Developer: EA DICE
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platform: PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Release Date: October 29, 2013
ESRB: M for Mature
Another year, another big-budget modern military shooter vying for your wallet. This time it's EA's Call of Duty competitor, Battlefield, with the fourth numbered installment in the mega-hit franchise. Battlefield 4 boasts an overhauled destruction engine, improved visuals, a reworked single-player campaign and the massive scale of previous entries, but is any of it enough to justify your hard earned cash?
Much like Battlefield 3, BF4 is all about the chaotic online multiplayer. Despite a new writer at the helm and a renewed focus on the characters, the single-player campaign feels a bit like an afterthought. The good news is that the narrative, while military fiction nonsense, is at least more focused and directed than the haphazard tech demo that was BF3's campaign. Players will assume the role of protagonist Recker as he and the rest of Tombstone squad attempt to thwart an impending war between the US and China. Missions range from close-quarters combat aboard a dying aircraft carrier to a beach-head assault on a major Chinese airfield.
As you might guess, most of the campaign is a string of intense set-pieces populated with lots and lots of shooting and explosions. The improvements over BF3 are readily apparent in the dialogue, character chemistry, technical enhancements and a better sense of pacing. All that said, BF4's campaign is essentially the same solo shooting gallery you've come to expect. While the addition of basic squad commands is a welcome change, it does little to alter the overall experience. The campaign is short, clocking in at 3.5-4 hours on Normal difficulty; it doesn't overstay it's welcome and can provide a few entertaining moments if you're in the right mindset. Just don't expect anything on the level of Modern Warfare or Black Ops II.
The entire focus of BF4 - multiplayer - is the sole reason you should have any interest in purchasing the game. The scale is breathtakingly massive, with tanks and aircraft thundering about wide, expansive maps. New combat watercraft have been added, providing a brand new battlefield in the sea. Waves are lovingly rendered in 3D and allow for boats to hide and use cover behind wave swells. Watching infantry, boats, jets, helicopters and various land vehicles all duke it out is incredibly impressive in DICE's proprietary Frostbite 3.0 game engine.
The most-heralded feature of BF4 is the terribly-named "levolution", which is touted as the future of dynamic maps. While bringing down a skyscraper or blowing open a dam is awesome the first time around, levolution doesn't always have the biggest impact on gameplay. It's only on maps where water can flood the ground level that BF4's map design significantly alters. When it does, however, combat becomes more frantic and intense because the pace and flow of the battle evolves, creating an experience unlike anything else on the market. The "only in Battlefield" advert campaign is surprisingly indicative of the in-game presentation.
Game modes include the ever-popular Conquest, Domination, Team Deathmatch and new Obliteration. The former trio are exactly the same as BF3, with the new mode tasking players with bringing bombs to several objects to score points. Obliteration was my least favorite of game types on offer; I typically stuck to Domination or Rush unless I was feeling really adventurous. Regardless of whichever mode you choose, BF4 will likely have something just right for you. Make sure you at least experience a full-scale, 64-player Conquest match at least once before you die. It's absolutely exhilarating.
Map design is absolutely on-point this time around. My favorite is the easy-to-love Paracel Storm. It features violent waves, islands to seize control of, a beached battleship that provides additional anti-air support and fantastic naval combat. The weather effects are absolutely gorgeous here and really showcase BF4's attention to detail. Other maps like Golmud Railway and Dawnbreaker offer unique experiences, whether it's a roving capture point on a train or street-by-street inner city grudge matches.
Combat feels faster and is more evenly balanced this time around. Sniper rifles are as powerful as ever, matched by a great selection of assault weapons and light machine guns. Most of the classes can mix and match unlock weapons, though the signature guns are still class-centric. The one major change in the class system is the addition of C4 to the Recon's armory. As a result, Recon has become my go-to for almost every long-range engagement due to its versatility. Engineer is also a great choice because of its anti-armor capabilities, crucial in vehicle-heavy Conquest maps.
The multiplayer is so refined and entertaining that it's a shame the campaign wasn't shown the same level of love and attention. The single-player is by no means bad, but when compared against the online component, one has to wonder why DICE even bothers. Battlefield is best when it doesn't try to ape Call of Duty because it offers a unique experience that Call of Duty could only dream of offering.
At least the campaign is supplemented by fantastic visuals and audio. The newest incarnation of the Frostbite engine offers beautiful particle effects and enhanced textures and lighting. The audio has also been improved, providing the guns a punchier, clearer sound. In addition, the voice-acting is well done and the ambient battle chatter is pitch perfect. Few shooters are as atmospheric as BF4, and DICE is to be congratulated on a spectacularly beautiful game.
Sadly, BF4 is still quite buggy in spots. While this launch has been considerably smoother and more stable than BF3, I've still encountered no less than 3-4 crashes every time I start playing. It seems to be sporadic and server-involved, which means the most important part of the multiplayer desperately needs attention. If the servers are foggy and bugged, BF4 stands to infringe upon the reputation of its best component. All that said, it's still better than any other recent EA launch (especially when compared against SimCity).
The bigger issue I have with BF4 has nothing to do with the technical composition. Rather, it's the fact that the game doesn't do much to innovate or change the formula. While the new maps, combat tweaks and visual enhancements are great, the lack of good new game modes and a less-than-stellar campaign have left me wanting. This should have been what BF3 was, yet I have to purchase a brand new game to get the same fundamental experience. The good news is Battlefield isn't an annualized franchise so I don't feel the same franchise fatigue as I might about other popular shooter series.
Is BF4 absolutely worth your money? If you enjoy a multiplayer experience unlike anything else on the market and want to show off some snazzy visuals, the answer is an overwhelming yes. Even if you only have a passing interest in shooters, BF4 is the biggest, best thing on the market that isn't ArmA III; few games are as gorgeous, well-thought out or explosive as it. While it might have some technical issues and doesn't do much to rock the boat, it's still a great package in the end.
+ Exciting, large-scale combat
+ Improved single-player campaign
+ Snazzy production values
+ It's classic Battlefield
- Campaign is still meh
- Technical issues
- It's classic Battlefield
Overall Score: 8.5 (out of 10)
Battlefield 4 is an exciting, intense shooter that does what virtually no other game can. It's unique, explosive and beautiful.