While the notion of destructible environments and the real-time evolution of a map has been around since 2008’s Bad Company, Battlefield 4 takes this concept and makes it grandiose in its execution, giving us the type of destruction that was taken out of Battlefield 3 and adding in “Levolution”, events that change the way a given map plays and feels.
Running on a new version of the Frostbite engine and having an increased number of moving parts, does Battlefield 4 stride proudly across the gaming landscape or does it collapse under its own weight?
Like all games in this franchise, Battlefield 4’s bread and butter is the multiplayer mode. What you can expect here is a mix of infantry, armored, naval and aerial combat, depending on the map and which game mode you’re playing.
The twist this time around is “Levolution”, which is the in-game term for the ways that players can influence the map, from small changes (such as raising bollards to block roadways) to big ones (bringing down the skyscraper on the Siege of Shanghai map). As a gimmick, Levolution works fairly well most of the time, but some of the big map events barely change the way the map plays and feels or actively makes the gameplay worse (blowing up the dam on Lancang Dam, for example, just adds a pile of rubble to the map and collapsing the skyscraper in Shanghai takes away one of the most chaotic and fun infantry arenas on the map).
Conversely some maps have excellent Levolution events, like Flood Zone where the streets will fill with water turning what was formerly an urban arena into an impromptu naval combat zone. Levolution can also apply to the gradual changes a map undergoes, such as Paracel Storm’s worsening weather or the time of day changes on Dawnbreaker. The dynamic nature of Battlefield 4’s maps lend a lot of spectacle to the game, an especially difficult feat considering the already chaotic nature of your average Battlefield match.
I do have to commend DICE on the map design in Battlefield 4, which is greatly improved from the maps in Battlefield 3, which were either too large or too constricted. A lot of the maps seem to find the right balance between infantry combat and vehicular action. Even the smaller maps like Operation Locker aren’t the complete cluster that Operation Metro in BF3 had the potential to turn into with 64 players. There isn’t a single map included in the base game of BF4 that stands out to me as poorly designed or one that I would actively avoid which is quite the achievement for a multiplayer game.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of little imperfections that have been carried over from Battlefield 3. While vaulting over cover is still an option, there are some tiny obstacles (like steps) that your character can’t get over, leaving you hopping in place like an idiot while you get shot to pieces. Collapsed buildings are especially hard to navigate, and certain objects, like railings or stairs can be seen through but act as a solid object when shot. While it doesn’t happen often, there’s a frustrating inconsistency between the fluidity of movement you’re allowed and the random ways the game finds to trip you up.
DICE has upped the ante in terms of firearms in Battlefield 4, shifting around the way classes and guns interact with one another. Each class gets an exclusive type of gun to wield (Support gets light machine guns, Recon gets sniper rifles, Engineer gets personal defense weapons and Assault gets assault rifles) while shotguns, designated marksman rifles (DMRs) and carbines are all-kit weapons.
Making the carbines an all-kit weapon was an excellent move on DICE’s part. The assault rifles are still far and away the kings of close to medium range combat (which is where you will engage other players a large percentage of the time) but in the hands of a decent player a carbine will suit you well.
DICE also added in a ton of additional attachments and modifications that can be equipped on your guns. Besides the requisite sights, there are grips, barrel mods and an additional slot where you can put flashlights, laser sights, sight magnifiers or canted iron sights. There are a ton of options here that really allow you to play with how you gun functions and how you can kit yourself out to your preferred play style.
On top of that, the classes have been rebalanced slightly to make them more appealing. While Assault is still the go-to class because of its healing capabilities and assault rifles, it lacks the anti-vehicle abilities of every other class. Giving C4 back to Recon players means that this class is now viable in close-quarters again, especially with the motion-ball gadget (which is a portable motion detector that pings enemies on your mini-map when thrown) and the ability to wield a carbine. There’s way more depth to go into here, but DICE should be commended on how they reworked each class in Battlefield 4.
One change in BF4 that bears mentioning is the addition of a helmet-mounted camera on your squadmates so you can see their perspective before you spawn on them. This way, if they’re being hounded by a tank, you’ll know that beforehand and will pick somewhere else to spawn instead of being greeted by an unexpected death. It’s a small change, for sure, but removes a huge amount of frustration that spawning on squadmates had in previous games.
Battlefield 4 also has a single-player campaign, but if you’ve played a modern military shooter in the past five years, you can probably skip out on it. While the game does provide quite a nice audio/visual experience (once again the sound team is peerless in the work) on next-gen consoles and PC, Battlefield 4’s single-player campaign commits every sin in the MMS rulebook. There’s no reason to play the campaign unless you want to admire the sights and sounds or unlock a few of the multiplayer weapons that are hidden behind assignments tied into the campaign.
The multiplayer in Battlefield 4 is a precarious balancing act between pushing great visuals, maintaining some semblance of order when a whole map is crashing down around you and balancing a vastly increased array of vehicles, weapons and the myriad of different ways you can outfit yourself. For the most part the game succeeds, but occasionally things will shake themselves apart in front of you. Battlefield’s unique brand of chaos is truly on display here and if you’re a fan of first person shooters, this is the game for you. Only a lackluster single-player campaign and minor hiccups hold it back.
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However, I would be remiss not to mention the litany of bugs, glitches, server crashes and just plain out weirdness that has plagued this game from day one. While server disconnects have mostly disappeared over time (during the first week or so it was next to impossible to actually finish a match) various other potentially game-breaking errors are still prevalent.
While DICE has dedicated themselves to fixing these issues, the rapid pace at which they’re trying to remove bugs seems to have lead to a lack of Q/A on patches, as every patch will fix a small error and introduce a few new ones (such as server patch R20 which removed a camouflage glitch which rendered players invisible but disabled the ability to respawn). Battlefield 4 is an unstable mess and who knows if it will be fixed by the time other shooters crop up to take its place. If you’re a longtime Battlefield fan you may be willing to stick this out, but for anyone else, this is a no-go.
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