Three Months after Release is BF4 a refined war machine or a horrid war crime?
So here we stand on the Battlefield ready to face our foe and dispatch him through the all carnage that is available ‘only in Battlefield 4’ (BF4). Let’s jump into that beastly looking tank to rip that enemy team a new one. Hmm it appears that this tank comes with selective soundproofing as I can only hear jets and some ambient noise even though I am firing tank shells 4 feet from my face. It doesn’t matter though as all the sound came back just in time for me to hear the anti-tank rounds being fired into the side of, what is now, my metal death cage. No worries I will just respawn on foot, but wait! I seem to have been overlooked like the fat kid during sports when they were handing out the weapons and I hold nothing but air in my hands… oh, OK, it has magically appeared in my hand now, it is a shame I intelligently spawned right in front of an enemy, have already have taken fire, and will now inevitably die. Well I feel a little vexed at the nature of my first 2 deaths but now at least I am prepared and as they say third time is a charm. Right I am right in the action firing off bullets and grenades as if I was an extra in a Rambo film when suddenly a bad guy pops up on my left, luckily I am ready and duck around a concrete wall safe and sou…BLAM! It would appear a bullet has managed to traverse the concrete wall that stands between my head and the enemy players gun. Obviously I now throw up due to my uncontrollable rage and retire from the life of a soldier.
Some of you might be looking rather confused about what you just read, but for anyone who has played Battlefield 4 you will understand all to well that these are the kind of issues we, as a community, have faced. The game was rife with bugs and suffered from numerous crashes at launch. The following uproar from players around the world led EA and DICE, Battlefield 4’s publisher and developer, to publicly issue a statement promising that fixing the game was of the highest priority, even halting work on all other projects including Star Wars: Battlefront (3). Fittingly I can just imagine the team quoting Star Wars when they discovered just how many issues were lying in wait for them, “Horizontal boosters. Alluvial dampers? Ow! That’s not it, bring me the Hydrospanner. I don’t know how we’re going to get out of this one”. The promise of fixes even convinced me to hold off on attempting to review the game as I wanted to get a complete overview of a game we will be playing for at least two years becuase unlike the rival Call of Duty franchise the game is not annualised. However, I have decided the time is now for my more comprehensive (or reloaded) review as a quarter of a year has now passed giving DICE time to fix the major issues. In addition the developer has recently announced the newest DLC, Naval Strike, which has indicated they believe the game is at an acceptable level because they are working on other projects (which their statement said they would not be doing until the game is fixed). So let’s find out where we stand on this Battlefield in the Reloaded Review.
So lets just say it, the Single Player is, as expected from the Battlefield series, woeful. Admittedly I have never expected much from the campaign of a Battlefield game, although I was mildly interested in the campaign mode from Bad Company 2 (BC2). After BC2 it seemed the single player element had tumbled down hill with the next game in the franchise, Battlefield 3, presenting a lacklustre experience which didn’t even compel me to complete the story. Pretty shocking from a First-Person Shooter ey? Well it doesn’t seem quite as shocking once you experience the painfully tiresome campaign that Battlefield 4 offers.
The narrative of BF4’s single player is fairly nondescript, giving the player little impetus to save the world from generic bad guys and the motives that inspire them to be so naughty. In this case we are sent to stop the ambitions of a Chinese Admiral called Chang. On this quest we arrive at a number of different locations that while visually satisfying, can easily confuse the less invested player when little explanation is given for the sudden jump in backdrop. It would appear the chosen locations were a case of a style over substance that contribute little to the story other than a vast array of set pieces for DICE to show off their Frostbite 3 engine. Don’t get me wrong these set pieces are rather beautiful, but the average Battlefield player is far more interested in the dynamic damage that you see constantly in the Multiplayer. After all, it is one thing to see a huge explosion bring down concrete walls and another all together when the explosion comes from an organic moment of play based on the players input. The narrative also fails to bring any true character development meaning that your interactions with the characters result in little or no relationship between the player and these AI drones. The main issue is that the characters have little depth beyond their plastic personalities and are unable to evoke any emotion within the player who struggles to find any involvement as a silent protagonist, instead, becoming a semi-detached spectator to their lives. I can honestly say I felt closer to a generic breakfast cereal mascot that I saw once for five minutes than the hours wasted listening to the Irish and the other clan of squad mates that surround me. Speaking of Irish, please shut your god-damn leprechaun loving mouth! At one stage you assume control of the unit designated Tombstone (not bad considering you have never had to say a single word) and instead of leading your squad, Irish decides that he will bark orders at everyone, ignoring the military hierarchy system that was undoubtedly drilled into him at boot camp. This lack of realism and creativity compounds the notion that the campaign is simply tacked on to the game as a flimsy addition to the more famed (and arguable important) Battlefield multiplayer experience. Overall I would give the singleplayer a solid 4/10 and I only recommend it to those who are interested in unlocking multiplayer items through achieving set goals in the campaign.
