The Battlefield series has built its reputation on memorable moments. Some epic, some intimate, some barely believable--YouTube is filled with clips of people far better at Battlefield than you, doing amazing things (to people like you). Battlefield 4 wants you--yes, you--to experience even more thrilling, more epic moments than ever before with a beefed up single-player story and the addition of map-changing levolution events and show-stopping destruction online. That’s the aim… and in this respect, the game is a roaring success.
Battlefield 4 is a significant step forward from number 3, both on and offline. The change is more marked in single-player, where the story strikes a more intimate note, echoing the buddy-banter from the Bad Company games. Your squad mates Irish and Pac have more developed personalities, and there are some memorable little moments in between all the shooting and shouting. At one point, Pac starts subtly dancing to some lift music in a rare pocket of silence sandwiched between some intense gunplay. “What?” he asks baffled-looking squad-mates, “I love this song. It’s a great freaking song.”
Sadly, despite the increased likeability of the characters, Battlefield 4’s overarching story blunders from one set-piece to another, ignoring the gaping holes torn in its plot and taking little care to explain what the hell is actually going on (that's war, I guess?). At one point, right near the end of the game, I leaned over to a fellow reviewer to ask about the identity of a character in a cut-scene. Turned out he was the entire reason I’d been shooting the teeth out of Chinese and Russian soldiers for the last six hours (the length of the solo campaign).
It’s a real shame, because great efforts have been made to capture the magic of multiplayer during the solo mode. One huge criticism of BF3’s story was that it’s totally divorced from multiplayer. Not so here. There are epic moments to behold, like dams bursting and frenzied tank battles inside savage tropical storms. You unlock kit, and accrue points for kills--just like you do in multiplayer. It’s like a beautiful-looking training mission, with chatting. And on that note…
Multiplayer has evolved, too. I’m sure DICE would like me to write that it has ‘levolved’, but I’m not going to. All joking aside, levolution makes a huge difference to online play, as does the reintroduction of ‘proper’ destruction. While bringing down the skyscraper in the Siege of Shanghai map is a visual novelty, it genuinely changes the shape of the map. Other stages alter more dramatically, really forcing you to shift the way you play. The typhoon that starts to rage half-way through the Paracel Storm map looks incredible, and ups the importance of naval combat. Meanwhile, when you flood the whole city in Flood Zone, it significantly intensifies the conflict on the rooftops and small patches of dry land.
Perhaps the biggest difference is the frame-rate, though, as current-gen is still locked to 30fps. As such, that slick, well polished gameplay enjoyed by next-gen is sacrificed. Our advice? Make this a next-gen purchase, if you can.
The fact that levolution is such a success is testament to the incredible level design in BF4. Most maps have multiple layers and areas, which means you’re often mixing up land, sea, and air combat with close-quarters firefights. In other words, the majority of maps will suit any playstyle, and allow you to get creative with the destruction. Yes, I drove a tank through a house, and collapsed it. Yes, I beached a jetski to roadkill a man. Yes, I sat on a tower with a sniper-rifle and shot a man out of a helicopter. Moments. Memorable moments.
There are some sour notes. Defuse, a new 5v5, one-life-per-round mode, designed to draw in the Counter-Strike crowd, falls flat because it puts tense twitch-shooting ahead of smart tactics and specialised warfare. Seriously, if you want to camp in the corner of a room for 10 minutes a) fuck off--that’s not how Battlefield works, and b) you could always play Call of Duty for that kind of nonsense--I’ll be enjoying Conquest, thanks. Commander mode is… a little dull. It’s a novelty to tactically influence the battle from a bird’s eye view, but when I sat there tapping away at my iPad, I was desperately wishing to be part of the battle down below.
Another new mode, Obliteration, is a fun single-bomb game type that feels different enough from Rush and Conquest to justify inclusion. Amusingly, everyone seems to chase the guy with the bomb like school-kids running after the ball in a game of playground football. All maps scale to fit each game mode, adapting to accommodate differing team sizes and objectives; another triumph of smart design.
Overall, multiplayer feels quicker and more aggressive, although--don’t worry--Battlefield 4 hasn’t turned into a COD-style twitch shooter. Classes are well balanced, and as far as I could see (and I played for hours with everything unlocked), there was no super-gun / kit that lets you murder everyone. And again, there’s no single class that dominates any single map--there’s room for everyone during each session.
Now, a bit of tech-talk. Don’t be scared. The game’s quickness is largely thanks to the fact that the PS4 and PC versions are locked to 60 frames per second, making both the single- and multiplayer modes feel smooth and lethal. Even when firefights get intense on smaller maps like Operation Locker, or huge levolution moments rock an entire map, like the dam breaking in Lancang Dam, the game stays slick and beautiful. I’m no tech nerd, but I can appreciate what a polished marvel BF4 is on PS4 and PC.
As a package, this is the best Battlefield ever created. While the single-player is far from perfect, it bottles enough multiplayer lightning to garner my rather faint praise of ‘worth a quick play through’. As ever, though, it’s online where BF4 shines brightest. You may not appreciate just how brilliantly designed the maps, modes, and classes are until you experience those trademark moments. Like when you’re charging around an abandoned factory on Golmund Railway, trying to fend off three tanks at once, mortar fire raining down on you from above, shaking your screen and creating unbelievable mayhem. Then--and only then--will you truly fall in love with this game like I have.
This game was reviewed primarily on PS4 and PC and was conducted at a review event.
Looking for more on DICE's FPS series? See where Battlefield 4 placed in our ranking of the best Battlefield games of all time.