Battlefield 4 Review
Twelve years of Battlefield games have come and gone and after a rather short two-year wait since the last game, we now have a transformational, gap-crossing new entry in the series. Publisher EA loves to tighten the grasp they have on gamers and they've executed a brilliant, addictive, and frankly exploitative strategy to make money off of gamers, but here's my thing: it's OK to partake in it if you can afford it, you can keep track of how much in total you're spending on the game and all the extra crap, and still have fun even while being aware of those facts.
Battlefield 4 is a brilliant game that finally merges nearly everything we've loved about the games over the years all into one big, epic package that will satisfy nearly any online FPS fan. There are some bumps and scrapes along the way, but they don't get too much in the way, really, not considering what gamers have been asking for - which is more multiplayer options and not more campaign.
But EA decided that they had to have a campaign anyway. It's an almost-decent 4-5 hour affair with the appropriate huge production values, solid voice acting and performance capture, big building destruction, and boisterous attitude you expect out of a single player military shooter nowadays. The maps vary between tight and claustrophobic and huge and open, and it's these latter parts of the campaign that hold most of the entertainment to be had when playing alone. Even then, BF4's single player mode may not hold a candle to those of the Bad Company games campaigns, but this is different: BF4 takes Call of Duty head on and, unlike BF3's weak campaign, actually gives Activision's franchise a run for its money. (Whether that's worth anything in the end, well, I kind of doubt it.) It's loud and full of great visuals, but there's little substance to it and the story makes little sense. Sure, the campaign team finally caught up to Call of Duty, but it's a few years late. Either way, it's still not nearly good enough to really convince me that Battlefield still needs a single player mode. (Know what might, though? Bad Company 3.)
So: on to the multiplayer, which is what anyone considering buying Battlefield 4 should be focusing on largely. The online play on PC is pretty breathtaking, with a huge range of features coming together - like Commanders, a Battlelog system that finally works nicely, 64 players, destruction of whole buildings large and small, great visuals, and a solid unlock and gunplay system that really does feel like a near-perfect "average" of everything that has been good about Battlefield games in the past. We get the great visuals of BF3 without the over-filtering that made it hard to see enemies, the larger destruction of the Bad Company games, the depth of strategy in commanding through Battlefield 2, and the new game modes remind me of back when DICE used to do more mode experimentation with that in BF2142. (I still kind of want a Titan mode back, by the way!)
My earlier concerns from back in Beta regarding the on-foot soldiers' lack of power to take out vehicles as well as a worry about requiring too many players to get even the most basic things done on maps has mostly fizzled away. DICE went about it solving this issue, one that I found wrecked Battlefield 3's balance in early months, in ways that I didn't expect. For one, maps have been carefully designed to give smart players a better chance, and often that means a dumb tank driver will lose handily to a moderately-equipped engineer who knows what he's doing.
Beyond that, planes are on some maps but aren't the weird meta-game thing in the sky that doesn't really affect the people actually capturing objectives - why? Mostly because they're just not enabled on that many maps, that's all. Instead, players are brought together through brilliant level design and a few smart gameplay decisions (like spawning on any squadmate, not just the squad leader) so it's to the point that even a 10-player match on a 64-player version of a map can still be a real match. Throw in tons of unlocks and attachments that are more accessible to more of the classes, and we have an evened-out playing field. Instead, the classes in BF4 each have two gadget slots, and these are really what define your class more appropriately. No, an engineer can't carry around a sniper rifle or anything, but you will see a little more diversity in classes and the weapons they can wield.
Levolution is a silly term for a big destruction event that can happen on each map, but I think that this is probably something that DICE only really had working properly in a few multiplayer maps, and then after the huge reaction people had to seeing the skyscraper topple at E3, I'm guessing that they quickly tried to shoehorn something similar into every map. Only a few Levolution events really matter that much, and the rest are kind of a disappointment. The biggest one is the map at the base of a huge dam, and you can break it with an overwhelming, stupid amount of firepower, but then it doesn't actually drown the map in water - it just breaks one top-central part, leaving most of the dam that's actually holding the water intact, and makes a big pile of rubble in one area.
Additionally, EA has taken their Magic the Gathering-style addictiveness of paying real money for a randomized chance at unlocks you want, and adapted them to BF4 like they did with Mass Effect 3's multiplayer. They call them Battlepacks, and they're unlocked as you play or can be bought. Let me just say that yes, it's addictive, and yes, it's fun - but it's also exploitative, especially when added onto the day-one DLC that you otherwise had to pre-order to get. EA is also already pushing Premium (which is like a season pass for a year's worth of DLC) with only a few silly benefits so far, and a Digital Deluxe version which has free unlocks andů more Battlepacks. In general, I'm not a fan of this, but I'll allow it in games that truly shine, but that's my own judgment on the matter; it's up to you to decide what to do about EA's attempts to get you to spend more than the sixty bucks to buy the base game.
On PC, Battlefield 4 shines as long as you have a fast-enough PC to run it. I've built plenty of custom PCs and you'll need roughly a $600-700 PC at minimum to run Battlefield 4 at 1080p 60fps on low-to-medium-ish detail (which still looks excellent), and that's really not too bad compared to what we've heard about the upcoming next-gen console editions' performance. Anyway, PC gamers get lots of options for server rental, hardcore mode rules that can optionally be set on a server (including forcing the players to reload a full magazine when they reload!), and of course 64 players at high resolutions and frame rates. There have been a couple of glitches and crashes, but I'm overall quite happy with how BF4 turned out on PC.
I don't fault DICE for making another botched campaign for Battlefield 4 - I blame the focus tests and market research that was used to decide that a campaign like this was necessary in the first place. But the online play is obviously where BF4 was always going to shine, and here on PC, the result is pretty damn outstanding. Mixing in many of the best elements from past games was a smart idea, and then wrapping everything up in superb level design makes this one of the best Battlefield games ever made. Sure, there are still a few issues and EA's greedy little mitts make the whole thing feel a bit like we're the mark for a corporate con-artist, but I can't help but think that the best con is the one where even the victim feels like it was worth it.
And this, I must grudgingly admit, is worth it.
Disclaimer: This review is based on a downloaded review copy provided by the publisher.