Multiplayer is where the Battlefield series really works its magic with epic fights in all out vehicular and infantry war. This time around the wide and expansive 64 player battles that PC players were enjoying have been brought to consoles for the first time thanks to the new power of the next-gen machines (PS4, Xbox One). These battles are some of the best that a FPS can provide when bullets whiz past your head and a low flying jet destroys an enemy tank just ahead of you. Your adrenaline picks up and the feeling of a chaotic war-zone is emulated in a manner that consciously adheres to the fact that fun should be synonymous with videogames. Having said this the game is not as accessible as other games in the genre and players can be overwhelmed the first time they step out in their shiny combat boots only to be torn down by more experienced combatants.
Battlefield offers different mutliplayer game modes with conquest mode the most popular mode that Battlefield 4 offers and it is understandable why this is the case. Vehicles are numerous in Conquest, producing a fast-paced environment over large scale maps that without transport would be too vast to create the fire-fights that players want to jump into. It is also one of the only modes that a team can play without all members being focused on playing the objective. Rush mode, on the other hand, requires team-work and organisation, and those without a good team will find themselves loosing patience quickly. The mode also suffers from the largest amount of player quits during a round so you may find yourself outnumbered when your team is already in a losing position. This is not surprising given that the maps are not as suited to the Rush games as they were in previous instalments which can be explained by the need to facilitate new game modes like Obliteration. Even if some game modes are not as strong as others they do at least offer players a number of ways to approach the game and find a game that suits their play-style.
The main staple of Battlefield has been the impressive destruction physics that frostbite engine has delivered. This time we are introduced to the new Frostbite 3.0 with Destruction 4.0. Now these may just be a bunch of numbers to most people but they power the most significant destruction moments in game, the Levolution events. Levolution was a big selling point for EA when they ran their advertising campaign pre-launch and it is easy to see why this was the case. The destruction is so impressive that you almost forget that you are in the middle of a war zone, indeed seeing new players pausing to watch the shimmering skyscraper twist and shatter into a cloud of debris is commonplace. Obviously you must take no mercy and lay C4 at the feet of these meat bags and gently remind them that being an idle spectator is not encouraged. In stark contrast to the visual impact Levolution has, the ramifications on gameplay are not as pronounced as I would have originally thought from the EA marketing. Certain maps suffer minimal consequence from a Levolution event with the player needing to change little about their approach to the combat. A good example is the map Zavod 311 in which you can bring down a large chimney stack that scatters debris across a small portion of the map and provides limited cover for troops moving between the two central buildings surrounding the event. This chimney is a drop in the ocean compared to the overall size of the map meaning that the tactics deployed in the game rarely change. It is a shame that all the maps can not be of the same, higher quality, shown in some maps when it comes to Levolution events. The result is the significance of the game mechanic diminishes which is unfortunate as I feel Levolution has a lot of potential and with further development could of been a massive step forward for this generation.
So you have seen all the Levolution and you are wondering is there much else to keep you playing? Well yes there is. Battlefield puts pretty much your whole arsenal behind a wall of unlocks. You will spend hours trying to unlock sights for guns just to find that your still a rubbish player and your aim is on par with Michael J. Fox. The number of different weapon variations available will also keep you occupied well beyond a few hours, testing each combination on your unsuspecting victims. Besides armament there is a host of different maps (more with DLC) and game modes that provide plenty of challenges for the player to take part in and re-vitalise their Battlefield 4 experience. All this content is then nicely topped off with assignments and the famous Battlefield dog-tag collection that some of us, rather worryingly, crave.
One aspect I have failed to mention so far is the gameplay bugs that plagued the game early in its life. So far most major issue have been ironed out on the PlayStation 4, but on other platforms like PC there are massive issues that need fixing urgently. An example is the sound issue that are capable of crashing the whole desktop requiring the user use the dreaded Ctrl-Alt-Del command to bring the system back to life. Now admittedly the problems I have experienced have not been so severe, but the main issue for me is the lack of support and action that DICE/EA have offered. Forums indicate that these issues are widespread and that the patches designed to fix issues are the cause of new problems. However a response from community managers to forum posts can take nearly a week and when an answer is given there is no concrete information provided other than ‘we are aware of the issue and updates will be coming soon’. Players should rightly expect to see immediate action from an leading developer/publisher and the treatment of the community has been less than satisfactory. Overall I believe the gameplay is improving, but the remaining good-will that the fan base has left will quickly vanish all together and EA will need to get the game up to speed if they are to avoid ruining a potentially brilliant multiplayer game.
