Brilliant and yet equally not so…
The latest instalment of the Battlefield series is a very strange beast to review, there has been a lot made of the technology behind the game – the Frostbite 3 engine – which developer DICE claims that it’s the only true next-gen shooter available. Add to the pot as the many issues that have plagued the title since its release and you’re left with the question – is it actually any good?
From a single player perspective, the entire Battlefield series has generally been something of a disappointment, except for the brilliant Bad Company 2, and sadly, this latest attempt at cracking the campaign mode is yet another poor showing for the team at DICE. As much as it is an improvement over the last attempt, the campaign is still far too scripted, typically full of set-pieces designed to add tension and excitement where good game design could have easily achieved this instead. Despite an excellent opening, no real context is provided to explain what the characters are actually doing, the story is effectively non-existent, with DICE simply assuming that gamers enjoy perpetrating random acts of violence. Of course, they’re probably right, but the primary focus of EA, and evidently DICE too, has been far too centred on attempting to topple the COD franchise, and as such, they tailor the single player game to appeal to those who play its biggest rival, rather than the gamers who actually buy their own products. Thankfully, the campaign is played out over just seven levels, so it is rather short, though in fairness, there is some variety thrown into the mix with the inclusion of vehicle based sections, but it is a substandard effort on the whole, and that is especially disappointing when DICE have already shown that they can do considerably better than this.
The sound design as always is of the highest quality; explosions and gun fire pack a punch, but whilst the soundtrack is fitting, it is somewhat unspectacular. The voice acting is fairly strong throughout, though the dialogue is typically gung-ho, pro-American gibberish, punctuated by horrendous, mind numbing interactions between the irritating squad members that accompany the player throughout the campaign. Again, this was something that the developer managed far more successfully in Bad Company 2, and thus it begs the question as to why DICE got it so wrong here.
Visually, the game is very strong in places, but it is also equally poor in others; character models are highly detailed throughout and the facial animations are of a very high standard. It looks sharp, textures are of a very high quality, the lighting is excellent and it all runs about in a rock solid 60fps, but it isn’t perfect. Flame effects are diabolical and there are issues with invisible walls, enemy soldiers regularly skip frames of animation as they jump onto gun emplacements and more often than not, they also spawn directly in front of the player as the pass through trigger points. I think it’s fair to say that lurking behind Battlefield 4’s next-gen visual façade, there is an archaic gaming experience to be found, and it is one that is unlikely to appeal to very many gamers at all. Possibly DICE were hampered by getting their game working on current-gen machines – we’ll find out with the inevitable Battlefield 5.
But, the meat of any Battlefield game is in its multiplayer, and despite the many flaws that this latest effort is bogged down with, when the multiplayer works, it is still the very best that gaming has to offer. Full scale battles finally arrive on console amid huge environments that support 64 player skirmishes with even greater levels of destruction that are only made possible by the new Frostbite 3 engine. The new tag word “Levolution” helps to evolve the Battlefield series even further, adding in weather effects-most prominently displayed on the level Paracel Storm – and the ability to topple full buildings to crush one’s foes can also culminate in spectacular set pieces that see skyscrapers razed to the ground. Running at a solid 60fps, death matches are not only stunning, but fluid throughout, giving close quarters combat more of a twitch shooter feel, making them altogether more visceral and nervy. There are numerous game modes on disc, and there will be plenty of DLC to be released over the coming months, making Battlefield 4 the only online shooter that any gamer will need – at least until Titanfall emerges in March for Xbox One, 360 and PC gamers (sorry Sony fans!).
Ultimately, Battlefield 4 is a triumph, a wonderful multiplayer experience bogged down by an archaic, uninteresting and narratively horrendous single player campaign that sullies an otherwise perfect FPS package. There has been a lot said of the game’s issues in the media, and if only DICE could have had more time to focus on delivering a polished end product, its publisher, EA, wouldn’t have faced such heavy criticism, or the exacerbating lawsuit that the gaming giant’s shareholders have taken against the company for releasing an unfinished product. DICE have since released two patches to get the online side of the game up to scratch, and from my own experience, they have achieved just that, making Battlefield 4 a very wise investment for any next-gen gamer.
– James Paton @TheBlackPage81
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