Battlefield 4 Review
Let’s face it— Most people who purchase Battlefield 4 will spend the vast majority of their time involved in the multiplayer aspect. Therefore, despite a clichéd albeit rousing campaign, one should heartily recommend DICE’s latest blockbuster production, as the multiplayer exudes slickness and variety. Toss standard infantry combat into a blender with over-the-top vehicular warfare and hit frappe; the result is Battlefield 4. Realistically, its detractors notwithstanding, FPS fans will very likely be more than satisfied.
Even on the current-generation systems like the PS3, the game looks fantastic. There’s just so much detail in all the beautifully sculpted environments, and the developers paid close attention to the tiniest details. A flying chunk of debris, the collapsing of a fallen foe, the tragic majesty of a building falling to its ultimate demise; it’s a tour de force of flashy special effects and “holy sh**!” moments. Character modeling is great and although there are too many close-quarters settings that aren’t exactly imaginative, there’s no denying this game’s top-tier visual quality. Just imagine what it’ll look like on the PS4…! Very pretty, I'm sure.
Battlefield 4 excels in all technical categories, so it should be no surprise to learn that the audio is also a big highlight. The ambient warfare effects keep you riveted and on edge, the soundtrack is loaded with carefully chosen music that serves to amp up the tension and adrenaline, and the voice performances are solid. There are some minor balancing issues but other than that, there isn’t much to complain about. It’s definitely one of those games that greatly benefits from a sweet surround sound setup, because the crackling gunfire, startling explosions, and authentic human cries make the entire experience quite invigorating. Of course, there’s more to a game than its technical prowess; it must also deliver on other fronts.
Now, although it doesn’t take long to complete (4-5 hours, maybe), the campaign does have its fair share of crowd-pleasing excitement. The best sequences are those that encompass large outdoor areas, where you’re running for your life, wondering if you’ll survive around the next corner. When everything is falling to pieces around you and chaos is the name of the game, you might actually start to sweat. There are moments that will make you jump, moments that can be described as legitimately satisfying to your very core, and moments that make you grin with glee. The adventure is so jam-packed with intense situations that it’s almost exhausting.
There’s plenty of variety included in the admittedly brief campaign but as I mentioned earlier, the cramped areas aren’t anywhere near as thrilling. In fact, when the game isn’t going above and beyond the call of duty (yeah, that’s a pun), it starts to slip back into a generic firefight mold. All that excitement I gushed about hinges upon your acceptance of the following: You’re not really playing anything different; you’re just playing something with a glossy coat of polish that is designed to arouse and titillate. Some might even say that all those special effects are just a smokescreen, so we’re not reminded of the fact that, indeed, there’s little or no innovation here. You run, you shoot, you run some more, you shoot some more.
However, I’m not one to condemn a game when the quality is obvious. The gunplay is crisp and tight, as is the general control, and the AI isn’t bad at all. The campaign isn’t especially challenging, but it does demand that you pay attention to your surroundings. DICE also tries to shake things up by tossing different situations in your direction; for instance, maybe you have to take out a heavily armored tank. And you know, the plot has some bright spots, and it helps that the acting is good. The pacing is also spot-on because the minute you start to get tired of a certain theme or setting, the adventure switches gears. To say I didn’t have fun playing through the campaign would be a lie.
That being said, you can’t ignore the obvious drawbacks. One is that it’s obviously too short, even for me, and the other is that the stereotypical characters are sort of boring. The dialogue isn’t great (even though the actors really try to spice things up), and character development never really happens. Ultra-clichéd relationships between teammates are almost comical, and the cookie-cutter progression of those relationships is predictable. You’re never emotionally invested in the narrative or the characters and for the most part, you just want to get back to the action. That’s an indictment against the storytelling, for sure.
