In a series so well loved and recognisable as the Battlefield games, it’s almost foolish to avoid repetition. You’ve got your audience and they have expectations; fail to meet those expectations and they’ll crucify you. With that in mind we come to Battlefield 4, a safe game for people who fear change.
I love Battlefield, I’ve loved it since I borrowed my mate’s PC Gamer demo disc and installed the online demo of Battlefield 2. I was dumbstruck by the scale of it all, not to mention the variety of play and the emphasis on things other than just murdering people. Being a valued member of your team through healing people and repairing vehicles? MADNESS.
Flash forward eight years and we find ourselves faced with the fourth entry into the series (despite there having been eight Battlefield games since Battlefield 2) and, to be honest, the spirit of the thing is pretty much the same. You shoot the bad guys, heal the good guys or prod the big metal things on wheels with a magical blowtorch.
The big innovation that DICE have been touting is levolution, which is not a word, meaning that each level has a certain trigger within it that changes the environment in some way. They range from skyscrapers collapsing into dust, to the entire lower half of one of the levels being flooded and certainly add a nice extra bit of depth to the gameplay. Sadly the effect is soured by this being yet another Battlefield to shun Bad Company’s extensive destructible environments. In many ways these scripted set piece moments feel like a disappointing trade-in meant to distract us from the omission of being able to truly reshape the battlegrounds. Maybe it wouldn’t be so disappointing if there wasn’t just one per map that will inevitably be set off at some point during a match.
They lack the unpredictability set out by the destruction system found in the Bad Company games. It’s extremely rare you’ll ever find yourself within a collapsing building, as there simply aren’t very many buildings that *can* collapse.
As you may have guessed from the opening paragraph of this review, not much has changed between Battlefield 3 and Battlefield 4. I doubt any of you expected that it would either. Battlefield is one of those games that doesn’t so much change as evolve over time, gaining new features, changing up weapons, growing more and more beautiful as the years go by. It’s near time we should just start considering series like Battlefield and Call of Duty as singular games that just have updated versions released every year or so. I mean why fix what ain’t got any particularly crippling flaws?
And if your game doesn’t have any crippling flaws why not introduce some in the latest instalment? It’s well known, at this stage, but Battlefield 4 shipped with a plethora of horrifyingly frustrating issues not least of all a quick match button that didn’t work. Among other bugs were players merging with the ground and damage from single bullets being multiplied numerous times if they hit you at a very specific point in time. Fans were upset, very upset, and rightly so. It seems EA misunderstood the popularity of Steam Early Access and tried to get in on the action for itself without actually understanding why Early Access works.
So sometimes Battlefield 4 doesn’t work. Sometimes it’s a horrible frustrating mess of a game and sometimes an engineer will shoot you right in the pinky toe and kill you outright.
But when Battlefield 4 DOES work it’s a wonderful, glorious refresher of what makes the series great. A mad, hectic, explosive joy to play. Sometimes you’ll drive out onto the battlefield and find what looks just like a set-piece as choppers batter buildings with minigun fire, men fight to the death in the streets, tank shells slam into dented steel plating and jets pass overhead desperately trying to gain the upper hand over one another. Battlefield 4 is Battlefield at its best, and it’s good to see the old girl again.
This may be the strongest set of launch maps for any entry in the series so far with a great deal of varied, beautiful locations to run, drive or fly around killing people. You’ve got your Siege of Shanghai, a massive open Battlefield, perfect for the 64 player limit, but you’ve also got smaller, more intimate locations like Operation Locker, set inside a mountain prison environment torn directly from the single player campaign.
And about that single player campaign: this one’s actually pretty good. It’s well known that the campaign mode in Battlefield 3 was freeze-dried elephant piss but you’re likely to have a much better experience with Battlefield 4 thanks to it having a, somewhat, coherent narrative and actual characters. They even tone down the whole inevitable racism thing by having it be a subset of Chinese people who are shooting at basically everyone, including other Chinese people (but not at Russians, obviously). Mind you, it is still rather jingoistic to assume that, without American intervention, China just could not possibly deal with domestic threats.
It is nothing more than a perk, however. A tasty little morsel to sample when your internet has gone down. The multiplayer component is the big draw here, and if you’re looking for a multiplayer shooter to play on your fancy new console or beefy PC then this is the one you want. It’s meaty, it’s fun, and it’s utterly unpredictable.
The number of times I’ve woken up my wife and child screaming “XBOX RECORD THAT” bears witness to this fact.