Game Review: Battlefield 4 – An FPS Masterpiece
(originally posted on Gaming Precision.com; This version of the review has additional content and edits)
Battlefield has long been one of the best military FPS games on the market. Ever since the days of 1942, Battlefield has made a name for itself with large maps, lots of players, and an great mix of infantry and vehicular combat unlike any other game on the market. As time has moved along, the series hasn’t had to do a whole lot of evolution outside of changing the theme and adding more weapons and vehicles to use. Eventually, developer DICE pushed the evolution to be an advanced physics driven game engine (in Frostbite 3) that would increase the environmental destructibility. Pushing the current gen consoles to the limit and slightly leveling the console to PC playing field, Battlefield 4 is a stunning Porterhouse steak of a game that is best served with a heap of patience.
With the days of Battlefield 3 behind us, Battlefield 4 looks to advance the franchise with massive destructible buildings and large maps filled with bunches of soldiers (up to 64 people on the PC, PS4, and Xbox One versions). DICE has managed to speed up the combat which always seemed to slug behind the speeds of the Call of Duty franchise. Now, soldiers rush and vault over structures and rubble at a pace that makes close encounter combat surprisingly more frantic. Once you tinker around with the thumbstick sensitivity a bit as well as the control scheme for various vehicles, moving around and aiming at your targets is a somewhat improved experience that may or may not actually be faster than CoD.
As with past iterations of Battlefield, the experience is a tactical struggle that hinges on how well you work with your squadmates. Unlike CoD, Battlefield VIPs are one of two types of soldiers. Either you are an expert (at assault AND countermeasures) driver/pilot or your are adept at achieving objectives. This means taking flags in Conquest, blowing up stations (or defending them) in Rush, accepting, following, and giving orders to fellow squadmates, and just all around doing more than simply racking up a lot of kills. Battlefield’s point structure rewards teamwork and following orders rather than being Quickdraw Mcgraw. Using the command rose to call out enemy soldiers and vehicles to your teammates is key as these large maps can hide teams of snipers and foes for a quite some time. Commander-less matches require everyone in the match to spot as much as possible so as to avoid a well coordinated ambush or blitz on a flag. Match are huge so as to give vehicular warfare room to breathe so running everywhere on foot is not only boring but tactically a bad idea. Being quick to an objective can land you and your squadmates an easy 3-400 points for capturing. Spend too much time running everywhere without cover will land you in sniper or vehicular homicide-central!
Success in Battlefield requires each an every respawn to be made with tactics in mind. Choosing which class you take on is a decision based not just on your playstyle, but the make-up of your squad. Everyone in a squad shouldn’t be a sniper when the name of the game is capturing objectives. Since each class has a number of tools and gadgets, they each specialize in a specific function. The Assault class are the basic infantry equipped with the ability to revive, mask, and heal fellow troops. The Engineer is the anti-vehicular class with anti-air and anti-tank tech. The Support troop provides firepower and ammo to the mix. Lastly, the Sniper provides the recon for the rest of the team.
Each of the classes (Assault/Medic, Support, Sniper, Engineer) have with an abundance of weaponry, gadgets, and attachments. Battlefield allows you to become the MVP by doing more than simply getting kills, arming bombs, and taking flagpoints. Everything from spotting enemies, laser targeting enemy vehicles, repairing friendly vehicles, defending points, and following orders from your squad leader or commander gain you points that could shoot you through the match ranking quickly. You’ll use everything from C4, mortars, laser targeting binoculars, repair robots, mines, smoke grenades, motion sensors, recon and explosive drones, and more. Once you get good at flying or driving a vehicle, you’ll even be treated with better weapon systems, counter systems, better armor, and improved optics. Everything that is added provides a balanced advantage or disadvantage to the experience that changes how and when you use each system or attachment. All of these loadouts can be changed in-game or even through the Battlelog app on your smartphone (which is how I chose to do it most times).
