Since 2002’s Battlefield 1942 EA Games and Swedish developer DICE have been providing gamers with a unique multi-role first-person shooter experience.
With Battlefield 2 they replaced the traditional WWII FPS setting with modern combat.
The more narrative-based (and console friendly) Bad Company spin-offs kept the franchise going for the six years until Battlefield 3. Two years later and we are returning to the combat zone with Battlefield 4.
Battlefield 4 has been built with the next-gen consoles in mind. The game’s creative director, Lars Gusavsson as good as told me that when I spoke to him last month.
But it is also the product of community feedback – the addition of commander mode, for instance – and a chance to refine the living battlefield environment.
Whilst the game is out on current-gen, I’m assured that the experience is fundamentally the same across all platforms. But, until the end of the month, the only way anyone can have any sort of next-gen Battlefield 4 experience is on PC. So, for this review I’ve been playing the game on an i7-3820 PC with 32GB RAM and a 4GB GTX680 video card running Windows 7.
Whilst no longer top of the range, the NVIDIA GTX680 is still man enough have the visuals cranked up to the max running the game at 1080p. And I’d be bold enough to say that the PC is probably the definitive way to experience the game.
As with BF3, the PC version of Battlefield 4 uses DICE’s browser-based Battlelog interface to access the game. Whether you want to play the campaign or find a multiplayer server, you are going to be using Battlelog to get started.
I love the stats and information that Battlelog provides players, it’s all there: your last game results, levels and unlocks. This year it has been expanded to include the Battlescreen. This means that if you have a tablet, Android or Apple, you can download an app that lets you view the live Battlemap or adjust loadouts on a separate screen.
Traditionally the Battlefield games, up until BF3 (ignoring the Bad Company spin-offs), were multiplayer only affairs, the single-player experience being provided via AI bot matches using the online maps. The single player campaign in Battlefield 3 was critically panned, and whilst I enjoyed it, it brought nothing new to the table and certainly wasn’t really faithful to the unique Battlefield experience.
For Battlefield 4 DICE have tried address this short-fall by incorporating some of the core online multiplayer elements into the single-player game. The result is a campaign game with more open environments reminiscent of the multiplayer maps. DICE have also upped the dynamic environmental effects, especially the weather effects. Trees buckle, rain falls in sheets and debris get flung around.
Whilst not particularly strong, the single-player story does its job in centring on a conflict between the US and a rogue Chinese government. It is an above average attempt, but still fails to live up to the expectations set by the franchise’s superb multiplayer legacy.
Thankfully, multiplayer is what Battlefield 4 is all about. Out of the box there are ten different maps that can be played across eight different game types. These range from your classic Deathmatches to fan favourites like the base-capturing Domination as well as the bomb-placing newcomer, Obliteration.
The maps offer up a varied mix of combat environments, typical of what we've come to expect from DICE, but with a twist. The developers have managed, wherever they can, to integrate their concept of "Levolution" into the maps. These are dynamic events that take place during battles, changing the way the battlefield plays. The days of static, lifeless combat environments are over.
If you played the Battlefield 4 beta, you may have already experienced what it feels like to jump of a skyscraper as it collapses into a pile of rubble. This is extreme game-changing stuff: areas flood, buildings topple and vicious storms rip into the environment.
The idyllic Paracel Storm map starts out beautifully sunny with the weather changing into a fearsome tropical typhoon complete with angry sea and winds that can tear down buildings. Flood Zone starts off with urban combat with armoured support, but once the levy is breached water pours in up to one storey deep; changing routes, vehicle and tactics.
Siege of Shanghai, is a CBD-based map with a central tower that comes crashing down. Get out of the way is my only advice to you there. The labyrinthian mountain facility of Operation Locker, gives the enemy plenty of opportunity to flank you, the locking doors creating lethal dead ends for the unsuspecting.
The rest of the maps, the Arecibo radio telescope-inspired Rogue Transmission, Lancang Dam, Zavod 311, Golmund Railway and Hainan Resort, all provide an elective mix of tactical scenarios, none of which disappoint.
As well as the varied map types, Battlefield 4 provides something for everyone with the choice of four character classes, Assault, Engineer, Support and Recon. Each class is fully customisable with players able to choose weapons, attachments and abilities to suit their play style. More equipment unlocks as you level up your soldier.
The progression system rewards players with unlocks based upon what class, weapons and vehicles they use. The more tank kills you get, for instance, the more experience awarded for that vehicle, and the more unlocks you get.
There are over forty vehicles in the game from quad bikes to jet fighters; their availability dependant on what map/server settings you choose to play with. The last game was quite hard on the newcomer wanting to be a tank commander of playing ace as all the cool weapons and countermeasures were out of reach until you’d paid you dues. This time DICE have been a little more forgiving providing newbie with some of the essential equipment that allows them to learn the ropes without being such an easy target.
DICE seem have realised just how overwhelming online multiplayer games can be for newcomers. The test range has been provided to help players get to grips with the hardware on offer, without getting pumped full of lead or blown to pieces. Simply put it’s an empty island loaded with all the toys and a few targets thrown in for good measure.
The large-scale maps allow for a more strategic game if your twitch skills are not up to one-on-one confrontations. For instance, it is possible to sneak about capturing bases using commando tactics without firing a shot. In every game, be it an audacious move that proves successful or fails spectacularly, or even a dastardly game of cat and mouse; there was at least one moment each time that gave me a grin. And for me this is what multiplayer is all about.
As great as it all is, Battlefield 4 is experiencing some teething problems, the likes of which PC gamers are all too familiar with. Whilst my rig will run a BF3 multiplayer game silky smooth, I did on occasion get the odd frame drop in Battlefield 4.
Overall, Battlefield 4 is a solid game. The single-player is visually superb on a PC with the settings maxed; with a reasonable story and offering a decent bit of gameplay. But it is the multiplayer where the game really excels. As a large-scale vehicle and infantry-based first-person shooter Battlefield 4 is simply without peer.
I’d absolutely recommend this game to PC, current-gen and next-gen owners alike. You are not going to experience this sort of open warfare anywhere else.
See you on the battlefield.
Lasting appeal: 9.0