GAME NAME: Battlefield 4
PLATFORM(S): PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox 360
RELEASE DATE(S): 31 October 2013, 21 November 2013 (next-gen)
As I sat in a darkened theatre in San Francisco this past March, DICE’s Patrick Söderlund declared that Battlefield 4’s single-player campaign would be beyond epic.
“As we all know, the best games out there are not really about polygons, or shaders; it’s the emotional connection that we make with players,” he began. “The DICE studio has evolved into world-class entertainers and storytellers. We are strongly driven by the desire to craft new worlds, new gameplay experiences, and fill them with gripping stories, unique characters and spectacular moments.”
That was a big call.
In March, after I’d trekked from Australia to San Francisco to see a single-player Battlefield 4 reveal hours after it’d been leaked on the internet, DICE was trying to sell their new game to me on the basis that I’d be wrapped up in its thought-provoking, diverse, highly replayable – and most importantly – well-written and less-scripted campaign. Sure, Battlefield is known for its multiplayer, but DICE wouldn’t even discuss it during the BF4 reveal. That didn’t stop journalists from asking, much to the chagrin of DICE’s Patrick Bach.
“It’s less scripted than ever before in any Battlefield game,” Bach told me, frustrated, after I brought up the notion that gamers didn’t really take to Battlefield 3’s campaign due to its highly-scripted campaign. “No, it’s not an open-world game; it’s not a bot match where you run and play against AI players and hope to have fun. It is a very narrative and focused story that we’re using, but we’re opening up for variations in gameplay when it comes to choice.”
The reveal wasn’t just frustrating for DICE; it was clear that journalists were flummoxed as well. Were the team at DICE great storytellers because they’d taken a creative writing class, or because the power of the new Frostbite 3 engine gave them a better toolset to somehow draw an emotional response from the player?
After sitting down with Battlefield 4’s single-player campaign, I think I finally have an answer to my question. Frostbite 3 was apparently to be DICE’s resident Shakespeare, though I think someone forgot to tell the engine that. While DICE has delivered a beautiful looking single-player campaign in Battlefield 4, it suffers from the same problems we all seemed to have with Battlefield 3.
The campaign focuses on a squad of four main characters, and as it wears on – in five or six short hours, I might add – you don’t feel emotionally attached to any of them. You control a marine named Recker, and in true Master Chief, Halo 1-3 style, the man rarely speaks. In fact, I think he merely grunts. On the flipside, I wanted to put a (high polygon count) sock in teammate Irish’s mouth. Not only did the character constantly tell you what he was thinking, he did it in a way that telegraphed what was to come in the campaign’s story. Irish was DICE’s attempt to make you feel something by continually telling you how you should feel. It reeked of sloppy dialogue and scripting.
The worst bit about the campaign is most certainly its ending, but you won’t see me ruining that for you here. You’ll know what I’m talking about as soon as you get to it.
On the matter of a different kind of scripting, it’s still very much relied upon in the campaign. Explosions happen on cue, and while they look amazing, it’s hard to agree with Bach’s claim that game was “less scripted than ever before”. He wasn’t lying either when he said the campaign wasn’t open-world, as you’ll find your characters battling through a series of close-quarters, closed environments. Or, exactly the opposite of what makes Battlefield great; gamers want those unpredictable “Battlefield experiences” that DICE boast of in multiplayer.
Sure, I’m bagging out Battlefield 4’s campaign quite hard, but that’s really because DICE set it up in a very specific way and then didn’t deliver on their claims. The game’s single-player campaign is actually quite fun to play, and if you think of it as it really is—as a Battlefield multiplayer primer – it ticks all of the boxes. It’s got action. It’s got closed-quarters combat, vehicles and (admittedly, not enough) open-area environments to wreak havoc upon. It’s got a great scoring system that will bring you back to replay missions if not to best your friends, then to unlock extra weaponry.
The simple fact is, Battlefield 4’s single-player does not have a great story and doesn’t draw you in emotionally. If you don’t expect that, you won’t have a problem with it. Jump on in, get a taste for combat, and then head over to the far superior multiplayer.
