Battlefield 4 Review

Graphics are definitely pretty in the Battlefield games

  • Developer: DICE
  • Publisher: EA
  • Release Date: 29 October 2013
  • Time played: 250+ hours

I'd like to think I'm a bit of a veteran when it comes to the Battlefield games, at least with respect to the PC releases. While I haven't played the original Battlefield 1942 and Battlefield 2142, I have played Battlefield 2, Battlefield Heroes, Battlefield: Bad Company 2, Battlefield 3 and now the latest from DICE and EA, Battlefield 4. Let me say from the start that Battlefield 2 remains my favourite game in the franchise because of the way it encouraged teamplay, had clearly defined roles for each class, limited ammo, no health regeneration and limited weapon options. Of course, one of the biggest features of Battlefield 2 was Commander Mode which returned in its sequel Battlefield 2142 but went AWOL for several years after that - AWOL until now. One of the most exciting features of Battlefield 4 leading up to its release was the announcement of Commander Mode being reintroduced to the game which probably caused many a BF2 veteran to rejoice (myself included). However, Battlefield 2 was released almost a decade ago and Trauma Studios, the development studio behind BF2 and its precursor, the Desert Combat mod for Battlefield 1942, were sacked shortly before BF2 was released (another one of EA's low moments). There was always some doubt on how true to the original formula Commander Mode would be and whether it could even work if BF4's gameplay ended up adopting the many changes to Battlefield introduced in each iteration.

Plot (3/5)
Just like the Battlefield games of recent years, Battlefield 4 has a single player campaign. I still don't know why they insist on having a single player campaign in the Battlefield games since multi player is what most players really want to play. Okay I take that back, of course I know why they added single player, to compete with the Call of Duty franchise of course - although competing with this franchise may soon become a non-issue the way it's heading.

Anyway, the game is set shortly after the events that transpired in Battlefield 3 (so yes, they're both set in the same fictional universe) and you play the role of a US marine called Recker who is part of a fire team codenamed "Tombstone". You soon discover that there is a rogue Chinese general wanting to stir up trouble and it's up to you and your mates on the USS Valkyrie to stop him. As you can see, this is how they're able to tie-in China as one of the playable sides in multiplayer again. I won't reveal too much more about the plot suffice to say that it's exactly like any other single player campaign to grace a Battlefield game: your stock, no-brainer action film fare. In fact, BF4's might be slightly worse since you don't have the humour that existed in Bad Company 2 and the characters are even less memorable than in Battlefield 3. At least in the previous games your character actually talks since you receive the Gordon Freeman treatment in this one, i.e. the silent protagonist. While I'm not totally against having a silent protagonist it doesn't really work in a game where you're meant to play a commanding officer. Every time a teammate asks you a question to only receive silence as a response, they end up making a decision for you which seems like they're undermining your authority.

Gameplay (4/5)
I'm going to assume you know about BF3's gameplay since I'm going to be making comparisons between this game and its predecessor. Basically, the gameplay is very similar. Most of the weapons are the same, most of the vehicles are the same with the exception of many Chinese weapons and vehicles (obviously). While on the topic of weapons, I am disappointed that each side has the same starter weapons, i.e. a Singaporean light machine gun, a Chinese sniper rifle, a Russian assault rifle and an Italian sub-machine gun. At least BF3 had faction-specific starter weapons which made more sense. Now everyone has access to every weapon which for me lowers the immersion factor a bit. And while on the topic of everyone having access to every weapon, this is another pet hate of mine with BF4. Now every class has access to carbines and Designated Marksman Rifles (DMRs). So now it's possible to have super-classes roaming around where you're able to repair vehicles, demolish tanks and snipe infantry. There's also way too many unlocks for my liking, so much so that some weapons and grips are almost identical in terms of handling - the only difference being their appearance. This means less dependency on your fellow teammates and as a result less teamwork - something I wish there was more of in Battlefield since it was definitely more prevalent in the days of BF2.

Commander Mode returns in BF4 although it's quite a bit different

One good thing about BF4 is the reintroduction of Commander Mode. I've see-sawed a bit concerning my opinion on BF4's Commander Mode but in my defence, they've actually tweaked the ability a bit over the past several months. At first, I was excited that Commander Mode was making a return but when I tried it out, it didn't feel as good as BF2. The Commander has no ability to individually spot units anymore, he's not an actual soldier on the field, his assets (such as the UAV scan) aren't physical structures that can be destroyed and gone are the artillery strikes. VOIP communications is also done on a squad-by-squad basis instead of it being broadcasted to all squad leaders. At first, I thought it really sucked because I didn't feel like I was as helpful to the team as I was in BF2 (your team really relied on the Commander for surveillance and support in BF2) . This is partially because Battlefield has changed quite considerably since the BF2 days. As mentioned at the beginning of this review, Battlefield now has unlimited ammo (at least with vehicles), health regeneration (on Normal mode) and less classes, which means less dependence on others and the Commander. Also since there was no physical presence of assets you couldn't have cool spec op missions to destroy enemy bases like you used to in BF2. Finally, you also don't have any offensive capabilities by default (i.e. artillery in BF2) meaning your team has to secure a flag in order for you to be able to deploy a gunship or cruise missile.