One of the key new features in Battlefield 4 that returns from Battlefield 2 (the PC version) is the Commander Mode. Here, you are tasked with leading ALL of your teammates into battle by manning a satellite fed viewpoint of the map filled with icons representing all capture points, all teammates and vehicles, and any identified enemy soldier or vehicle that squads have encountered. The commander’s role is to use strategy and his limited resources to plan out the battle and provide information to the squad leaders of your team. By highlighting and ordering squads to attack or defend certain points, you earn points as they obey your orders. You can also launch a cruise missile attack, launch an AC130 support plane to circle a specified area, deploy a UAV or EMP, drop a supply crate with ammunition and the ability to change classes on the battlefield without dying, as well as a few other orders. One of particular note is the ‘squad promotion’ feature. Here, the commander can directly enhance a squad’s abilities up to 4 times according to each soldier’s equipped ‘specialization path’. These paths are unlocked through progression (and Battlepacks) and provide different enhancements like +10% running speed, taking 10% less explosive damage, or decreases the time that you stay spotted by an enemy. Little bonuses like these can make all the difference and only the commander can activate them. This is a difficult and involved way of playing the game which takes time and practice to master. Those players more drawn to strategy and tactics will certainly gravitate to this mode of play just as often as playing as the field grunts.
In truth this mode is best played on an iPad or Android tablet. The Commander Mode App for both iOS and Android allow you to play as the commander on basically ANY platform’s game. The reason why this is the recommended style of play is that this mode is more easily navigated with touch controls. The zooming, the squad highlighting, and the command icons are more quickly selected using touch controls. It would be interesting to see if DICE puts any time into using motion controls with the Kinect but given the other stability issues they’ve had, the current control scheme is just fine!
Playing BF4 on the Xbox One is a beautiful and sonically dynamic experience. As with BF3, the sound design pulls you in with deafening explosions and sound effects that always make you feel as if you’re really in the midst of frantic combat. Background noise of gunfights across the map can be heard as well as the sounds of vehicles squaring off against each other. There is even the sound of teammates calling out orders and events as they happen in-game. At times, on the Xbox One, the background noise is filled with nonsensical conversations and such from teammates who’ve forgotten that their Kinect’s default setting is to have the microphone on listening to the room. Still, this is a minor annoyance.
Speaking of Kinect, the voice commands used to expedite the command rose work beautifully. No need to say “Xbox” beforehand of course. Once done, the feature allows your soldier to request assistance from the commander, issue requests to nearby soldiers, as well as the other commands on the rose.
A quick note on the comparison between platforms. I was fortunate enough to play a bit of BF4 on the Xbox 360 and PS4 as well as the Xbox One (which is the version this review is based upon). The beauty of this game shines on all consoles involved. Even the Xbox 360 version looks great. While stepping up to next gen is noticable on the graphics level, the gameplay between the versions is spot on. Where the difference was seen by me was in the animation. In the Xbox One version, it seemed as if there were less frames shown in the animation specifically in moments when a soldier would stop running. Motion of the soldiers were a tad bit more fluid and lifelike in the PS4 version than the others. Also, the Xbox One version felt as if the running motion was going a bit faster than the soldier’s actually movement on the screen. It just seemed as if he was gliding about at a speed slower than his legs seemed to move. Maybe it was glitches skipping some of the animation or maybe not. Not really a game changer or a bit deal but still noticeable.
An improvement that is seemingly insignificant but helps a lot is at the spawn screen. There, the helmet cam of the squadmate that you have selected to respawn on is shown so that you can see if they are in a firefight or if they are safely hiding. This allows you to avoid spawning on a squadmate and then unsuspectingly finding yourself in a gun battle that you were not prepared for.
Probably one of the biggest noticable achievements in this game (as well as the series for quite some time) has been the amazing quality of the sound design. Combat vets have repeatedly commended the sound effects of this game as quite realistic. Throw on a set of surround sound headphones and listen to this baby soar! Everything from the zip of gunfire to the different sounds of the weapons, explosions, and more are all so immersive. With several awards under their belt ( BAFTA, GANG and AIAS) the sound design team has completely outdone themselves and are sure to win more for this effort.