WHICH IS AMAZING, BY THE WAY.
I was fortunate enough to spend close to twenty hours at EA’s Redwood Shores office playing Battlefield 4 multiplayer on PS4 and PC. I’m in love.
Old favourite modes Rush, Conquest and Deathmatch are ever-present in Battlefield 4, joined this time around by the explosive (pun intended) Obliteration and Difuse modes. DICE has called Obliteration “the Battlefield moments generator”, and they’re not wrong. In fact, most of the captured gameplay we’re featuring in our video review (above) is from Obliteration or the action-packed Team Deathmatch. And, on PS4, I happily add.
In Obliteration, a bomb spawns at random on the map, and you and your squad are tasked to track it down, transport it to an enemy base and blow it to hell. Each team has three bases to protect, and vehicles are always close by. It’s a hectic mode that really rewards teamwork and communication.
Team Deathmatch is a fairly standard mode, but it really serves to show that DICE can do close-quarters combat just as good as – if not better than – Call of Duty. Best yet, in Team Deathmatch (or any other mode, really), DICE realises the actual value of each player. If you’re like me, you manage to take about 95 of an enemy’s 100 hit points before dying. In Battlefield 3, a teammate could finish that opponent off for an easy 200 or 300 experience points, leaving you with a measily 90 or so basic assist points. In Battlefield 4, you get the same amount of support points, but that type of kill actually counts toward your own personal stats, meaning you finally get the credit you rightfully deserve. It’s a great little nod to the wannabes like me who’ve almost got skill.
I know PC gamers will roll their eyes at me, but 64 player Battlefield is amazing Battlefield, especially on next-gen consoles. There’s always something exploding around you, or at the very least, nearby enemies to get the jump on. It’s absolutely exhilarating, and great to see that the game will provide next-gen gamers the ability to play massively populated game types with their controller of choice instead of with a mouse or keyboard. Or, for that matter, without a wired Xbox controller on PC, where fighting against other players who’ve mastered the keyboard and mouse configuration means you’ll get owned.
Multiplayer maps range from small and confined to large and expansive. Each has a variety of choke points that can or can’t be avoided, depending on your class (cause hey, sometimes you just want balls-to-the-wall). DICE’s new concept of “Levolution” is present on each map, and can range from a simple prompt to close a door that alters the path an enemy can take, to a dam breaking and spilling the water it was holding back, essentially submerging the lower half of the map. I swear, the room full of games journalists at Redwood collectively stopped at points to watch as Levolutions were triggered. There’s nothing quite like seeing a massive satellite dish crumble to the ground, crushing soliders and vehicles that didn’t get away in time. Keep an eye on the site tomorrow for an article on how to activiate all of Battlefield 4‘s Levolutions.
Obviously the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions of the game aren’t as graphically impressive and only offer a maximum of 32 player multiplayer, but some gamers will be able to upgrade to PS4 and Xbox One versions for as little as $9.99. You won’t be able to keep your single-player progress, but your multiplayer unlocks and progression do come across, so it’s totally worth buying now and upgrading later. More information on Battlefield 4‘s current- to next-gen upgrade offer can be found here.
Battlefield 4’s multiplayer is damn-near perfect. It’s got something for hardcore, skilled players, and it’s got something for n00bs who still want to be a valuable asset in the course of a battle. On its own, Battlefield 4 would earn an easy 10. With the addition of the over-hyped and under-delivering single-player campaign, the game’s going to have to settle with an 8.5. A 9 would have been on the cards if Australia’s current- to next-gen upgrade paths were more clear at the time of this review.
Keep up the amazing multiplayer in the inevitable Battlefield 5 DICE, but learn from the mistakes you made with 3 and continued with in 4 when it comes to single-player. Please.
Stevivor.com was flown to San Francisco recently by EA to take place at a Battlefield 4 review event. We played Xbox One (single-player), PS4 and PC (multiplayer) versions of the game in single-player and multiplayer. Our review and associated review footage was based on and captured from PS4 and PC versions of the title.