"There is nothing... nothing... half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”
Ratty had it right. As did The Lonely Island. Naval combat is awesome, so we're delighted that Battlefield 4's selection of RHIBs, jetskis and attack boats finally have their chance to shine courtesy of the latest DLC. Aptly named Naval Strike, this new map pack contains four enormous waterlogged maps balanced for ship-to-ship combat, while infantry scurry to secure their objectives and aircraft hunt down their quarry on the high seas. As the cherry on the cake, we have a new game mode in Carrier Assault, which gives Battlefield 2142's beloved Titan gametype a wet and wild makeover. Forget tanks and heavy armour, because we're all about hovercraft and hidden Megalodons now.
Available as part of the Battlefield Premium service, Naval Strike certainly seems to be a breath of sea air, which we've now tested thoroughly enough to deliver our comprehensive verdict - from the new maps to the gear and gametypes. And then we'll finish up by having another rant about Battlefield 4's crappy netcode.
Wave Breaker is by far the strongest and most interesting of the new maps. An expansive network of small islands, naval approaches and airborne opportunities are clustered around a massive underground submarine pen: a nervy combination of long sight lines, balconies, gantries and tight corridors for well-organised squads to assault. Attack boats and RHIBs can breach the perimeter unless infantry raise flood barriers, while the drydocked submarine can be collapsed with devastating results if it sustains enough damage. Given the mix of massively open boat combat, helicopter shenanigans and brutal point-blank ground pounding, it's really rather special indeed.
Operation Mortar goes all-out on gimmicks, a risky strategy, but one that pays off in spades. Control points are spread over a sprawling mass of low-lying islands with plenty of destructible huts to use as cover, overlooked by a fort atop a lofty hill. This towering landmark boasts mortar emplacements, perfect sniper roosts and even usable pirate cannons (no, really), making taking and holding it absolutely essential. Doing so is always a thrill since you're free to push up the side of the hill using rocks and potholes as cover, assault by air or scurry through a labyrinthine network of tunnels that riddle the mountain, while not forgetting to maintain naval superiority over the other capture points.
Lost Islands proves to be a more straightforward but no less enjoyable proposition. The wreckage of a downed passenger plane provides a focal point for infantry to hide from intense naval bombardment, around which an archipelago of interlinked islands encourage squads to remain mobile and flexible; using attack boats, RHIBs and hovercraft to quickly deploy to flashpoints. Battle lines dynamically ebb and flow around the map, helped by some imaginatively-designed control point locations. By far my favourite of which is an open cavern obscured by a waterfall, which can be breached via two side tunnels or by ramming a boat straight through the watery veil to surprise any defenders. Unless they're ready and waiting for you to do just that - or skulking on the hill above with a Javelin.
Finally we have Nansha Strike, which poses a unique problem in that I can't find anything remotely interesting to write about it. There's an island. And some water. Sometimes a storm happens. In theory I should be waxing lyrical about how the large central landmass promotes sweeping infantry actions, or that it features the largest amount of water in any Battlefield map ever released, but in practice Nansha strike is bland, forgettable and nondescript; bringing nothing remotely new or particularly noteworthy to the experience.
Well, apart from the Megalodon. Obviously.
Speaking of "least interesting," I personally feel that Naval strike has rather dropped the ball on the visual side of things. Battlefield 4 is still graphically impeccable, of course, but these four maps look overly similar to one another and lack distinctive unique features (the exception being Wave Breaker's gunmetal sub base and craggy islands - not to be confused with Father Ted).
On the whole, though, the mix of wide open ocean, inlets and indoor spaces do a fantastic job of making boats the star of the show while ensuring that infantry still earn their keep. Ragging around in a RHIB, hosing down soldiers and desperately fleeing from strafing runs, never gets old.
Carrier Assault is obviously the highlight and headline of the package, inspired by Battlefield 2142's Titan mode. It's effectively a cross between Conquest and Rush, or more accurately a game of Conquest that turns into a game of Rush partway through. Both teams deploy on their carriers, rushing to secure control zones that activate cruise missile emplacements that automatically pound the enemy carrier at regular intervals. When enough damage is dealt, the enemy carrier can be breached and spawned atop, allowing attackers to push through the hangars and set up explosives in the engine room.