The real question is how does all of this play out in comparison to BF3 (because let’s face it…CoD Ghosts disappoints). As stated before, the speed of all around you feels a tick quicker than the 360 version of BF3. Still, the locomotion about the rubble and obstacles still has that glitchy nature to it. While you can climb, swim, vault and sprint your way through the action, you’ll still find yourself getting stuck trying to run over small clumps of rubble that you wouldn’t think you’d have to vault over or not being able to climb ledges that seem to be a head level. There will also be times when shooting through objects doesn’t seem to work like it should. For instance, I was standing behind a grated staircase watching my foe creep around in the darkness looking for me. As he did so, I lined my sight up to shoot in between two steps and found every bullet ricocheting off of some unseen barrier as if the staircase was a completely solid structure. Other glitches as well as server availability and stability have been problematic as well. DICE seems to have taken care of all this but the community will be wary as the DLC continues to be released.
Still, when Battlefield is working and your squad is humming along and the points are flowing, Battlefield is one of the most satisfying military FPS games ever made. It forces you to appreciate the skill of helicopter pilots, realistic sniping, and even using real strategy to take down armored targets or capture an objective. Battlefield throws you into a gorgeous Frostbite damage riddled warzone where cover is never safe for long and melee kills are ridiculously satisfying (rather than cheap). There are no other FPS console games out there that force you to change your tactics and style of play as often as you must in a Battlefield match. Everything from mastering aerial and ground vehicles of the combat and transport variety to utilizing all of the various gadgets and weapon attachments are simply the surface level options. One could in one moment find themselves needing to take down a pesky assault chopper pilot that is racking up the kills and then quickly get surrounded by a couple of 4 man squads with sniper support. The huge maps with oceans, islands, mountains, buildings, prisons, towers, and much more provide all kinds of tactical advantages and disadvantages to defending a checkpoint, destroying a highrise with the checkpoint at the top, to defending a radar dish with a sniper’s view of a majority of the action. Once that action gets condensed and concentrated with almost 40-60 soldiers all around one chokepoint, then you REALLY experience the chaotic glory of what makes this franchise standout as squads work together.
Too bad this exhilaration is lost in the sauce when it comes to the single player experience. While the canned animation moments are a wonder to see and rumble-feel, the actual gunfights against the ridiculously dumb AI take away all sense of accomplishment from the campaign aside from unlocking a few extra guns for use in multiplayer. While the story is ok with decent voice acting, the action itself suffers from the woeful ‘oh-I’ve-seen-this-take-cover-animation-before’ syndrome. Between than and wondering how many times you have to make a headshot to take down enemies, the single player mode can even become burdensome at times. This is only redeemed by the occasional vehicular combat you are allowed to partake in.
The Premium subscription for this game is definitely worth the extra coin. Those who find themselves caught up in returning to the various modes and decent variety of maps will find additional modes (such as Air Superiority and Carrier Assault), more weapons and gadgets, more vehicles (hovercrafts man!), and much more as the DLC continues to crank out. Not only that, Premium members get early access to the DLC as well as regular battlepacks which give more attachments, XP bonuses, extra customizations, and dogtags as well. Battlefield is easily one of those FPS games that a fan could spend hundreds of hours on and rarely get tired of playing it.
DICE and Electronic Arts have managed to take on the challenge of making the console experience as close to the PC experience as possible and they seem to have hit that mark. The achievement of bringing 64 players together in one match on next gen consoles (the max is 32 on current gen) is so gratifying in the explosive bliss that is Battlefield. Unfortunately, that achievement has been marred by the host of glitches and server stability issues that also plagued the early months of the Battlefield 3 launch. At least this go around, when the game plays well, it is an AMAZING sight and experience to behold that no other console to PC franchise can match to date.