The multiplayer is clearly where it’s at. The vehicles add a whole new dimension that you don’t find in Call of Duty, and there’s a wealth of options and customization. Even when matches don’t feature vehicles, you immediately get a sense of the depth and strategy involved in each contest. The more you play, the more you realize just how imperative it is to work together in most modes, as the lives of your teammates can be critically important to success. The nicely balanced online matches are filled with possibilities, and new attribute bonuses gained through squad-related achievements add to the depth. From Team Deathmatch to more intricate modes like Obliteration and Defuse, Battlefield 4 does multiplayer right.
Again, though, I have to say that we need room for this game to shine, offline or online. The smaller areas are a little disappointing in the campaign, and I don’t like the cramped quarters of some multiplayer maps, either. Thankfully, there are 10 maps available right off the bat and each offer a diverse landscape and plenty of variety. Plus, you can go higher on a map than you ever could before; snipers can have a field day when sitting high atop a skyscraper, but the game is balanced so snipers don’t seem overpowered. I also very much enjoy the marine combat, which is much more fleshed-out this time around; an attack boat manned by a capable group of fighters is quite formidable.
Then there’s the environmental interaction, which is more robust and effective than ever. I say it’s effective because it forces you to be ever-vigilant, and drives you to take the necessary steps to trigger a catastrophic event. The deluge is the big match-altering occurrence, which can lead to the destruction of multiple buildings. However, it’s not just about creating mass cosmetic damage; the environmental disasters can also affect other aspects of your surroundings. Craters make driving more difficult and when more buildings are down, there are fewer places to hide. It’s a dynamic, ceaselessly entertaining experiences that keeps you on your toes.
I’m not a huge multiplayer fan, as many of you know, but I am a big fan of micromanagement and tailoring my character exactly how I see fit. I like to be rewarded for being successful, and increasing my rank and unlocking more goodies never stops being fun. Battlepacks give you the chance to turn the tide of combat in your favor, as you can earn special powerful weapons, and ranking up gives you the appropriate bonuses. Then, when you reach the point where you can be a Commander, you can oversee the battle from above and issue orders to every squad leader. It’s quite challenging and offers a more cerebral take on the standard run ‘n gun FPS multiplayer style. Cerebral? Yeah, I said it.
There are more options than ever, more ways to outfit your character, more ways to approach a match, and more environmental goodness. Obliteration – two teams fighting to gain control of a bomb – is great, as it involves all types of terrain and vehicles. Perhaps the best part is that if you wish to become a highly skilled player, there’s so much to learn and master that you’ll be playing for months. I still say the helicopter controls don’t feel quite right, but what the hell do I know? I’m no helicopter pilot. My only gripe about the multiplayer is that at least for now, the servers don’t seem stable enough. But hey, it’s launch week and I imagine the strain on those servers is significant. These things only get better with time.
Battlefield 4 is like a big, jovial belly laugh. It’s intense, flashy, amusing, and explosive, and it doesn’t bother about having a brain. It doesn’t need one, either, as the multiplayer is dense, involving and ultimately enjoyable from top to bottom. Still, I refuse to completely disregard the campaign, which, as entertaining as it often is, remains a disappointment for me. It’s too short, the characters are stupid, the narrative has unrealized potential and the smaller areas are uninspired. It’s still worth playing, mind you, but when compared to the accomplishment that is the multiplayer aspect, it was obviously secondary in terms of development focus. That's annoying, I won’t lie. But the majority of FPS fans don’t care, so that must be acknowledged.
The Good: Great technical achievement and presentation. Invigorating, action-packed campaign. Combat variety keeps the game fresh. Multiplayer is dynamic, well-balanced, deep and rewarding. Multiplayer is also diverse and encourages different strategic approaches.
The Bad: Campaign is short, and story and characters are clichéd. Narrative has promise that isn’t fulfilled. Some server instability and minor multiplayer glitches.
The Ugly: “The story has some good ideas, but it’s wicked frustrating when those ideas don’t come to fruition.”
10/30/2013 Ben Dutka