I was quite late to the party with the Battlefield series, in fact my first one was Battlefield 3 which I picked up when I first joined Midlife Gamer just so I could take part in the multiplayer sessions I was hearing so much about. I’d always been a Call Of Duty guy, but I was instantly taken in by the completely different style of play. I loved the destruction, the teamwork, the feel of the guns and the size of the maps. I enjoyed it so much that, while on the run up to this years releases, I’ve ditched my usual pre-order for the annual iteration of Call Of Duty and instead put my hard earned cash down for the next gen version of Battlefield 4.
I specifically mention ‘next gen’ because I’m of the firm belief that if you can play a game on next gen, you should. I’d been wowed by footage from the PlayStation 4 and I didn’t want the drop down in graphical fidelity that I was sure a current gen version would entail. The allure of a review copy was too much to resist though.
DICE made many claims on the build up to release that special attention had been paid to the campaign mode on Battlefield 4. Sadly, this doesn’t shine through and the short story is secondary in terms of quality and, quite tellingly, to the multiplayer in the menus when you start the game. While it’s impossible to describe as ‘bad’, the plot is weak as it hinges around a now cliched battle between the US, China and Russia. As is now the case in all games of this type, there’s elements of shady goings-on and double crossing, but they’re far too obvious to raise the excitement or intrigue that the writers intended.
In order to generate thrills the campaign heavily relies on bombastic set piece events, so it’s unfortunate that the limitations of current generation hardware are quite apparent in these scenes. There’s sizeable hits to the frame rate during these sections and generally look considerably less impressive than you hope for. They’re also somewhat dulled by how often they’re employed. While they’re obviously designed to be a spectacle, your character doesn’t seem to go 30 minutes without being inside a crumbling building, or a sinking ship, or being knocked out and as such they become less effective over time.
Battlefield 4 also introduces a scoring system to the campaign. Much like on multiplayer, you’ll earn varying amounts of points for kills, headshots, squad kills, etc. Considering that Battlefield seems to like pitching itself as a more ‘mature’ shooter, it feels somewhat jarring and misplaced. While this may seem trivial to some, I felt it was an interesting counterpoint to some of the underlying themes of the much lauded Spec Ops: The Line, and one that Battlefield does not fair favourably against.
There’s been a repeated criticism in recent times that developers seems to include online components to everything, even when it doesn’t particularly fit the game. Battlefield 4 is the other way round, with the campaign feeling like a distraction from the main event of the multiplayer. We can be thankful then that the online aspects of this title are, for the most part, superb.
The addition to this year’s iteration that DICE made the most noise about was the introduction of ‘Levolution’, which is effectively a snappy brand name for dynamic events during the multiplayer battles that can have a variety of effects, from small to absolutely dramatic. For example, you’ll have no doubt seen the footage of the skyscraper crashing to the ground during the Siege Of Shanghai map. This destruction isn’t only a feast for the eyes, it’s also a necessary tactic to grasp control of that point on the map. If the enemy team has captured that area it’s incredibly difficult to take it from their grasp because the only routes up are via helicopter or the elevators, which are almost inevitably heavily guarded. Bringing the skyscraper down not only kills anyone in or on it, but also gives a whole new point to attack and capture. Being able to intelligently use this tactic can completely swing the tide of a battle.
Levolution isn’t always as pleasing as seen on the Shanghai map though. Flood Zone features a destroyable dam which, as the clued up amongst you may have guessed, completely floods the lower part of the map. While it does shift the methods your team needs to employ during the fight, it also adds frustration for any player stuck in the flooded sections without a vehicle.
Other changes to the multiplayer include the return of ‘Commander Mode’, effectively a top down display allowing you to give orders to your team, plus having the ability to call in artillery strikes against targets. A good commander is a huge bonus to have during a battle.
There’s a wealth of game modes to partake in, from old favourites such as Conquest, Team Deathmatch and Rush, through to new modes such as Obliteration, where both teams must capture a single bomb and use it to destroy one of the opponents three objectives. There’s enough content here to keep players occupied for quite some time.
One drawback to the multiplayer is the drop in player count. While the PC and next gen versions have 64 players duking it out, the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions are both limited to 24 players. On the larger maps you can run for quite some time without seeing a single soul.
Make no mistake, Battlefield 4 has been built for next gen and PC, and this shines through in a few areas. The textures and jaggies on the 360 version are so bad in places that I had to go and look on the internet because I was sure I must have missed a texture pack install. Particularly poor are the water textures, which is an issue considering how often they’re employed.
There’s also a few bugs throughout the campaign and multiplayer. During the single player mode I fairly regularly had enemy characters move through solid objects. In multiplayer I’ve had a repeated issue with the Dawnbreaker map completely locking my console up. It’s very surprising that issues like this slipped through the net during testing.
Battlefield 4 feels like the death rattle of the current generation. While impressive in it’s ambition, the Xbox 360 version we tested wheezes and stumbles through, struggling to keep up with it’s bigger and stronger brothers, and the campaign is rather lacklustre. It’s thankful though that the multiplayer component has evolved over the years to become arguably the best in class FPS game. There’s enough here, enough variation in the maps and the tactics you have to learn in order to dominate the enemy, to entertain you right through the next Battlefield game, or at least until you decide to investigate in a newer and sexier model under your television.
MLG Rating: 7/10 Format: PlayStation 3 / Xbox 360 / PC / Xbox One / PlayStation 4 Release Date: 29/10/2013 (Current Gen)
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a copy of Battlefield 4 for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of 7 days on a Xbox 360. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.