I have a confession to make – I didn’t really enjoy the Battlefield 4 multiplayer beta. Something about the Siege Of Shanghai map didn’t really grab my attention, and after a few games on it I was ready to uninstall. As such, I wasn’t really filled with enthusiasm when Matt threw the review copy of BF4 in my face. Still, I had enjoyed the previous effort from DICE – not quite to the same level as the Bad Company games, but it was still enjoyable from a multiplayer perspective. However, before I jumped into that, I felt I should get the single player campaign out of the way.
You see, we here at Dealspwn felt that the previous instalment’s solo effort was… well… I’m going to put this diplomatically - not good. For whatever reason you want to pick, be it jumping narrative perspectives, rat stabbing insta-fail sections, pointless jet plane sequences, and a lack of memorable plot or characters, the end result was not exactly DICE’s finest work. So it’s with some relief that I can say the single player campaign for Battlefield 4 is an improvement. It’s not quite the blockbuster DICE were probably hoping for, and it by no means can hold a candle to the multiplayer side of things, but key issues have been addressed to make it not so much of a yawn-fest.
Let’s skim over the key points. It’s a five or so hour campaign where the good old US of A decides to get involved in a Chinese civil war that could spiral into a world war, and while. Cue opportune moments for ridiculous orders, a bunch of over the top set pieces, and an excuse to blow stuff in a campaign that is certainly better than the previous attempt at a Battlefield story, but it’s still no Bad Company (BRING IT BACK, DAMN IT.). You only control one character this time around, a marine named Decker, who remains mute throughout the entire thing and has the supporting cast explain everything despite the fact he’s the squad leader (although the story does attempt to address this at one point.) At least they’re not as instantly forgettable as last time, although not for the best reasons. For instance, the character of Irish goes from being someone who cares about people and wants to help civilians, to someone who mistrusts anyone who isn’t an American at a moment’s notice.
Still, at least I’m remembering names this time around. Which is nice.
From a gameplay perspective, I felt like the controls do not feel as heavy as last year’s offering – something that translates to the multiplayer side as well. It still has some weight to it all, so don’t expect to do a Rambo and survive in most cases, but the tweaks certainly up the pace for firefights for the better. Adding in the leaning mechanic is incredibly useful both in SP and MP, but its hit-or-miss approach to whether it actually works makes it highly situational, and some players might find it so frustrating that they ignore it entirely (despite its advantages.) The pacing of the levels has certainly improved, although this is almost certainly down to the change to a single perspective, but the single player does act as a sort of mini-tutorial for the multiplayer in a few sections of gameplay, such as when the player must take out a tank on foot.
Otherwise, it’s a straightforward corridor that, while providing some degree of choice with the approach to certain arenas, is just a means of showing off how wonderful the Frostbite 3 engine is. Well, apart from when characters are talking mid-mission in a firefight and their lips are in no way synced to their dialogue – that bit DICE could do with sorting out. But yes, it’s well paced if slightly predictable roller-coaster right up until the last 20 seconds, which is the cheapest attempt at replayability I’ve seen for a while (and not even a very good one, considering the story just ends.) Fortunately though, the single player campaign does come with a scoring mode, complete with leaderboards so you can compete against your friends. In that regard, there’s a reason to head back into the single player once it’s completed.
But you didn’t buy Battlefield 4 for the Single Player, did you? You’ve already skipped the last few paragraphs to jump to the question you really want answered – is the multiplayer worth the price of admission? The short answer is yes. The slightly-longer-than-the-short-answer is yes, but they need to fix the damn netcode for the PC version [which, at the time of publishing, they appear to have done. More on that later though.]
It appears that DICE have taken the lessons they learned from Battlefield 3 to heart, and have really worked on making the multiplayer component of BF4 the best it can be. It’s almost as if they have taken the best bits of Battlefield 2 and Bad Company, then thrown them into the latest Frostbite engine for a lovely spot of rather intense virtual warfare. Let’s start off with Battlelog which makes its return as the universal hub that is, much like its previous incarnation, well laid out with everything clearly labelled. Players can edit class loadouts and customise weapons before loading into the game, and the addition of the emblem maker is a personal favourite as I have seen some rather creative ones upon being killed on the battlefield (smiley faces, my little ponies, penises – you name it, I’ve seen a variation on it.) Battlelog also acts as the server browser for the multiple gametypes and maps on offer, and a filter that actually saves your preferences for the next time you load in, which meant I could continually charge into Conquest Large every time I booted up the game. On top of all this, social features such posting on other players’ walls and global leaderboards for specific classes are a great touch in creating a feeling of competition and community, and ESL support is something that will please the more competitive gamers out there.
So, in short, Battlelog is still the one-stop place to prepare for battle, but that’s not to say there isn’t anything new. The Battlescreen – a realtime view of the map the player is on – can be selected as the game loads up. It’s perfect for those with a duel screen setup, as I was able to glance at the overview to see which control points needed taking or defending without resorting to pressing M and leaving me more vulnerable that I needed to be. It’s worth noting that Battlescreen can be used by any computer on the local network, and an iPad app ( with an Android version on its way) provides the same functionality. It’s like having a Commander-lite experience without being the Commander.
