The Battlefield series of games has always felt like the more strategic brother of Call of Duty, opting for a slightly slower game pace that favours more careful, considerate play. As someone who only recently found himself enjoying this genre again it took me a while to get accustomed to this as I had gotten used to the high action spam fest, quickly unloading my entire inventory in the vague direction of where the enemy stood. At the same time Battlefield 3 demonstrated what powerful PCs were capable of with Frostbite 2 engine giving us graphics on a level that few other games had yet to achieve. Battlefield 4 feels like the organic progression of the world that its predecessor set up, offering a very similar experience that’s seen many improvements.
Battlefield 4 takes place 6 years after the events of Battlefield 3 and the escalating tensions between Russia and the USA are at an all time high, threatening to turn into an all out war. At the same time Admiral Chang, a high ranking Chinese military commander, is plotting to overthrow the Chinese government in a coup d’etat. You play as Recker, a member of the special forces squad designated Tombstone, who’s attempting to return vital intel that confirms Chang’s plans. Worse still you’ve found out that should Chang succeed he’ll have the full backing of the Russian government, ensuring that large scale will come to America’s shores. Your task is stop Chang’s rise to power and avert a global scale war.
Just like its predecessor Battlefield impresses with its high standard of graphics thanks to the improvements brought by the Frostbite 3 engine.The environments certainly look and feel more alive, especially considering that nearly everything is destructible now. Indeed everything has a very cinematic feel about it as the level of graphics in game surpasses that of many others pre-rendered cut scenes. Surprisingly even though I haven’t upgraded my computer since the last Battlefield I was still able to play at extremely high settings, albeit with anti-aliasing turned off. The only time I got noticeable slow down was in some of the larger conquest maps where a good chunk of the players were all converging on one point. This is likely due to my ATI graphics card which supports the Mantle API which DICE have included support for in this new engine.
Battlefield 4’s campaign is, for the most part, your typical run and gun FPS although unlike most other corridor shooters there are usually several paths for you to take to achieve your objective. It is somewhat more constrained than what I previously remember which I think is partly due to the set pieces DICE chose with many more closed in spaces. Still I can recall multiple moments where I’d see multiple ways of achieving my objective, some guns blazing and others with a much more subtle approach. At the same time there are some paths that look like viable options which simply aren’t but Battlefield 4’s check pointing system is good enough that you don’t feel overly punished for experimenting once in a while.
One of the key differences between Battlefield 3 and 4 is that you now have the option to customize your load out during missions via the use of weapon crates. You don’t have access to all the weapons to begin with however, instead you’ll unlock them by achieving a certain number of points, much like you would during a multi-player game. One thing they didn’t mention, although I will admit I might have missed it, is that you also unlock weapons by picking them up off fallen enemies. This was particularly frustrating for me as since I was favouring a sniper rifle there weren’t any upgrades unlocked through the points system (at least none I can remember) and I only lucked out on an upgrade when I accidentally picked one up. That was when I found out of the 2 different ways of unlocking weapons, something I would’ve liked to have known about a lot earlier.
There’s also a rudimentary stealth system incorporated for some reason and it takes after the Splinter Cell way, showing you a little bar that’s pointing in the direction of the person who can see you. Once it flashes that means they’ve detected you and will alert everyone in that section to your location. Whilst you can get a whole bunch done by taking out enemies stealthily it’s quite obvious that the game doesn’t expect you to do this as you can be right in front of someone and still not break stealth. Additionally there’s no way to reset back to a state where the enemies no longer know where you are, even if you manage to escape without them being able to see you. Honestly it would have probably been better to leave that system out altogether and do the stealth bits via cut scene as it doesn’t really add much to the game overall.
The story of Battlefield 4 is a really mixed experience as there are moments which could have been quite amazing however I just didn’t have the emotional investment in the characters required to make said moments possible. This might also be a function of this genre’s inability to get away from the clichéd plot of America (FUCK YEAH) vs the world as whilst it makes for some intense action and drama it does not make for a deep and engrossing plot. Still I can’t say I was bored during any of it and the length was extended slightly above its predecessors which was honestly just a tad too short. One part where it really fell down however was the ending as I can never give a game props for using the Endotron 3000 to give you multiple different endings.
