Wednesday, 27 November 2013

REVIEW: Battlefield 4 (PC)

I would like to preface this review by stating that I will, at no point, talk about the game's singleplayer campaign, because honestly, who gives a damn? No-one is rushing out to buy Call of Duty or Battlefield for their compelling, human stories. People buy Battlefield for the multiplayer, and the multiplayer alone, so it only seems fair that I review the game based solely on its multiplayer merits.

So here we are, just two years out from the release of Battlefield 3, and less than a year since the last Battlefield 3 DLC. If you're thinking that the game could not have possibly changed much in such a short time you'd be right. The difference between the games is not like the huge jump between Battlfield 2 and Battlefield 3, and more like the incremental upgrade between Bad Company 1 and Bad Company 2. However, this doesn't necessarily mean the game is automatically not worth your money. There is still an enormous amount of new content, engine upgrades, and gameplay modifications here to satisfy the Battlefield fans, while still being welcoming to newcomers of the series. That said, it is also not without its own shortcomings.

Let's start with the game's much touted new feature, the one that practically screams "next-gen" at the top of its lungs. It's called "leveloution" - the ability to use explosives and interact-able objects to physically alter how a map plays. For example, in Flood Zone, you can destroy a levee, which floods the entire map with water, replacing land-based vehicles with boats. In another, Siege of Shanghai, you can bring down an entire skyscraper, making the capture point (previously at the top of the building) much more accessible.
"Leveloution" can be pretty hit-and-miss.
Leveloution is pretty hit-and-miss. In some maps it is fairly easy to pull off just by a single, determined player, and is a really cool testament to the game's physics engine. On other maps, such as Lachang Dam, it requires several people to fire roughly twelve gazillion rocket at an object for a rather unimpressive effect that only barely alters how the map plays. Fortunately, I would say that overall it is more hit than miss, with at least six of the ten maps making good use of the feature. My personal favorites were the aforementioned Flood Zone, and Parcel Storm - a map which as well as having a periodic storm that whips up the seas, making boats and aircraft a more precarious option, also features a massive battleship that dramatically beaches itself on one of the map's islands.

Maps like Parcel Storm and Siege of Shanghai really show off just how beautiful the Frostbite 3 engine is. I played the game on a pretty beefy gaming PC, and it looked absolutely gorgeous. Those of you who played BF3 on a mid-to-high-range gaming PC won't notice too huge of a change, but the difference between BF3 on the 360/PS3 and BF4 on the Xbox One/PS4 is night and day. The big focus this time around is particle effects and physics, which help showcase the game's dynamic maps.
The game has a good range of map diversity.
So (most of) the maps are good, and the game looks great, but how does it actually play? Very similar to BF3, if I'm being honest. Veterans will be able to jump right into the game without skipping a beat, as the core Battlefield infantry vs. vehicles rock-paper-scissors mechanics are still there. The recon class has had a little bit of a mix-up, with the "spec ops" loadout returning from Battlefield 2, allowing him to equip shorter-range rifles along with C4 and motion sensors, while the other classes have simply been given more toys to play with. The classes have more diversity in weapon choice, with everyone being able to equip carbines, shotguns, and the semi-automatic "designated marksman rifles".

Possibly the biggest change veterans will notice with loadouts is that you can now choose any two gadgets, instead of being "locked in" to a secondary gadget. The engineer, for example, can have both an RPG and a stinger equipped, or the support can pack C4 and claymores.
"Customization" is the key word for Battlefield 4
Also, instead of the personal/squad perks of BF3, each class has a "specialization" they can choose. Each specialization has four "levels" of perks, which unlock gradually as you perform squad actions, such as supplying ammo to squadmates or capturing an objective marked by your squad leader. Everyone has access to the basic offense, defense and stealth specs, but each class also has two of its own unique specs. For example, the assault class has the "combat medic" spec, which increases the effectiveness of his healing abilities. Furthermore, if you entire squad is wiped out, the levels earned for your specialization get reset back to level 1, meaning there is a bigger incentive to work together as a team, and try and survive if you are the last squad member standing, rather than just Rambo-ing everything.

"Customization" is the big word for Battlefield 4, and in addition to the class loadout changes and the plethora of new and confusing weapon attachments you can choose from (what the heck is a "potato grip"?), vehicle customization has received a much-needed overhaul. Gunners for land vehicles now have a separate loadout selection, just like their attack chopper counterparts. Jets have been split into two classes (attack jets and stealth jets) and boats have been completely redesigned to be more than mere transports, complete with their own loadout and unlocks.
The game looks fantastic and plays well.
In order to help deal with the massive influx of new items, DICE has introduced "battlepacks", which are earned at various milestones, and grant three to five random unlocks upon being opened. It's a pretty cool system, but I feel it's missing some kind of trading option, so I can trade with my friends to get the attachments I want for my favorite guns, rather than just hoping to get lucky.

Also new is the "commander mode", which allows one player on each team to be view the game from a birds-eye view, and issue orders, drop supplies, and call in support options such as gunships and cruise missiles. It's a nice little feature, and the fact that it runs on tablets makes it a great little tablet game, but in the end it's just too simple to be more than a temporary distraction. I worry that in the near future the commander population will drastically drop as the playerbase grows weary of it. This is bad, as if one team has a commander and the other team doesn't, it puts the no-commander team at a noticeable disadvantage.
Commander mode is too simple to be anything more than a distraction.
Battlefield 4 is fun to play. It's a good upgrade from Battlefield 3 that fixes a lot of problems players had with the game, and if it wasn't for what I am about to say, I would whole-heatedly recommend it for both veterans of the series, and newcomers looking for a new multiplayer FPS to play on Friday nights.

However. However. The game is absolutely riddled with bugs. Battlelog, which was already a mess in BF3, has not really improved at all for BF4, refusing to connect to games, download updates, or even open at all for seemingly no reason. I was (and still am) unable to get its"battlescreen" feature to work on my tablet. In game, the sound cuts out in certain areas. There are graphical glitches. Weapons sometimes do not behave the way they are supposed to, and then there are the random crashes. When I first started playing, I was lucky to go 15 minutes without a crash. I now crash, on average, every two rounds. It's very obvious that the game was rushed to meet the next-gen console launch, and even now, several weeks after launch, the issues are still very glaring.

Battlefield 4 is a fantastic game, but it's not ready yet. Check back in a month.

Verdict: Don't Buy (yet)


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