Speaking of which…
Making its return is the Commander role, something that was sorely missed in BF3. Unlocked upon hitting level 10, players can mark objectives, target prominent enemies with killstreaks, deliver ordinance and launch artillery fire to assist their side. It’s certainly a daunting affair for those that have never played the mode before (it was for me, anyway) but the additional layer of gameplay it brings with its tactical approach is a fantastic (re)addition to the series.
In terms of progression, the core experience remains untouched for the most part. Play as a particular class, earn XP to unlock special abilities, weapons, and mods for both guns and vehicles across 100 ranks, but there are a few changes this time around. For instance, unlocking weapons now works across all classes, meaning Engineers with sniper rifles and Assault / Medics with DMRs. I found this change to be fantastic in terms of creating the right setup for my playstyle (my Medic with a Carbine = winner, frankly.) It’s a shame then that this is just half the story, as the inclusion of Battlepacks mixes it up in a bizarre way, acting in a similar way to Mass Effect 3’s packs. This means that getting certain weapon attachments is based purely on pot luck, with it more often than not being for a weapon you haven’t even touched. At least it means that those who buy some through microtransaction (yep, they’re here) can’t pay to win, but man I find the whole thing annoying.
So, is the multiplayer actually fun to play? It’s with relief I say that it is, seeing as I wasn’t as impressed with the beta as others were, and despite the fact games like PlanetSide 2 might are capable of bigger numbers of players with graphics just as gorgeous, the action of BF4 is just as intense during the 30-or-so minutes of combat each match brings. The emphasis on teamwork still remains, but the game is far more newcomer and solo friendly than it was previously (although you’ll probably die far quicker until you join the war effort proper.) Added into the mix is the rivals system, taking tally of how many time a certain player kills you, fuelling grudges right in the middle of a match, or just adding insult to injury after they’ve sniped you for the ninth time.
Either way, when the action gets going, when jets are flying over, choppers are dropping off troops, boats are speeding along shorelines, and tanks are rolling along bringing the thunder – especially in 64-player Conquest mode – it all adds up to some of the finest action we’ve seen from the series. Oh, and it’s worth pointing out that players can now head to a training island on their own to test out weapons and learn how to drive / fly each vehicle (with the exception of the jet, annoyingly) without needing to find an empty server – something that I for one was incredibly thankful for.
And then there’s the Levelution – the best of the Natalie Portmaneaus.
It’s a feature that, in my mind, only gets it half right. It’s important to point out that, on a PC with graphics turned up high, it looks utterly amazing when the big changes happen. The tower block falling in the Siege of Shanghai looks ten times better than it did in the beta, but it’s ultimately the same sequence that, while great to watch, doesn’t really add that much to the battle. The same goes for the dam exploding – not quite the game changer it means to be – but the ship crashing in Paracel Storm (in fact, the storm part of that map is superb) is a brilliant moment. For me, it’s the buildings that aren’t the main focus of the game falling down that are the most impressive, and frankly it’s terrifying being inside one of them as the room collapses above you.
So, apart from a few bumps in the road, and a single player campaign that is passable, the review has almost certainly come across as positive, but there are a number of problems that DICE and EA need to get sorted, and quickly. Server and netcode stability is something that has driven most players up the wall since its release, causing crashes mid-game (and losing all their progress) or during the initial loading of a match. Likewise, the browser plugin for Battlelog has caused grief to quite a few users (myself included) and while work arounds are there, the fact it doesn’t just work is, while understandable in the world of PCs, just downright annoying. There are things like broken audio during matches on certain maps, and boats going underwater, killing the immersion. And then there’s my personal bug-bear – the fact it is not mentioned anywhere that charging the defibrillator will bring players back up with full health (instead of just a small portion.) It's a slightly small complaint compared to the rest of the list, but man, when everything else is so well explained, that bit of knowledge could be the difference between victory or defeat.
But in fairness, even with those issues I’m still having a lot of fun, and with the graphical settings turned all the way up to max the Frostbite 3 engine looks stunning, even during multiplayer. It wasn’t too surprising to learn that most of EA’s games would being using it moving forward, but seeing BF4 in action really hammers home the reason why. The set pieces, be it from the single player or the levelution-fuelled segments from the multiplayer, are fantastically executed.
- Battlelog’s social features & the addition of Battlescreen are excellent.
- The return of Commander mode.
- The Frostbite 3 engine is looking fantastic.
- While improved from last time, the SP campaign isn’t exactly award winning stuff.
- Server and netcode issues at launch are causing far too much grief.
- Tying half of the unlocks to Battlepacks is annoying.
The Short Version:
It hasn’t been a smooth launch for its multiplayer component, and the single player campaign still won’t win any awards, but the latest effort from DICE is certainly the best Battlefield experience we’ve seen for a quite a while. Thanks to a rather shiny Frostbite 3 engine, and an array of social features with Battlelog, Battlefield 4 on PC might well be one of the best multiplayer titles of the year.