Battlefield 4 review: great when it works
I feel weird starting a review for Battlefield 4 by mentioning Call of Duty, but this is where I find myself. I've always played CoD – sometimes against my better judgment. I dabbled with the Battlefield series and have always heard good things about it from its fanbase. It's also impossible to not hear comparisons between the two juggernauts in this first-person modern warfare shooter genre. Now, having played Battlefield 4 for an extensive period of time, I can say that there's no way you can make comparisons; they are two entirely different games.
Kills get out of hand in CoD with killstreaks, rewarding you with even more kills through point and click bombing runs that decimate the other team. It's a straightforward first-person shooter. However, in Battlefield 4, you're earning everything. If you want to do a bombing run, you better get in the plane yourself and do it, because no one else is going to do it for you. It's a very rewarding experience – when it works.
Since launch, my entire experience has been plagued by constant crashes, and it's not only me; tons of Battlefield 4 players have been experiencing the same problems. Playing on PC, I've tried everything: updating drivers, lowering settings, playing in border-less or windowed – you name it. The multiplayer experience has improved marginally, but single-player keeps on giving me the message every five minutes, “Battlefield 4 has stopped working.” What little I played of it really shows off the Frostbite 3 engine. The visuals are beyond impressive, as this is one of the best-looking games I have ever played. Characters' faces and expressions are reaching new heights, and everything from explosions to lighting never cease to amaze me. Still, what good are those graphics if I can't play the single-player campaign.
Seeing as how I can't comment on the campaign and story, I'm going to ignore that in my review. Who plays games like this for the single-player anyways? All of my hours with this game will go towards playing multiplayer with my friends. That's where the game truly shines, like that flicker of light right before an opposing sniper lands a nice 250-meter bullet between my eyes. Yes, crashes still happen with multiplyer, whether it's the looping sound crash or “Battlefield 4 has stopped working,” but it has improved every day since launch.
Matches contain chaos with choppers, tanks, boats, snipers and explosions, all with up to 64 players. The big, new draw here is “Levolution.” These dynamic events are highlights of any match, as the set piece is not only stunning to watch, but changes the map and how you approach fights. The most notable example you've probably seen of this is on the Siege of Shanghai map, where the skyscraper that is the center of the map – and often where a ton of action takes place – collapses, leaving rubble in its wake. The control point that sat atop the building now lays at ground level, accessible from multiple directions. Whether it's the skyscraper collapsing, a tropical storm that makes it difficult to see, or a levee breaking that floods low altitude, they really do make the level feel more dynamic and alive. That is, until the skyscraper starts collapsing and causes my game to crash...
The level of destruction has been ramped up in Battlefield 4. Let's just say you're not safe behind a wall. Tanks and explosions have cause buildings and towers to come down, so don't get too cozy or feel too safe. Vehicular combat is also a big staple of the Battlefield series, and that hasn't changed. Controller planes and choppers are some of the most difficult, frustrating things I've ever tried in a video game, as there's a really steep learning curve. But once you get it down, your team will love you as you drop allies directly on top of control points. The maps are so diverse and allow for multiple styles of play, so feel free to switch around your loadout a lot.
There's a good amount of variety to the match types, as well. Conquest and Rush are my favorites, but here's a quick run-down of the game types:
Conquest - Supports up to 64 players on PC as you capture different control points around the map and hold them. Control points provide vehicles to help your assault and defense.
Rush – One team attacks and one defends as attackers rush the defenders' base and blow up their zones, pushing on to a new section of the level. Defenders win by getting attacking team's tickets to zero; attackers win by destroying the M-Com stations.
Obliteration – Each team tries to obtain and transport a bomb to one of their targets. Game ends when a team destroys their three targets.
Squad Deathmatch/Team Deathmatch – You seriously need an explanation of these?
Defuse – Plant a bomb behind enemy lines with no respawns.
Domination – Infantry only, this mode is a small-scale version of Conquest.
The entire game is launched through Battlelog, which has good and bad things about it. Coming over from Call of Duty, it's quite a jarring experience. Single-player and multiplayer are both launched from it, which is basically a website where you control your loadouts, choose servers, see your stats and track your progression. The thing is, it's quicker to change your loadout in-game since doing so in Battlelog takes a match or two to update the changes. Also, the party system isn't the smoothest one I've ever used. Basically, there's no way to group up with friends before a match. You can create a party chat, which will show you what server they entered and displays a “Join Now” button. Click on that and you can play with them. It's not very intuitive, though. Why can't we all queue as one?
Once you're in with all your friends, it will place your party in one squad, which is actually really helpful. For a game that thrives on objectives and teamwork, being in the same squad as all your friends is a key to success. The squad leader directs a five-person squad on what to attack and defend, netting everyone in the squad more points. Perks are also earned in your squad in-game, and as long as you don't all die, you get to keep them.
Commander mode is a returning feature where one player on each team can use a tablet or a top-down tactical screen to give orders to their teammates. If you're really into teamwork, this is a great feature, as a team of 32 players that are coordinated with steamroll one that isn't. That said, I didn't get a lot out of the mode. I'd rather be the one behind the scope of a sniper rifle, accounting for bullet drop as I protect my squad moving in on an objective. That said, if you're sitting on the couch and wanna use your tablet to help your friends find success on the battlefield, have at it.
If you're coming over from Call of Duty, prepare to have your world rocked. In my first hour of playing Battlefield 4, I had so many memorable experiences that I didn't know what to do with myself. Only in Battlefield could I base jump off of a tower, land in the water, emerge onto land and counter an enemies knife attack, run up to another enemy and knife him from behind in the neck, and then while I'm sniping from a rooftop, have that building collapse from tank fire. It's controlled chaos, and the players are the ones controlling it. Your success in Battlefield is up to you and how well you work as a team. And it's one of the most rewarding games I've played. Battlelog needs some refinement, and there's still way too many crashes, but the multiplayer more than makes up for all of it.