Battlefield 4 Review: A Generation Gap
Building a realistic shooter is an extremely volatile situation, if DICE or any other developer ever created a truly realistic war-game it would be unplayable, a terrifying horror unleashed into the gaming world. So the content has to be drip-fed, diluted and made manageable while being as ‘entertaining’ as possible; and hopefully tell a story to go along with all of that destruction.
The whole time I played through the campaign of Battlefield 4, it felt like the ‘finale’. That feeling I have when watching the closing of fireworks or a favorite band’s last set; it felt like nothing was held back and everything was thrown into the pot for the celebration of the end. The multiplayer once again clearly surpasses the campaign mode, it’s the breadwinner of the coupling from a publisher standpoint so I understand the priority of the multiplayer and I don’t hold that against the game. That being said, the single-player side of the game outreaches Battlefield 3 in a number of ways. I was happy to see a toned-down group of characters in this story, DICE seemed to stop turning everyone’s attitude to ’11’ and made characters that were far more relatable, and far more realistic.
Much of the story is revealed while playing through the game, so I won’t ruin any of the finer points for you. Players will be introduced to Admiral Chang, they will learn that during a civil war in China, Chang managed to escape capture and is currently being targeted by global forces. The story revolves around accusations that free-speech advocate Jin Jie was killed by the United States and the story begins to unfold as allied forces begin hunting down Chang and his Russian connections. You know, because it’s always the Russians.
The finale effect was present almost from the beginning, giant cut-scenes and slow motion destruction are just a constant in the game. Battlefield 4 failed to create a more effective way of telling a story in a first-person-shooter, it relied on the same ‘gameplay for action and cutscenes for story’ that other popular FPS games have relied on in the past. Battlefield 4 doesn’t apply the formula any worse than its competition, but it didn’t elevate the genre either. It was a missed opportunity that all titles in this genre have fallen prey to. I’ve always felt that relying heavily on cut-scene to tell the story is like relying on a narrator in a movie; both can be done really well but you aren’t doing anything new.
Many of the cinematic moments revolved around explosions, or buildings collapsing, and I’m not going to hold this against the game. Environmental destruction is a big part of the Battlefield series, it is even a major bullet-point in the game’s marketing. I think it’s what fans of the series expect from the developers, and DICE delivered destruction in folds. Everything comes crashing down at different points in game, from buildings to jets to defensive positions and mobile-infantry units, there is no shortage of crumbling metal and concrete.
The problem with single-player FPS in general is that unlike multiplayer, where you are engaged with enemy players that are free-thinking and constantly changing, the game just sits at an even tone throughout the gameplay. Although the cutscenes keep getting more and more cinematic as you progress, the gameplay is basically a plateau. The sequences are grand when you first experience them, then lose all of their shine if you have to play through the game again for trophies or achievements. The game uses the traditional ‘checkpoint’ system, which has the standard flaw of having to do the same sequences over and over again if you fail. This became an issue when the battles really heated-up, it’s not as much fun destroying gigantic enemy vehicles when you have to do it four times, and running gets old fast. Still, I enjoyed Battlefield 4’s campaign far more than I did Battlefield 3, and the action was at least diversified as much as a FPS could be.
In multiplayer, squads are now made up of five man teams (up from four in Battlefield 3). In this installment players will have a few more incentives to work together within their squad. Players can now obtain field upgrades by actually fulfilling their roles during battles; a medic can unlock new skills by administering first-aid or reviving downed allies for example. The skills you unlock match your play-style, they are an impressive addition to the game and worth unlocking. Previous games had this system in place as well but it was tied to general progression, meaning players didn’t really have to provide medical services to obtain their rewards, now they do. Ranking up an Engineer can grant you more effective Anti-Tank gear, something that many people will most likely wish to obtain, but you have to be an efficient engineer if you want the perks.
The game-mode Obliteration will have two opposing forces fighting over control of one-bomb, the team then has to get the bomb to one of several locations. It’s a nice system, you can’t just camp one location and fortify it’s defensives, you have to be mobile to acquire the bomb, and to defend your targeted areas. Eventually you will be down to one objective and you can bet almost everyone will camp that one spot until they have their fill of kills, but by then it should be too late, and an opposing force will run you down. It’s a pretty great gameplay-mode, and a welcomed addition to the normal gameplay-modes from the past but the battles can drag-on. When neither side is really that offensive, it can become more of a game of chicken then an assault on a base.
Then you have Levelution, a new word EA created just for this game. It really felt more like an instance, fate or dynamic event that you would find in an MMO. Basically each map has its own “thing” that happens, you probably have seen the ‘Siege of Shanghai’ event in a trailer where the skyscraper comes crashing down. Once this event is triggered it alters the map and the gameplay slightly, in the map ‘Flood Zone’ the levee can break and when it does everyone below must swim to safety, making them easy fodder for the snipers. I don’t want to spoil all of them for you, but some are clearly better and more dynamic to the gameplay than others.
Battlefield alumni might enjoy the return of Commander mode, you can add weapon drops and vehicles to a game when you each the rank of 10. There are other factors involved in what you can do to help your team but the big part of this game is that you can play it on Battlefield 4 through your standard platform or through a new tablet application. It’s more of a fun “look what this tablet can do” moment in the game, but players from other Battlefield installments should enjoy the return of the classic gameplay.
So here’s the rub, and its pretty common during this phase of a console’s lifespan. Everyone knows that PCs offer the best graphics, that’s a given, but current generation gamers should really wait to play this game on next-gen if playing on a PC isn’t an option. The game is huge, the maps are true to the Battlefield franchise and offer a plethora of features, scenes and moments regardless of platform. The collapsable buildings, the ceilings that drop on you, and the bridges that melt away are truly wonderful additions to the chaotic firefights, but they aren’t the same on current consoles.
Playing on PS3 or Xbox 360 players will be limited from 64 players to just 24, a large difference. You probably wouldn’t notice the difference those 40 players make if you only play PS3 or Xbox 360, but if you ever try a 64 player Battlefield 4 map, you probably wouldn’t want to go back to just 24. The graphics alone are worth the wait I feel. The current generation consoles really show their age with this game when put side-by-side with their new counterparts, and if you are plan on upgrading, I strongly suggest you do so then buy this game.
If you aren’t planning on upgrading, then I still think you will enjoy the game. When compared to Battlefield 3 on the same platform, it’s an improvement all around. The effects are larger, the teamwork more synchronized and the maps are more crafted to each gameplay-mode. I felt the single-player campaign was for more entertaining than Battlefield 3 and the new systems put in place with the multiplayer portion is a vast improvement for everyone playing.