a chaotic firefight across vastly varied terrain... I didn't ever have the same experience twice”
Battlefield, if you're not aware of it, is a rather unique first-person shooter, published by EA. Developed by DICE in Sweden, the game is ultimately derived from one of my favourite LAN game experiences ever - Codename Eagle.
In Battlefield, you run around in a war-torn environment while shooting loads of realistic weaponry as you attempt to blow the snot out of your enemies, in either single or multiplayer modes. It is, in a word, a great way to spend some time if you like pretending to shoot things.
Battlefield 4 takes this basic formula, as brought to near perfection in 2011's Battlefield 3, and adds in a bunch of extra stuff like dynamic water, large-scale destruction, and new multiplayer modes while quietly dropping some of the less successful stuff like the co-op campaign mode. So far, so... expected, perhaps.
Where things get particularly interesting is in the console space; next-gen is right around the corner and DICE are promising some big improvements to the Battlefield experience players have in their living rooms. Chief among these changes are the fact that the game will be rendered in 1080P while allowing for - wait for it - 64 players in a match, a first for consoles. If you've only played Battlefield on consoles before, be in no doubt; 64 players is a big deal. This is what the Battlefield experience is all about, and it makes a big difference.
With all this stuff front of mind, I was eager to see what the game felt like on PlayStation 4 - an opportunity EA were only too eager to afford me at Gamescom in Germany this week. The map we played on, called Paracel Storm, is set on a small archipelago that features inclement weather and loads of vehicles to play with - check it out:
First, the bad news: that fancy 1080P rendering and support for 64 simultaneous human players comes at a cost, and that cost is visual fidelity. It looks - at this stage of its development, at least, and it's not done yet - quite noticeably inferior to its PC big brother. Textures lack detail, and pop in late, and some small objects only appear when you're fairly close to them.
There's still time to tighten this stuff up, and it does still look quite good - especially the trees bending under the load of a stiff wind, and all the various destruction that forms the game's "levolution" feature. It does seem likely, however, that the PC version will be superior, should you have the type of machine that can handle it.
Where it in no way disappoints is in the gameplay; having a chaotic firefight across vastly varied terrain in which you can blow away bits of the scenery while simultaneously being assaulted by the weather is an experience that only Battlefield can deliver. I've played through the level multiple times now, on both PC and PS4, and can honestly say that I didn't ever have the same experience twice. There are so many variables in play now - from the weapons to the players to the destruction and the enhanced levolution features - that it seems reasonable to expect continuous variety for as long as you play the game; a statement few other shooters can truly lay claim to.
One of the new levolution features I encountered was the simple ability to close the doors on a container, significantly changing the line of sight at a capture point. Other examples shown include the ability to switch off the lights inside a building, giving prepared players an upper hand as they switch to flash bangs and nightvision. There are loads more, too, such as the "chuck a grenade into the rail car and then close the door to protect yourself" shown in the above trailer, or "taking out an underground support to collapse the road under a tank" that was shown in the E3 trailer. It's far too soon to be definitive, of course, but this stuff sure makes a hell of a good first impression.
One announced new mode in the game is something called Obliteration. A variation on themes you may have seen before, it still has its own unique twist that keeps things interesting and gives the mode a feel all its own. The idea is simple enough: each team has a set of three objectives to take down, and must use a bomb to destroy them. The catch is that there's only ever one bomb in play, and it will spawn randomly on the map, leading to a combination of fighting for the bomb, as well as either attacking or defending various points.
As the map plays out, it gets tougher for the winners as the defenders will be concentrated on fewer and fewer targets. Again, it's way too soon to drop a verdict on the mode, but boy - I sure had a hell of a lot of fun playing it and I'm super keen to jump back in and try some of these strategies that have been whizzing around in my head since I last had a go. I don't know about you, but I reckon that's a pretty promising sign.
EA's damn good at marketing, and Battlefield gets a lot of their attention. It's my job at events like Gamescom to try and see through the hype (that music sure makes it hard though, doesn't it?) and figure out what lies beneath. What lies beneath, it seems, is another iteration of Battlefield; if you're a fan of the series, you'll not be surprised to hear that and you have my official permission to get excited. If you're not, well, you should probably still check out the open beta when it launches in October.
Battlefield's multiplayer deserves its plaudits and Battlefield 4 seems likely to push the franchise meaningfully forward - I, for one, can't wait. Look for our full review in October, with a next-gen review once those versions are available in November.
The Good: It's Battlefield
The Bad: It's not finished yet
The Ugly: It's... not amazing to look at.