Monday, 11 November 2013

Review: Battlefield 4 (PC)


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As we draw ever closer to the launch of the new consoles we see a rush of cross platform titles being released.  Assassin's Creed 4, Call of Duty Ghosts, Battlefield 4 and more.  Exclusive titles are few and far between so games on the PS3 and XBOX360 are being converted to help sales of this new console generation.

Battlefield 4 is probably one of the biggest releases this year after the huge success of Battlefield 3 two years ago.  There is now no question as to whether Battlefield is on a similar level to Call of Duty in terms of sales.  Both games now do tremendous business and Battlefield 4 is no exception here.

Irish and Pac AKA Them useless bastards
The big changes this year will be most apparent on the multiplayer side and again on the new consoles.  For the first time in the console series on PS4 and XBOX ONE you will fight on the full sized maps with 64 players online.  Now yes games like MAG already surpassed this number on the PS3, but for the mainstream shooter series this is a landmark moment.  Obviously the PC crowd have been fighting on 64 players servers since the original Battlefield 1942 but I can imagine many a happy console gamer out there with this news.

Like Battlefield 3 this new iteration has a completely unnecessary singleplayer campaign tacked on.  Taking the role of some mute Marine alongside the babyfaced Pac and foul mouthed Irish, you will shoot, stab and generally blow the shit out of Chinese and Russian soldiers in several varied locales across east Asia.  It's nothing new for the series honestly and although it looks very pretty it feels distinctly old school for shooters.  Enemies run right toward you, abandoning cover in favour of faith based protection.  Your allied AI is thicker than the walls they hide behind, always shouting useful tips like "They're firing on us" and "Firing".

Enemy AI is sometimes too accurate at extreme ranges and the difficulty can sometimes randomly spike for no apparent reason.  Specific cases are enemies with grenade launchers who consistently hit you with ranged explosive fire.  Even on easy some enemies take superhuman amounts of punishment before they die unless you headshot them.  Probably the most egregious part of the experience is the way they tie certain multiplayer weapons into the campaign, effectively forcing you to play the last level three times to unlock the necessary guns.  Trust me that last level is horrendously annoying and time consuming as their is no way of skipping the in game conversations.

Boats have a larger emphasis online now
It looks pretty I'll give it that but it doesn't make it anymore enjoyable because the light shafts look realistic.  It also doesn't help that the game is bugged with certain features being broken at launch such as the tactical goggles.  This item is meant to allow you to zoom in on foes and mark them as targets for your braindead squad, but holding down the zoom key only results in you holstering your weapon and standing there like a melon.  No zoom effect takes place it just flat out fails to work.  The squad orders mechanic is hardly worth bothering with either to be honest.  Ordering your allies to shoot at an opposing squad only really results in them spraying bullets in the general direction of the enemy.  Every once in a while they will kill something and give you points but that's it really.

The campaign even has a focus on points like it's some arcade game of the 90's.  Scoring points nets you weapons to use the next time you play the campaign but considering how bland it is and how good the multiplayer is compared, you're unlikely to give this a second thought after you finish it.  There is zero incentive to come back to the campaign after you have run the last level a further two times to unlock the weapons and DICE once again completely misses a trick.  Why not make a campaign mode that has something to do with the essence of Battlefield.  Give us the online maps with a story mode linked through them and make some objectives around them.  Have your set pieces and dialogue but wrap it around a full open map which you can choose your path through, all the while having a battle rage around you, it's not hard DICE.

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The destruction on maps has increased somewhat
The meat of the game though is multiplayer and this is where you are likely to spend hundreds of hours of online time.  The game ships with ten maps each featuring the worst buzz word feature of the decade "levolution".  Levolution effectively means something dramatic happens to the map like a flash flood, dam collapses or destroyer ships crashing into a beach.  But it isn't just major things, DICE have at least included a few smaller items of levolution such as elevators, light switches, bollards, doors and grates to interact with.  These seem minor but can alter the way you approach a map and personally it would have been much better had they made more of an emphasis on these rather than having a skyscraper fall down for little in game effect.


The mechanics of shooting haven't changed really as Battlefield 3 had a pretty good feel for it's weapons.  Some weapons in Battlefield 4 have been tweaked slightly here and there but it's largely the same mechanics as last time.  There is a larger set of attachments for weapons now with a multitude of scopes, magnifiers, laser sights, flash lights, underslung attachments and more.  The only thing they are missing are slushy dispensers really.  This is part of DICE's initiative to give more customisation to players.  Skins and colour patterns are unlockable now through play and can be applied to guns and vehicles making for some visually distinct tanks out there.  These are unlocked through battlepacks which are given out during play either by achieving goals or levelling up.  They come in bronze, silver and gold varieties and give you new equipment each time.  Reminds me of Mass Effect 3 and it's supply boxes.

The Chinese also make their return in Battlefield 4 fighting both the Russian and American forces for no particular reason.  It's like the three superpowers just decided to one day have a massive ruck to see who most justified their defence budget.  It's cool having them back with their unique jets, tanks and armoured vehicles but with the weapon buffet that's out there now the factions seem indistinguishable from each other.

Levolution looks cool but it's incredibly gimmicky
Commander mode also returns now only available to those players who have reached the heady heights of rank 10.  They have more impact on the game now than they did in Battlefield 2 and don't physically exist on the field anymore, preventing them from stealing a tank and just sitting at base all match or not doing their job at all.  Commanders can now deploy cruise missile strikes, AC-130 gunships and give squads upgrades for good performance.  You can even risk having your account hacked by linking your battlelog account to a tablet or iPad and play commander mode from there.

Now after all this it is sad to say that this game did not launch well.  Checking the forums you will see a huge list of threads filled with players suffering crippling gameplay bugs.  I previously posted a list of issues here: http://critical-rocket.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/battlefield-4-launches-in-shambles-and.html

TL;DR issues are:
  • rubber banding
  • Server instability causing crashes
  • lag
  • loss of multiplayer progress
  • freezes or complete lock ups
  • singleplayer save file corruption
  • Direct X errors (PC specific)
  • 100% accurate sniper rifles
  • shoddy spawn locations (allowing players to camp regular spawn spots on the map)
  • random hit detection
  • major audio issues (no footfall sounds, ambient map sounds, vehicles sound cutting out making the maps seem weirdly quiet for such a massive battle going on around you)
These issues have sadly ruined what is genuinely a good game to play.  When it works it is great fun and more of the same Battlefield people loved last time around, but as unstable as it is right now it's a shame to see DICE stumble like this.  In the end it's EA's fault for pushing them to launch the game in such a state simply to beat COD Ghosts to the shelves and it speaks volumes about EA's opinion of it's fans. 

Graphically Battlefield 4 is much the same Battlefield 3 with some minor tweaks to environmental effects and lighting but it's only noticeable if you are looking for it.  The game isn't going out of it's way to astound with new graphics, just playing to it's strengths and Battlefield 3 looked great anyway.  The audio is solid if only it worked properly most of the time as sound corruption is rampant in the game and sometimes you will just fire your weapon to make sure the sound is still working on your PC or television.

Overall it's a fun game with a potentially great multiplayer once the issues are fixed.  But I cannot give this a free pass just because it's DICE.  The game is hampered by it's bugs and the campaign is to put it bluntly, fucking awful.

SCORE: 6.5/10 - This would change to 7.5 when it's fixed.  It doesn't innovate enough on the series strongpoints and opts for Michael Bay style set pieces for multiplayer in it's levolution features to draw in players rather than give us a more evolved Battlefield experience.

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