Battlefield 4 is nearly here; to prepare you for the fight that lies ahead, we've collected our thoughts on the multiplayer component of the game for part one of an exclusive two-part review. Look out for our thoughts on the singleplayer campaign (a teaser for which is included at the bottom of this article) soon.
I had Grizz dead in my sights, poised with a steady M98B. I was about to place some sugar on the trigger when... I get knifed in the back by NobodyEpicinBed. I watch as he then gets run over by a tank during his celebratory ‘leaping dance’. Meanwhile, a heli flies over head and rains down death on a nearby building, which crumbles into dust, producing a triple kill from those caught unaware inside. Off in the distance, I see a guy parachuting out of a jet, firing an RPG at a rival vehicle on the ground. He nails it and lands effortless next to its burning wreckage...
Fans of the Battlefield franchise will know there are countless epic moments like this to be had online. And EA’s latest Battlefield 4 extends this to a whole new, chaotic level that is guaranteed to impress when it lands this Friday, November 1st. We were fortunate enough to be able to play the game on both PS4 and PC; and (as you can see if you've skipped ahead to check the score) we weren’t disappointed. It was a relentless and tantalising early look at just how awesome Battlefield 4’s online carnage is going to be.
There are a number of factors that make Battlefield one of the best online shooters on the market. While the action is intense, the game also grounds itself with an immersive level of realism that encapsulates the true horror (and adrenaline surge) of being in the middle of a chaotic war-zone. The much touted “levolution” is put to full effect here; and while many gamers might be sick of hearing about this dynamic, destructive physics engine - it creates a whole new gaming experience with every session.
With levolution, anyone playing can drastically alter the environment via a number of ways, such as triggering explosions or turning on switches. For example you could bring down a wall that then opens up new areas of play while restricting others, or block roads with rubble and prevent vehicles from accessing certain areas. Or nullify the effectiveness of vehicles altogether. The extent of this real-time destruction is massive - we saw entire cities being flooded (removing the threat of tanks and causing those on foot to seek higher ground). We even witnessed a twelve-story hotel building in the middle of the map, come crumbling down piece by piece crushing anyone inside it. Giving snipers perched on the rooftop just seconds to parachute off it to safety.
Just about every map that we played was varied, well-designed and packed full of features to mix up the gameplay even after numerous repeated playthroughs. There was Paracel Storm, a gritty weather-beaten naval battlefield littered with islands and a multitude of vehicles. As the game progresses, the tropical storm hammering the islands slowly builds until the churning seas and poor visibility create a teeth-clenching fight for survival. DICE have ensured that Battlefield 4 looks the part and the Frostbite engine truly impresses here - both in terms of detail and in the shear scope of what effects and physics it can produce. When you’re not running around avoiding being shot, you will revel at the beauty of your surroundings.
Golmud Railway changed the pace completely into an expansive hillside locale, populated with charming villages and a railway line dividing the map nearly into two halves. In a rather unusual, but well-conceived notion, this map in Conquest mode makes the train on the railway line a mobile capture point. Once taken control of, players can climb aboard and use two mounted guns while it travels around the map. Combined with the levolution aspects, it shows that the developers DICE are adding in new features to maximise the dynamic nature of the fire-fights that take place in Battlefield 4.
From the tranquil country-side, the next map - the Siege of Shanghai - takes place in a skyscraper filled city where snipers can perch up high and pick off targets below. Operation Locker, a prison buried deep into snowy mountains, was almost claustrophobic by comparison, featuring narrow congested corridors where shotguns and incendiary grenades played havoc with advancing groups. Again, to show the environmental changes that can happen, Operation Locker featured blinding snowstorms, explosive gas leaks, and even lockable cell doors that can be used to block access points.
To compliment the intelligent map designs, Battlefield 4 includes a matching set of fun, diverse gameplay modes as well. New to the series is Obliteration and Defuse; the former features an explosive device that is randomly dropped into the map where each side fights to gain control of it. At first it's a mad race to find it, but after that working together as a team is vital to ensure that you can collectively get the bomb to a designated target and then arm it. The opposing team have a small amount of time to disarm, and the end result was reminiscent of classic Counter-Strike.
Defuse is a similar mode, but at a much quicker pace with rounds usually clocking in at under a minute each. Again teams attempt to plant bombs, but this time the smaller squads take turns to attack and defend - and there is no redeployment, so the higher the kill count the more likely you are to win.
But Battlefield's main selling point has to be Conquest mode - an epic, super-charged conflict that features massive sandbox maps and a heap of assorted vehicles for land, sea, and air. Conquest in Battlefield 4 is nearly identical to previous versions of the game; teams compete to capture points (or flags) around the vast map and the scoring is based on tickets. The team that holds the most capture points will cause the other team to ‘bleed tickets’ and the first team to run out (from a determined set number of say, 300) is the loser.
It’s here that most players will spend their hours (or weeks), and we guarantee that before long - you will have plenty of stories and memorable kills to share with your online community. Again, nearly every match you play will offer something new - whether it’s down to your team-mates and rivals, or just how things play out in the dynamically flexible environment around you. There’s more on offer, such as Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch - both of which are fun, but they fail to capture the true heart of what Battlefield is all about. It’s the objective based modes that really shine through here.
Adding to the strategic appeal of goal-orientated modes is the return of Commander Mode, which makes a worthy re-appearance thanks to the support of second-screen devices like tablets and iPads. Once logged into a match, the user gets a top-down tactical map view of the game in session and from here you can act like the commander, directing team-mates toward objectives and help spot enemy soldiers. When significantly leveled up, you will also be able to deploy missiles, send supplies, and drop in vehicles at perfect positions for your assault. While it might sound a bit dull compared to being in the thick of the action, Commander Mode was surprisingly fun and addictive.
Finally, Battlefield 4 on the PS4 matches what PC gamers have been enjoying for some time now - 64-player lobbies. We agree that more players doesn’t necessarily mean more fun - but Battlefield 4 gets it just right thanks to the balanced level design and the freedom to play the game anyway you chose. With the various gameplay modes, players can achieve high scores by racking up the kills, or keeping your head down and achieving objectives for your team. Even playing as different classes, such as Support and Engineer, allow more strategic players to build up points through dropping ammunition, health packs, and repairing vehicles. It truly is a team-based affair and working together as a squad, or an army, makes all the difference. Despite how ruthless the online community can be, Battlefield 4 remains accessible regardless of your skill or hours you dedicate to the cause. It’s an impressive achievement.
Battlefield is a multiplayer game at heart. It excels in human-on-human warfare and this latest title perfects the formula. However the game still includes a relatively decent singleplayer campaign, which clocks in at around five hours and offers a number of memorable set-pieces along the way. But it is marred by a weak script and unconvincing character development that defaults the singleplayer campaign to only act as an ‘extra bonus’, or perhaps an introduction to the gameplay - rather than a talking point. Thankfully players can skip it altogether, head straight to the Training Range to brush up on their skills, and then enter the online fray.