Chinese Admiral Chang seeks to overthrow the Chinese government and, with the support of Russia, start a war with the U.S., all by pinning the apparent assassination of Jin Jie – China’s leading presidential candidate and voice of peace – squarely on the shoulders of the Americans. As a member of the U.S. special operations squad codenamed “Tombstone,” you’re tasked with stopping Chang, revealing the truth, and preventing the impending war. This is Battlefield 4.
I want to preface this review by stating that I played the current-gen version of Battlefield 4 – specifically on PlayStation 3. If you own a high-end PC or plan to be an early adopter of a next-gen console, there’s no reason why you should even consider purchasing the current-gen version of the game. An increase in visual fidelity, better performance and multiplayer support for up to 64 players are upgrades that simply can’t be ignored. We plan to review the next-gen version of Battlefield 4 in the near future, but until then I can only critique the current-gen version and my final score will reflect that.
Unfortunately, the single player campaign isn’t very good. The story is predictable, there isn’t a likeable character in the bunch, and the dialogue is poorly written. Despite some spectacular set pieces and a few “wow” moments, the gameplay is generic. The campaign fails to immerse, is too heavily scripted for its own good, presents frustrating AI behavior, and surprisingly doesn’t take enough advantage of the series’ strong suit: the vehicles. It’s also full of bugs and glitches, though in its defense the PS3 is clearly being brought to its knees by the truly impressive Frostbite 3 engine.
There are also some odd design decisions. As you complete each of the campaign’s seven missions, you’ll earn bronze, silver or gold awards based on the number of points you obtained. You accumulate points by dispatching enemies and destroying vehicles, and you’ll earn special bonuses for headshots, multi-kills, melee, etc. Here’s the kicker: if you kill an enemy it’s worth 100 base points, but if your squad mate kills an enemy it’s only worth 50 points. In other words, the scoring system actually discourages players from using their squad.
I could go on about how one of your squad mates is seemingly killed at one point in the story only to reappear towards the end with the flimsiest of explanations, or how forced the final scene feels (seriously, a 5-hour campaign isn’t long enough to become attached to any of the characters and besides, why can’t you let me be a man and do the job myself?). The bottom line is, with the exception of the original Bad Company, the Battlefield franchise has always been a little behind the 8-ball when it comes to the single player experience. If anything, it’s a warm-up for the main event. After all, there’s a reason multiplayer is the first option at the Main Menu screen.
From close-quarters combat to large-scale warfare, Battlefield 4’s multiplayer offers something for everyone. Classic multiplayer modes that return include Conquest, Rush and Squad/Team Deathmatch. Domination, which debuted in Battlefield 3’s Close Quarters expansion, joins the roster again along with a pair of rookies: Obliteration and Defuse. Obliteration offers medium-scale warfare where teams fight over possession of a bomb that they need to detonate at the enemy objectives, while Defuse is an infantry-only affair in which an attacking team must deliver a bomb to one of two bomb sites on the map. There are no respawns in Defuse so teamwork is paramount to success in these lightning-quick rounds. All of these modes are playable on Battlefield 4’s ten new multiplayer maps, each of which scale appropriately.
Also returning in Battlefield 4 are the four soldier classics: Assault, Engineer, Support and Recon. In addition to their class-specific weapons, each class can use any of the Carbines, Shotguns and Designated Marksman Rifles that they’ve unlocked, allowing players, for example, to carry a Recon Kit (the motion sensors from Battlefield: Bad Company are back!) and not just be confined to a sniper rifle and handgun. It’s a welcome change that lifts some of the class restrictions and opens the door to new play styles.
Environmental destruction has become one of the hallmarks of the Battlefield franchise and Battlefield 4 is no exception, offering greater destructibility across the board, but what has to be the most talked about new multiplayer feature is what DICE has come to coin “Levolution,” player-triggered events of a much grander scale that dramatically affect the battlefield. For example, in “Rogue Transmission,” players can destroy cables holding a satellite dish up, causing it to crash down, or in “Flood Zone,” players can use explosives to break a levee, causing the area to flood with water.
While it might sound like a gimmick, these events are a sight to behold if you get the chance to witness them. Problem is, unless you’re the one causing the event, you’ll often miss them entirely and only see the end result. And while most of these Levolution moments do change the landscape and affect player strategy, it’s not always for the better. Take the aforementioned “Flood Zone” map. When the levee breaks, the water level rises by an entire story, rendering land vehicles useless and replacing them with boats. Unless you’re on high ground at the time, it means you’ll have to do a lot of swimming to get around and that can be a bit of a pain. Still, more often than not I was impressed not only by the events themselves, but how they affected the match from that point onward. It’s one of those things, as the game’s tagline proudly states, is only in Battlefield 4.
