- Format: PS4 (version reviewed), PS3, 360, PC, Xbox One
- Unleashed: Out Now
- Publisher: EA
- Developer: DICE
- Players: 1(offline), 2-24 (online, 360/PS3), 2-64 (online, PS4/PC/Xbox One)
- Site: http://www.battlefield.com/uk/
A surprisingly touching emotional epic, Battlefield 4 is the tale of a soldier at war with himself. Exemplifying the hidden poverty of America, your working-class character joins the army largely due to it being the only employment available to him. Dazzled by the glamour afforded to the military by Hollywood and big-name videogames, he very quickly learns the brutal truth; a regime designed to iron out individuality as quickly as possible, and the traumatic horror of being in the middle of war that Fox News pretends doesn’t exist. It’s kill or be killed whether he likes it or not – can you survive the physical and mental trials for the rest of your tour?
Just kidding! The Chinese are causing trouble (with the help of the Russians, of course), and you play one of the heroic Americans out to save the world from them.
We’re being a little harsh on the story – mainly as the Chinese aren’t painted as uniformly evil – but you get the point. If you’re looking for a story that you’ll pay enough attention to to understand, care about and remember, then keep looking. If that’s what you wanted of course, then a Battlefield title would hardly be your first port of call; but that doesn’t mean there’s no reason for the developers to have tried.
Anyway, it’s a military FPS, which means lots of moving forward while shooting people and blowing stuff up. Battlefield 4 does at least distinguish itself from much of the crowd; as in previous games, you essentially choose your own loadout. Here you earn XP for every kill and, in a similar vein to the online side, you’ll unlock new additions to your arsenal as you go. Weapon and Gadget stashes are to be found at fairly regular intervals during your missions, which allow you to choose absolutely anything that you’ve unlocked (though you can only carry two of each at any one time). The more you play, the more freedom this affords you. You might want to cower behind cover and take everybody out from a distance with a sniper rifle for instance, or jump out of the tank you’ve been given to tackle enemy armour with a rocket launcher instead.
This idea is frustrated by some enemy spawn points, whereby soldiers will magically pop into existence from an area you cleaned out just moments before thanks to a script trigger. This in turn might be forgivable for you due to the weapons having genuine variety in how they handle and operate; but, again on the negative, the campaign is ultimately a very linear one. You may be able to choose how to approach a fight, but not where to approach it. The game is a funnel of varying widths from start to finish, with the much-vaunted “levolution” offering no way to break down the barriers. It’s a striking looking game (especially on PS4), with one section during a well-presented storm surely the highlight. Lens flare is laughably overused throughout the campaign, however, at times generating an effect we can only describe as ‘light smearing’.
Never mind all that because, of course, 90% of people will only really be interested in the online side of things. Now, bear in mind that this review is of the game as it stands at late 2013/early 2014, when the worst of the notorious connectivity issues seem to have been resolved; although having said that, the morning we were putting the finishing touches to this review we found we couldn’t connect (on PS4) at all. We’ve had no corrupted campaign save, though we did find ourselves booted from the game back to the main PS4 menu – from both singleplayer and multiplayer – four times across a total of about 30 hours play so far.
Online gameplay is largely the same as before. We’d say ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ but… well, you know. Speaking of broken things the destructible environments, while a welcome change from almost every other FPS out there, aren’t noticeably improved from previous titles. Yes you can still literally bring the house down with an explosive performance, and knocking down trees by driving into them with a tank never gets old. It’s still not true to say that literally everything can be destroyed, though crawling through rubble to find yourself an unexpected sniping spot is still a welcome option.
It’s Battlefield, it’s online, so it’s still horribly addictive. That’s certainly true for the versions running on the more powerful machines, as matches can have up to 64 murderous participants driving, flying, sniping, charging, hiding, and sneaking throughout the typically huge – and expertly designed – maps. Classes have been tweaked so they’re better balanced, too. Each starts off with explosives (though Assault and Support aren’t great against tanks), and it thankfully no longer takes hours and hours of XP grinding before you have a half-decent gadget loadout. There’s still no CoD-like option to save different loadouts however, meaning wading through menu screens mid-match each time you want to swap or tweak a weapon.
Where CoD does have influence is in precisely the wrong place – the maps; specifically, the fairly new idea of ‘close quarters’ areas. Operation Locker is particularly irksome as this claustrophobic, no-vehicle map appears in rotation with the larger and infinitely more enjoyable ones. The low point is a bottleneck which, particularly in games of Conquest, invariably results in both teams hurling explosives at one another until the match is over. We would happily pay for ULC (uploadable content) to have this map removed.
Battlefield is as Battlefield does. If you’ve enjoyed previous titles, you’ll enjoy this; and for consoles at least, it’s arguably the best entry in the series yet. The campaign may be largely forgettable, but online matches are unpredictable warfare which punish recklessness and reward teamwork. It’s an incredible experience – when the EA servers will let you access it.