I was initially concerned that the team who took an early advantage would always win, but every match I've played came down to the wire, often as the losing team cunningly launched offensives against the control zones while leaving enough defenders to lock down choke points. It's a well-paced and unpredictable gametype, well worth the price of admission for Battlefield 4 fans, even if a few niggling issues need to be ironed out. Automatic doors often don't open properly, but nothing particularly major.
Seeing as Carrier Assault works so well, it's unsurprising that Conquest is a perfect fit for Naval Strike's four maps, with one important caveat. The sheer size of these stages and the vast expanses of water means that they can feel empty without a full complement of 64 players, while lone wolves without a squad can easily find themselves marooned kilometers away from the action and without transport; forced to swim for an eternity to get back to civilization. Though this is a no-brainer for any big-team multiplayer game, be aware that it's best enjoyed with friends and VOIP.
Smaller gametypes are also supported, using the maps' focal points as obvious arenas. Whether bickering over the sub pen or within a carrier, these intimate environments are great fun to fight in, along with Operation Mortar's more open and elevated scenery. The only exception is Nansha Strike, which plays host a deeply uninteresting tract of flat land that's best avoided.
A modest selection of new guns and gadgets make an appearance in Naval Strike. As far as boomsticks are concerned, SMG-focused engineers will likely get a kick out of the exceptionally accurate SR-2 PDW, whereas the Assault class' new Beretta ARX-160 is stable and accurate thanks to its slow fire rate. Sadly the cumbersome SR-338 semi-automatic rifle, SW40 revolver and triple-firing M320GL grenade launcher don't make much of an impact nor add much to the game, beyond some new assignments for completionists.
I'm still not entirely sold on the AA Mine. This new Engineer gadget acts as a helicopter deterrent: a one-shot SAM launcher that automatically tracks and shoots at enemy Helos. Though nowhere near as effective as a seasoned player with a Stinger or IGLA (it takes up the rocket launcher slot), its long-term ramifications for aircraft balance remains to be seen. Since Naval Strike is all about boats, mind, I'm content for now.
These new toys are overshadowed by the hovercraft: a highly mobile two-man infantry vehicle that's equally capable on land or on water. Though a tempting Javelin target, they're manoeuvrable enough to get into -- or out of -- trouble very quickly.
I do feel that Naval Strike missed an opportunity to add more boat weapons and upgrades, however, not to mention perhaps adding some more ships! A much larger and slower assault vessel could have provided a neat change of pace. We'll never know, sadly.
Sins Of The Father
Here we go again.
We love Battlefield 4. Or, at least, we desperately want to love Battlefield 4. It's an unequivocally superb multiplayer game, one of the very best on the market right now, but there's no way we can wholeheartedly recommend it. A thousand little annoyances are primed and ready to spoil your day even though the big picture has improved since launch.
During my time with Naval Strike, I experienced several kit resets, numerous issues of rubber-banding, weird lag spikes and servers that seemed to implode between rounds; haemorrhaging dozens of players in the process. The netcode still isn't fit for task, evidenced by hit markers often pointing in totally erroneous directions, live squad members registered as dead when they're in vehicles, and hit detection that always feels slightly off. Naval Strike doesn't add any new issues of its own -- at least, it did, but they appear to have been fixed -- yet I'm going to have to punish it regardless.
- Refreshing naval combat that doesn't sideline infantry
- Three brilliant new maps suit all game modes
- Carrier Assault is great fun and a neat change of pace
- Nansha Strike is insipid and forgettable (Megalodon notwithstanding)
- Somewhat unimaginative new gear, no new boats
- Blah blah bloody awful netcode blah blah FIX IT
The Short Version: Naval Strike lets us muck about in boats throughout three excellent maps, one spectacularly dull dud and a fun new gametype. It's an impressive DLC pack that brings a refreshing new perspective to the multiplayer experience, but with Battlefield 4's netcode still causing problems, we have to point out that you could alternatively spend your money on any number of downloadable shooters that actually work properly.
Insurgency costs £11.99, by the way, while Planetside 2 and Loadout are free. Just putting that out there.