DICE's shooter is a destructive force to be reckoned with.

I’m no soldier. Not in real life anyway. The closest I’ve ever come to seeing real combat was at a paintball match a few years ago. The “bullets” may not fly straight, but in a paintball match you get a pretty good sense of cover and strategic team work. Getting pinned down behind a set of barrels by the guy whose gun could fire 28 paint balls per second was a sensation I had never experienced before. The feeling that if you stay where you are, you’re going to get shot. If you run, you’re going to get shot. All you can do is call for backup and hope your buddies can flank that gunner and take him out.

The closest I’ve since felt to that jarring combat simulation experience, was launching into the maps of Battlefield 4.

From the silver halls of DICE and their illustrious benefactors at EA comes the next instalment of absolute battle mayhem. Reviewed here on the PC (who needs next-gen anyway), the 64-player servers have been up and running but suffered from their share of issues. The game was crashing constantly, players were getting booted off the servers when the big events happened on the maps and frequent rubberbanding often required a fresh server log in. The first patch arrived at the end of last week, but after a brief honeymoon period of improvement, this past weekend lead to even more severe crashing and server problems. DICE have pleaded PC gamers for their patience and are working as fast as they can to resolve the issues. Having a denial-of-service attack launched over the weekend hasn’t helped the situation.

battlefield 4 campaign

Pac was sure he’d left the oven on at home.

Ice Cold Killa

But enough about server issues – onto t0 the campaign. Though considered in many ways supplementary to the multiplayer mainstay, the campaign has had a considerable amount of developer resources poured into it and, as such, deserves to be played. No, it won’t live up to the team battle experience that the Battlefield has provided for the last 11 years. The characters, despite their crisp renderings, are as wooden as you would come to expect from military shooter. Pac’s boyish looks undermine his ability shoot enemies until they’re pushing up daisies; Irish is a dead-eyed killer and family man with a guilty conscience. Along with the Chinese Intelligence agent Hannah, this mod squad of ethnic diversity will be your backup throughout the seven campaign missions. The Frostbite 3 engine felt a little suffocated during the routine indoor environments (dams, prisons, tunnels etc.) but there were plenty of chances for it to stretch its legs on mountains, desert and island settings.

Finding the right cover, the right vehicles, all at the right time is what will get you through the mission without keeling over.

Battlefield‘s campaigns have always felt like a tutorial to learn the weapons, gadgets and vehicles, but they generally fall short by using dated cliches and predictable dialogue. On these criteria, BF4 is unfortunately no exception. However, the most surprising part about the campaign was the difficulty. Even though I was playing the game on medium difficulty setting, I found myself having to revert back to checkpoints, which I actually quite enjoyed. Finding the right cover, the right vehicles, all at the right time is what will get you through the mission without keeling over. The AI cronies, as always, possess but a fraction of intuition of other human players, but it’s a learning experience nonetheless.

Building Regulations

Now for the meat in this sandwich: the multiplayer. The multiplayer maps of BF4 have everything from corridor choke points to high rise buildings, all requiring distinct offensive and defensive strategies. Levolution is the buzzword coined by EA, and as lame as it may sound it does offer a veritable shift in the landscape on some maps. Every surface you use for cover has the physical properties that it represents, and it will be affected accordingly by bullets, shells and grenades. The Paracel Storm map exemplifies the Levolution mechanic with an incoming tropical typhoon; the horizon darkens, waves swell as torrential rain pours from the sky. The zodiac I’m riding with my squadmates almost flips as we crest over the waves enroute to our current objective. You certainly can’t fault DICE on their presentation.

But as impressive as all this eye candy is, with all the developer resources EA threw at this thing, should we not expect a little more? The formula has changed little since Battlefield 2 but fans of the franchise keep eating it up just like the annual COD offering. The Commander mode is a step in the right direction, rewarding players who have worked their way up the ranks with the privilege to direct troops around the map and drop supply caches. Of course, obeying the commander’s orders is completely optional, a creative license to ensure player freedom. But having an overseer to peg  high value targets – such as the engineer who keeps destroying your armour division – is a clever way to get everyone on the team to focus on a single objective. The more design the game can do to make teams work together for a victory and not turn it into just another COD/Counter Strike twitch-fest, the more the Battlefield franchise will stand distinct from its competitors as a true warfare simulator.

Conquest maps remain the ultimate large scale battle experience and the matches are a riot with 64 players – when it all works without crashing. Smaller Rush and Deathmatch modes get you right into the chaotic action for quick kills, but the new one to try is Obliteration. A bomb is escorted to an enemy location then detonated, all while defending your own base. The usual zones of control are a lot more dynamic and the flashpoints will pop up across the map in seconds, a refreshing take on the usual advance-and-vanquish strategies.

With the current issues plaguing PC servers, there is absolutely no rush to run out and get this game unless you can’t stand to be left behind the ranks and weapon unlocks. And it would be great to witness the tower imploding during the Siege of Shanghai – just like we saw on demonstration at E3 – without the server kicking half its players. Battlefield 4 will be slowly refined into the experience it was touted to be, it’s just a shame there wasn’t more improvements to the backend and a longer, more thorough beta test earlier in the development cycle.

A review code of Battlefield 4 was provided courtesy of EA. The game was reviewed on PC.

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