However the multiplayer retains that larger than life feeling that I only seem to get from Battlefield games. The new large conquest maps are an absolute joy to play and the chaos that ensues from having a 32 on 32 battle is really hard to beat. It can be a little daunting coming into a game like this so many months after it’s been out as everyone has levelled up way past you but once you find the class that fits you best it becomes quite easy to stack on a few levels and unlock some better kit to help you out. There’s enough unlocks and awards in Battlefield 4 to keep even the most adamant achievement hunter busy for months and even after spending a good 4 hours playing through the various maps I still feel like there’s a lot more to discover.
What lets down the entire experience though, and something I was rather annoyed was still present considering how late I came to Battlefield 4, was the number of crashes, bugs and glitches that plague the experience. I had the single player game crash on me numerous times, often several times during a single mission, without any rhyme or reason as to why it was happening. This continued into the multiplayer where doing certain things, actions which I assumed were part of the core game (like jumping off a tall building and parachuting the ground below) would again result in a crash. This persisted for the last 2 weeks as I stumbled my way through multiplayer and whilst it’s been fixed now (at least I didn’t have any crashes in the last couple days) DICE really needs to get their act together when bugs at that level are still persistent almost 3 months after release.
Battlefield 4 is a solid game, improving substantially on its predecessor in many respects whilst being different enough to stand on its own. The campaign is a solid 6 hours of fun, offering you a varying number of challenges that can be accomplished in many different ways. The multiplayer is, as always, larger than life and filled with so many choices that people will be theorycrafting for years as to what the best builds are for various situations. The experience was unfortunately let down by its horrendously buggy nature, something which has only just been recently fixed, but I’m glad to say that people buying the game now are coming in at a stage where it isn’t as bad as it used to be. Battlefield 4 then is well worth the price of admission, especially for long time fans of the series.
Battlefield 4 is available on PC, Xbox360 , PlayStation3, XboxOne and PlayStation 4 for $79.99, $78, $78 , $98 and $98 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 6 hours on the campaign and 4 hours on multiplayer.
It shouldn’t be a secret that I’m something of a Windows guy as I’ve essentially made my career in IT out of their products as well as it being my preferred gaming platform. It’s not that I have anything against the alternatives per se, more that there really isn’t another platform capable of doing all the things that Windows can do currently. If I was to stay on the PC platform my only alternatives are OSX and Linux and the former requires an exorbitant investment in hardware which I, as someone who builds his own PCs, am quite adverse to. Whilst the merits of Linux are vast it’s still got a long way to go before I can consider it on par with Windows, even if there’s been significant progress of late.
Indeed it’s gotten to the point where some industry veterans, like DICE creative director Lars Gustavsson, have gone on record saying that Linux is only one killer app away from seeing explosive growth. There’s definitely been an escalating amount of investment in the platform over the past couple years, mostly in the indie space thanks to things like the Humble Bundles, however Linux gamers are still only make up a tiny minority, on the order of 2% (even on the current champion of the platform, Steam). With that in mind whilst I agree with Gustavsson’s point that Linux is only one killer application away from seeing a lot of growth that statement hides the significant amount of work required to make that happen.
For starters hidden within that 2% of users is an incredible amount of diversity in terms of which distribution they’re using. This is less of a problem than it used to be since a couple base distributions now power the majority of the Linux world (Debian, Red Hat, etc.) however it still presents a challenge that needs to be overcome. I think (and feel free to correct me on this) that the majority of this stems from a driver level where there’s a huge amount of fragmentation thanks to either a philosophical standpoint, I.E. no non-free software so binary blobs are out, or simply because manufacturers aren’t willing to provide that level of support to Linux users.
There also needs to be a critical mass of users in order for it to become attractive for bigger developers to want to support Linux as a platform. Now there’s some potential for this to happen with SteamOS and SteamMachines although it will still take some time for that to permeate. It will be interesting to see if SteamOS users will translate into Linux users over time or if they’ll remain as users of the platform, just like current console gamers are. There will need to be significant traction for this critical mass to be reached however as even OSX, which commands around 6% of the PC gaming market, still hasn’t managed to reach that level where big developers and publishers see it as a priority platform to support. What that critical mass is however I am not sure of but it’s definitely far above the current level which Linux reaches to currently.
I’m not saying that any of this isn’t possible, it most certainly is thanks to the mountains of work done by dozens of companies, just that “One Killer App” is so much harder to achieve than what the soundbite makes it sound like. Personally if it happened I’d be pretty excited about it as more competition means better products for the end consumer, even if I don’t completely agree with some of the motivations that are driving it. It’s for that reason that I signed up for the Steam hardware beta as I’d love to see the PC platform make a resurgence as the king of gaming regardless of the software platform it runs.