“Battlefield 4 is pretty average. It’s basically Battlefield 3.5”
This from someone who’d played at least as much of the game as I had.
”But… average doesn’t mean anything. I’d say it’s the best shooter in the business,” I replied. Not looking to mess about with placation here, you understand.
”You have played Counter-Strike, right?”
Ah. I’m beginning to see the problem here. And silly though it may sound, I don’t entirely disagree. Counter-Strike is still monstrously popular, despite its dated graphics and frankly rather limited gameplay. Even I‘ve been playing a fair bit of it lately; or I had been, until Battlefield 4 launched.
CS is about precision. About flawlessly executed set piece teamwork and accurate marksmanship. Compared to a competitive 5v5 CS match, Battlefield is messy. Sprawling, dynamic battles, munitions screaming overhead, shit exploding all around, the screams of the vanquished and the triumphant shouts of the victors. Battlefield is war.
Bafflingly, DICE have thrown in a new game mode called Defuse. In this mode, 5 man teams take one another on, with one team trying to plant a bomb to destroy one of a couple of objectives that the other team must defend. Either team can win by eliminating the other team, though the bomb must be defused or not planted in order for the defenders to win. If this sounds familiar, it’s because it is exactly how Counter-Strike works. It’s also the least compelling game mode in Battlefield 4’s arsenal. If you think it sounds like a bit of fun, CS:GO is like $20.
My CS playing friend did have one good point to make, though; one that seems to have become lost in my unjustifiable and irrelevant BF – CS comparison. Battlefield 4 does feel a little like Battlefield 3.5. Graphically, if you’re not in sight of the glorious new rolling ocean waves, you could be forgiven for not seeing much of a difference. 3 already had some of the nicest graphics out there, as well as a well-deserved reputation for bringing some decently specced PCs to their knees. Battlefield 4 lobs on DICE’s new Frostbite 3 engine, which is more advanced again than what was already a bit of a puterbreaker. The controls, the movement, the shooting, they all feel very much the same as last time round. And that’s no bad thing. BF3 was superb, if not particularly reliable. BF4 looks set to continue that, for both good and ill.
A month or so before the launch of Battlefield 4, I attempted to rope some mates into some BF3 online to get us psyched for the release of the new game. One person was actually unable to install Origin at all. Some googling revealed a lot of other people with the same problem (a bad version check in the installer) and no response from EA. We’d get kicked at random from games with Punkbuster issues; a problem that had been around more or less since launch and apparently never officially addressed. There were several workarounds, of varying complexity, which consumed an inordinate amount of time to implement and test.
”This is why people buy consoles!” I raged. “I might as well be making yet another boot disk for Wing Commander 2.”
My traumatic childhood isn’t the real problem, though; it’s the reputation of the Battlefield franchise for not really being the most reliable of games. Day one bore this out, but that was to be expected. A few game crashes, a few server crashes. But also a few awesome games. Of course there was all manner of rage in general chat. People seemingly utterly disgusted with this utterly unprecedented difficult first day. I thought back to the clusterfuck that was the Battlefield 3 launch and thought, yeah, this is just not too bad.
Things improved over the next few days, with crashes now almost a rarity, and server problems largely limited to 64 player games. My copy of Battlefield 3 is still not correctly listed as the Limited Edition in Origin, so yeah.
So, the game. Think Battlefield 3, but with more cool shit. Much has been said about Levelution. Levolution? Hmm. Anyway, a lot’s been said about it. Maps can be drastically changed by player actions: bringing down a skyscraper across Shanghai, flooding out an already fairly well flooded city, that sort of thing. Mostly it seems to be a mechanism to ensure I die in the most pointless way possible at least once every round. On the tropical island chain map of Paracel Storm, a naval vessel can be crashed into an island, nearly bisecting it and destroying the buildings in its path. But that map has a far cooler party trick, something hinted at by its none too subtle name. The weather starts off beautiful and sunny, but it soon clouds over. The wind picks up, rain starts to fall. Before long the islands are in the grip of a proper tropical storm. Flying a helicopter becomes… inadvisable. The swell increases dramatically, making boats perilous to embark upon, but also difficult to detect and destroy.
I was a little disappointed that the game launched with so few maps, but most of them play very differently depending on game mode. Rush is a meat grinder, with attackers throwing themselves at a desperate defensive line. Conquest is dynamic, with flanking manoeuvres, diversionary tactics, and massed assaults all coming into play. The new Obliteration game mode starts as a mad scramble for a randomly placed bomb. The bomb is always visible on the mini map, even when being carried by an enemy player, so once it’s retrieved, a fast-paced game of cat and mouse ensues. This, if things go to plan for the bomb carrier, evolves into a massed attack against an enemy objective (each side has three objectives to defend). Team and Squad Deathmatch have their own flavour, and as I mentioned earlier, Defuse is basically Counter-Strike with good graphics. And proper sights on the guns. And maps other than de_dust2. What I’m saying is, there are plenty of maps. For now.
One thing that has really changed things up for me is the ability to mount two sights on a gun. You can mount a scope in the traditional position and a canted iron sight to one side, maximising accuracy and target acquisition for both long range and close quarters battle. Alternatively a red dot sight can be mounted, with a 2x magnifier that can be flipped in and out. Not having to pick the range at which I’ll be effective is rather nice, though as ever there are sacrifices to be made. Mounting a magnifier or canted iron sight means you can’t have a laser sight, for example.
The single player campaign exists, so I should probably comment on it. It’s a bit like the Battlefield 3 campaign, but this time lumped with an awkward silent protagonist treatment. It’s decent, plays well, is a bit too serious, and frankly somewhat ham-fisted compared to what Call of Duty busts out for every game. What boils my piss though, is the half arsed attempt they made at cooperative play. Six missions in Battlefield 3, which were still buggy and half baked as of a month ago. There were never any more missions added, despite the early hints, and the co-op option has been quietly dropped. This seems like a missed opportunity. Co-op gameplay in the campaign proper would be a real asset to the game, in this author’s not even slightly humble opinion.
I’ve yet to try out Commander mode. That will be a separate article once the Android Commander app is out. Speaking of apps though, the Battlelog app for Android is handy. You can follow your friends’ battlefeeds, edit your loadouts and even join multiplayer games, though personally when I want to do that I’m usually already at my PC. With BF4’s load times, on the other hand, I could probably join a game when I leave work and arrive home just in time to play…
Oh, speaking of load times, here’s a little tip for getting a head start in Rush battles. Install the game on an SSD, and you can be into the game in time to arm the first objective before most people have even spawned. It makes for some hilarity. Rage, too. Lots of rage.
So what am I saying here? Battlefield 4 is really good. Probably the definitive multiplayer shooter, in the realistic but not too realistic modern warfare genre. Next time I want a World War 2 game, damn it. Oh wait, next one is a Star Wars one, ain’t it? Well, that, then. But after that, WW2.