is actively discouraged. Many new players are undoubtedly put off by the difficulty curve and the dependency on team mates, and all the historic criticisms aimed at Battlefield remain true. It is still quite possible for a player to spawn hundreds of metres from an objective, not see a single soul during the time travelling there only to be murdered instantly by a highly-ranked squad of communicating players. However, with patience and willingness to communicate with strangers (a large group of online friends all occupying the same server cures this) Battlefield's gameplay is unmatched in terms of chaos, excitement, and the feeling of hard-earned victory when your group of friends turn a battle and win.
Another notable but much-appreciated addition to Battlefield 4 is the new offline Test Range which allows players to fiddle with settings, experiment with weapon and vehicle load-outs, and operate each of the different vehicle classes without making a tool of oneself in the wild. Resembling a smaller version of Paracel Storm, one of Battlefield 4's more popular maps, the Test Range gives you access to the full toy box of land, sea, and air assets, features a shooting range, and offers a variety of dumb targets and a collapsible building for the player to bludgeon their way through. New players are best advised to visit the Test Range immediately, if only to calibrate one's controller and wrap their heads around the initially confusing deployment and customisation menus.
Joining a game with friends is now maddeningly difficult…
If we're going to be critical we could complain about the absence of A.I. bots to murder in the place of real online players, but given DiCE's history of less than exemplary A.I. programming we might instead prefer the solitude offered by the Test Range, and just be grateful that this frequently requested feature has finally been incorporated into the series at all.
Frostbite-enabled destruction has returned, this time called Levolution. Like previous Battlefield games, said destruction is inconsistent; certain buildings can be levelled completely, and certain objects are curiously impervious to all kinds of ordinance. While inconsistent, it does allow the maps to be remodelled to a certain extent; access points can be blocked and new routes through a map can be opened up with the blunt use of explosives or heavy armour. Each map now features a player-triggered Levolution event, such as a skyscraper collapsing or a dam breaking and flooding the lower levels of the play area. Some maps now feature weather and changing environmental conditions, but for the most part Levolution isn't quite the profound game-changing experience that the developers had hoped for. At best, exploiting Levolution is cool the first time you see it, at worst, Levolution over-works the ageing hardware and literally breaks the game. Certain events cause such a dramatic drop in frame rate that the game becomes unplayable.
Hit-detection in online matches is also a contentious issue. Sometimes your shots are true, but most of the time lag is a problem. If a single player with a bad connection joins a server, enemies can become invincible, and their bullets can follow you quite convincingly round corners. Sometimes the sound can entirely cut out, and spawning into a vehicle at the start of the round is eerily silent for the first 30 seconds. Just like in real life.
In an ideal world without evil publishers and tight release schedules, Battlefield 4 might have earned itself a much higher review score. Unfortunately, even a month after the game's retail release the vast majority of problems have yet to be addressed. While Battlefield 4 honestly offers some of the best FPS gameplay and online 'moments' available on any platform, it would be somewhat irresponsible to encourage readers to purchase what remains at the time of publishing, a very broken and shockingly rushed game.
- Playing with friends.
- Driving armored vehicles and flying planes and helicopters into battle online.
- Audio and visuals are stunning in places.
- Superb character models and animation.
- The Test Range.
- Lack of optimisation for Xbox 360.
- Frequent bugs and crashes.
- Inconsistent quality of online matches.
- Short solo campaign and no co-op missions.