In terms of graphics Battlefield 4 is, expectedly, the best in the series. The lighting and particle effects are beautifully rendered on screen, giving the open maps a realism that is lacking in other shoots. These effects come in to their own during Levolution events when you can witness epic destruction in an awesome visual display that has not been seen on a console before. Just wait until you see the dust cascading down to earth after the skyscraper has fallen on Siege of Shanghai as you charge forward through the murky streets. You’ll be so amazed at the graphics you won’t even care that some sneaky troll has shot you in the back thanks to the reduced visibility. The other major improvement from previous games are the water effects which are easily some of the best I have seen in any shooter. The way the waves on Paracel Storm roll over each other crashing into a delicate foam on the sand beaches is jaw-dropping. The rivers that snake through other maps glimmer in the sunlight and have an incredibly realistic transparency. The far more impressive water effects, in my opinion, are the little touches like splashes from the players movement in bodies of water and the spray that lifts up from the rotor blades of near-by helicopters. Battlefield 4 has gone a long way to becoming as realistic as possible giving the highly desirable ability to immerse you completely with the environment so that the player can feel involved with all the action. Overall the graphic design team have clearly been hard at work improve the combination of large scale action and beautiful aesthetics that make Battlefield such an enjoyable game. Shame those guys didn’t make the rest of the game.
When I first played a Battlefield: Bad Company 2 one of the first things that grabbed my attention was the amazing audio that accompanied the gameplay. The sound effects were astonishing compared to the shooters that I had played before. Now this isn’t to say the gun noises are the best in the genre because I do think there are better games for gun fire out there. The real sounds I focused on where the ambient noises like that of a Tank wheeling past you, that on a 5.1 surround sound set up, could easily be mistaken for being in the room with you. The bass rumbles deeper as the tank gets closer and players with sensory awareness hiding in the approximate area can use the accurate sounds to map a path of the tank’s movement. The same also applies to the numerous explosions and fire-fights that will erupt across the war zone. Faint bangs in the distance are a warning of what lies ahead and the far quieter, subtle steps of enemy soldiers can serve the same purpose. Like the graphics it is the little details like these that make the sound quality of Battlefield 4 great.
The obvious issues with sound is the fact that it cuts out during gameplay, more commonly at the start of a round on 4-5 maps. That for me is not acceptable. As I stated above the sound can (and should) be used as to the player’s tactical advantage and to be without one of your most important senses on the Battlefield inevitably causes problems; I first noticed the severity of the problem when the warning signal for missile lock-on falls silent and I sit in my vehicle unaware of the immediate danger. Sure it does not last the whole round, but even a few seconds of sound outage is beyond the consumers expectation of a AAA+ title. A crippling blow for one of my favourite facets of the game which urgently needs fixing. I want bullets whizzing buy and jets roaring overhead not the sound of me swearing in anger like an Irish gangster.
Battlefield 4 introduces some few features and larger battles to consoles, but beyond this the experience is essentially the same. However, it is hard to judge whether I would think this is the case had the game been in a good condition at launch as BF4 potentially improves on several key aspects of the core game. Instead that potential remains as such and we are left with the scenario where we have been given a rushed product that clearly was not ready for release. As far as the ‘Quality Assurance’ team go, I can only imagine they were busy inhaling Walter White’s finest batch. I love the franchise and I want to love this game, but even after three months there has not been enough action from DICE or EA to persuade me that there will be a drastic improvement in multiplayer gameplay in the near future. It is also very concerning that EA would allow this product on to the market and presume the the Battlefield community would accept this as a satisfactory game in a series with such pedigree. The only redemption is that the game, when it works, is the finest example of a large-scale first person shooter to date. It can still offer an exciting adrenaline fuelled moments alongside some unique combat mechanics and unparalleled destruction. It is in these moments that the true nature of the game comes beaming through the dark clouds that hang above BF4’s now tarnished reputation. Even so, Battlefield 4 has fallen short of my expectations and what I fear for now is DICE’s reputation and the aftermath this will have on upcoming games in this series. I mean based on what you have seen would you want to buy Battlefield 5?
Only time will tell if Battlefield 4 can be salvaged and brought to the promised land that I have have caught glimpses of during my time with the game. Though we have come some way in the last three months, that promised land still lies beyond a very steep hill. In addition every day that passes with the game in its current state make that hill to look more like a mountain with the pressure firmly weighing down upon the shoulders of DICE and EA. Time to roll up your sleeves boys and make Battlefield 4 the 9/10 it deserved. Until then…
Thanks for reading,