Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Battlefield 4 (PC) review

When you think about first-person shooters, you'll probably think of one of two games. Call of Duty or Battlefield. Call of Duty is all about fast, intense, movie-like action, whereas Battlefield is the go-to game for the more hardcore gamers who want a solid, more realistic war experience. Gamers have been divided by the two series for years now, and it'll probably continue long into the next generation of consoles. But for now, Battlefield 4 is here. It may have been 2 years since Battlefield 3 was released, but with a constant stream of DLC in the meantime, it really doesn’t feel long since the last instalment launched. That may leave you thinking that Battlefield 4 is just more of the same, and not much has changed. Whilst this may be true to a degree, it's not the full story. Read on to find out why...

Battlefield has almost always been more focused on multiplayer than its single player component, apart from maybe the first Bad Company. As such, a lot of people question why they still persist with one. That said, they do, and it isn’t really a bad thing as it works as a great tutorial for the multiplayer. The story sees you control Recker, leader of a squad of 4 men as you essentially try to stop a war between the US and China, who have also allied themselves with the Russians. It isn’t a brilliantly novel story, and often the plot seems to get confused as in the gap between missions you jump from downtown Singapore to the top of a mountain, to Egypt. Then there are characters who cross you, double cross you, sometimes even triple cross you. It can get quite hard to remember what’s going on and who you can trust. And then suddenly there’s a cameo from one of the characters from Battlefield 3 thrown in for good measure.

The story only lasts around 5 hours, so it is definitely on the short side, but in that time you will learn all the skills you need for multiplayer. And for a game such as Battlefield, that is exactly what it should do. You learn to drive most vehicles, from cars to tanks to boats (but unfortunately flying is multiplayer only), and you naturally get some good shooting practice in. This also lets you learn which weapons suit you the best, so you know what to use in multiplayer once they’re unlocked. Even unlocks are taught to you as you slowly gain new weapons for use from outfitting crates scattered throughout missions, by scoring points for a number of things such as taking down enemies, pulling off sweet headshots, or even calling targets for your squad mates to kill.

The story isn't anything to shout about, but it's a great way to get to grips with the game

In terms of the actual gameplay itself, there is only really one change from previous entries, and while small, it is both a welcome addition, and a frustrating hindrance. You gain the ability to snap into cover, and peak out when you aim down the sights. While being able to hide from your assailants’ bullets is nice, it can often become irritating having to adjust your aim as the cover slightly changes your line of sight. While not too important in single player, this can be fatal against other players.

As stated before, the game is all about the multiplayer. It’s the same old Battlefield affair, and anyone who’s played any of the games before will know what to expect. But there are a few differences to the more recent entries. It’s well known that Battlefield features big maps, but somehow they feel even bigger this time around. Certainly bigger than most of those found in Battlefield 3, but still not even close to the scale of Midway from 1942. To name just a couple of note, Paracel Storm is a huge map set on a small archipelago, with bases spread across a number of islands, and a destroyed aircraft carrier. This is very vehicle heavy, in stark comparison to Operation Locker that is infantry based in tight quarters. 

One of the big things for Battlefield 4, is what EA are calling “Levolution”. This is a form of extreme destructible environment, where maps have something that can be completely destroyed, changing the map quite noticeably, such as flooding the entire area in one instance. There are smaller examples as well, such as being able to raise and lower bollards on the roads to obstruct or trap enemy vehicles, or just let your allies past. Smaller things like this are scattered throughout the map, and can cause some quite noticeable changes in how things play out.

Aerial, ground and naval combat, Battlefield 4 has it all

There are a number of new playthings added as well, with the inclusion of a number of new vehicles such as giant gunboats, mobile rocket artillery, and even huge gunships circling in the sky. Unfortunately the latter only has usable weaponry and can’t be flown, but it’s still a nice new addition. While you can’t get any practice in in the single player, flying seems to have been made significantly easier and much more accessible. This is very noticeable in the small attack helicopters, which are a lot more stable and easy to control, and planes that have a much larger area of operations to play around in, making attack runs longer, with more freedom of movement.

Making a return to the series for the first time since Battlefield 2, is Commander mode. It is different than it used to be, with the commander being a player separate from the main fighting force, who instead gets a full birds-eye view of the action. From here they can order squads around (assuming they will listen anyway), drop supplies for people, set up UAVs, deploy gunships, or even fire cruise missiles down on targets. In all honesty, it isn’t all that fun and can get boring quite fast, but if you really enjoy a more RTS based game, then this mode is perfect for you. Unfortunately you will have to fight your way to rank 10 before you get the chance to try it out.

Speaking of unlocks, weapons and vehicle upgrades are once again gained by using them in combat, gaining points to earn new things. However, there are now also “Battlepacks”, which unlock every couple of ranks or so, which contain either experience boosters for use in game, weapon unlocks, or even new camouflage to outfit your guns and vehicles. The final new addition, is that of “Battlescreen”. This is intended for people with either multiple screens on PC, or some form of tablet or phone. This show’s you a full screen version of the map in real time, allowing you to be able to see where you should be going, without having to stop in game to check your map.

On next-gen consoles and high-end PCs, the graphics really are phenomenal

No doubt you’ve seen a few screenshots or clips of the game at this point, but if you haven’t, then if there is one thing that cannot be overstated, is how pretty Battlefield 4 looks on the maximum settings. Even on high it exceeds its predecessor greatly, looking stunning in almost every aspect. Facial animations are top notch, the lighting is sensational without going overboard (no more being blinded by the sun or laser sights), and the environments in general look superb. 

On the basis of single player alone, this certainly isn’t a game that can be recommended at anywhere near full price. For 5 hours it really isn’t worth it. But this is much more of a multiplayer game, and that is where it shines. There are a number of new additions that add upon the experience of the last game, and for the most part they do improve the game. For now, EA and DICE are doing enough to justify having new entries in the series this close together, and hopefully that will continue. Battlefield 4 is closer to its roots than previous titles, and that is to it's benefit. The single player however still lets it down, and is nothing more than an extended tutorial.


by Mike Aitchison


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