Other notable new multiplayer features include an increase in squad capacity from four players to five. Players can enter a range to test out recently unlocked equipment or learn to pilot one of the many vehicles in the game without worrying about others. As you might have guessed, sea-based vehicles and water-based combat make their debut in Battlefield 4. There’s a bit of a cover mechanic that allows you to peek over objects or lean around corners, which definitely comes into play more during close quarters infantry combat. There’s a new counter-knife gameplay mechanic that gives players a chance to counter a knife attack from the front with a timed button press. A Spectator Mode grants players the opportunity to simply watch a match unfold from a number of different camera angles. Last but not least is Commander Mode. First introduced in Battlefield 1943, Commander Mode allows one player from each team to take command of said team. Commanders are given a top-down view of the battlefield and, in real-time strategy style, can give their team a boost in a variety of ways, such as providing them with supply drops, sending in UAVs to spot enemy positions, or by going on the offensive and calling in air strikes. It’s an intriguing feature but to be honest, the few times that I played as commander, I found it to be a little boring.
Every action performed in a multiplayer match earns you points, including kills, assists and re-supplies. Even so much as a squad member respawning on you will earn you points. The more points you score, the faster you’ll move up the ranks (100 in total), and as you move up the ranks you gain access to new weapons and gadgets. In an interesting dynamic, as you reach specific milestones you’ll unlock Battlepacks that contain random combinations – anything from new weapons, knives and mods, to camo, dog tags and XP boosts. The one downside to Battlefield 4’s progression system is that unless you get lucky with a Battlepack, it can take quite awhile to unlock your favorite weapon as leveling up can be a bit of a grind.
As much fun as Battlefield 4 multiplayer is, the experience isn’t without a few technical issues and shortcomings. The Server Browser feature isn’t working out of the gate. Every time I’ve tried to use it, none of the listed servers were populated. Currently, Quick Match is the only way to enter a multiplayer game. The current-gen version of Battlefield 4 supports multiplayer for up to 24 players, which is fine for most game modes, but some of the larger-scale maps in Conquest mode can feel a little barren even with a packed room. With only 12 players per side, capturing and defending four to five objectives is a near impossible juggling act. There are more points to be earned capturing an objective than defending it, which is why so few players bother to play defense. Perhaps that’ll be addressed in a future patch, as will hopefully the crashes I’ve experienced a few times during multiplayer matches. Last but not least, since most PlayStation 3 gamers don’t own a headset, you’ll be lucky to find one or two players on your team even capable of communicating. Considering how important teamwork is in multiplayer, this is a fairly big strike against the PS3 version.
Battlefield 4 is one of the best looking shooters on the PS3. Of course, the same could be said about Battlefield 3. Truth is, visually, Battlefield 4 isn’t a huge improvement over its predecessor, at least not on the current-gen consoles. There are breathtaking moments to be sure, but I’d argue Battlefield 4 performs worse than Battlefield 3. Texture pop-in is a regular occurrence, especially during the single-player campaign, and I encountered a number of bugs and glitches during my playthrough. Luckily, the game performs considerably better in multiplayer, where the graphical detail isn’t as high. That being said, the character models look great, the level of destruction is second to none, and the weather effects are spectacular. DICE has always impressed me with their sound design and Battlefield 4 is no exception. The voice acting is solid, even if the written dialogue isn’t, the soundtrack is sweeping, but the highlight for me has to be the sound effects. The weapon effects, in particular, are outstanding, providing an incredible sense of impact and depth. It’s amazing how they’re able to capture the echo of gunfire off in the distance. Vehicle effects are equally as powerful and with the debut of Levolution, the sounds of destruction have never been more devastating.
So there you have it, the current-gen version of Battlefield 4. To be honest, it’s not a huge leap forward over Battlefield 3. It looks slightly better but performs slightly worse. The Frostbite 3 engine is clearly bringing the current-gen consoles to its knees and making a strong case for the next generation of consoles. Luckily there’s no effect on the sound design, which is simply phenomenal. The single player campaign is underwhelming but still serviceable as a tune-up for the main event, multiplayer, which is incredibly fun and dynamic. Where else can you parachute off the roof of a high-rise building just as it starts to collapse, pull out a FIM-92 Stinger and take out a helicopter with an anti-aircraft missile before your feet even touch the ground? It’s incredible moments like these that you can find only in Battlefield 4.
Reviewed By: Stephen Riach
Publisher: Electronic Arts
This review is based on a retail copy of Battlefield 4 for the PlayStation 3 provided by Electronic Arts.