A few patches later and some more time played as Commander though, I started to appreciate some of the design decisions made. Tying flag control to control of assets wasn't the same as BF2 but it's quite a similar mechanic. I also discovered that you could actually defend your team against cruise missiles and gunships by using EMP drones which means the Commander can actually be useful besides repeating the mundane task of repeatedly deploying UAV drones. So now the only annoying thing about being Commander is the fact you can't just resign and return to your team; you have to disconnect from the server completely.

In short, BF4 is a bit like a BF3.5, except with Commander mode, which means despite the 4/5 I'm giving for gameplay it's still slightly better than BF3 in my books.

Sound (5/5)
Audio as usual is really good (when it works). Soldiers really show emotion in what they say, screaming for a medic when they're hurt or swearing their heads off when they're under fire. Unfortunately, just like BF3, there are really bad accents for the non-US sides, so prepare yourself for really poor Russian accents and Chinglish in the style of Russell Peters (like the video below):

Music (5/5)
Looking back at my previous review for Battlefield 3, I'm not quite sure why I gave it a score of 5/5 since I think BF4's Warsaw Theme is a better interpretation of the Battlefield theme than BF3's. Ultimately though, BF4 and BF3's soundtracks are very similar straddling the genres of dubstep, glitch and industrial - which work well for the action sequences in the game but it's still not exactly my favourite style of music. I much prefer classical instruments as was the case with previous Battlefield soundtracks :).

Graphics (4/5)
The graphics are comparable if not slightly better than the graphics in Battlefield 3, so the graphics are pretty breathtaking, especially when observe "Levolution" first hand on maps such as Paracel Storm; on this map, a tropical storm descends on the islands later on in the game which causes a damaged ship to run aground on one of the islands. It does help to spice up the maps even if it is only a mere gimmick for some of them.

Unfortunately, for a few months after release I had "micro-stutter" issues. Basically it meant my game had huge framerate drops every second or two and it wasn't just limited to multiplayer but singleplayer as well. I went through a lot of pain to resolve the issue including rolling back drivers, lowering graphics settings, reformatting the PC, adding more sticks of RAM and even borrowing RAM for a friend to experiment. Eventually I ended up replacing my RAM with some higher quality RAM and that somehow resolved the issue. Or it might be a coincidence since around the same time, DICE rolled out a new patch - so I ultimately do not know what actually resolved the issue except it was months after the game was released before I was actually able to play the game unhindered - well almost (which I'll elaborate under the "Polish" section)

Replay (5/5)
While I experienced performance issues in the first few months, I found it a real struggle to play - so much so that I was almost resigned to the fact that I would be forever playing BF4 in Commander Mode (since having micro-stutter isn't as detrimental if there are no bullets flying into your face). Thankfully, once the micro-stutter issues went away, I was able to appreciate the game more and I have to say, even if you're not a big fan of the gameplay, you can't deny that it's addictive. Maybe it's through the cunning use of battlepacks, meaning you're always wondering what goodies you'll unwrap the next time you level. Or maybe it's because you really want to unlock every single attachment for a particular weapon. Whatever the case, despite some very frustrating games over the many months since release, I found myself coming back for more, despite myself, clocking over 250 hours of gameplay in the process. That's a lot of replay.

Polish (0/5)
I'm really disappointed with EA and DICE over how many bugs were shipped with this release. Yes, I know there are many of you saying "what do you expect? This is EA and DICE we're talking about". Well, I already had low expectations and they managed to not even meet them. In the first few months, the game was buggy as hell and had serious performance issues for me and several other players, that made the game unplayable. Now, I'm at least able to play the game but there are still occasional server connectivity issues and game crashes. Not only that but there are still underlying issues with the core gameplay as well considering DICE had to take the drastic measure of creating a Community Test Environment (CTE) due to complaints about the "netcode" and "tickrate" issues.

You'd think that EA would learn from previous debacles, like the latest SimCity launch, not to release horrendously buggy games with flawed gameplay - but it seems they never learn.

Score – 8/10

While the addition of Commander Mode is a step in the right direction, BF4 really does feel like just a BF3.5. Making soldiers generalists instead of specialists is the recurring trend here with each Battlefield release. Also you have to purchase Premium which is $140 all up (when you include the base game) if you don't want to feel like a second-class citizen. The game is also the worst launch of a Battlefield game to date, at least speaking from personal experience.

If you want to get the game, you can get it on Origin or at your local retailer like EB or JB Hi-Fi.

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[ LINK: Official Battlefield 4 website]