Developer: EA Digital Illusions CE / Publisher: Electronic Arts / Played on: PlayStation 4, PC / Price: $59.99 / ESRB: Mature 17+ [Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language]
Battlefield always produces those insane moments—the ones where you ramp your tank off a small hill only to ram right into a low-flying jet and explode in a totally awesome way. Battlefield 4 finds a way to make those moments even more insane. Imagine an entire map flooding with water, sending both you and your opponents scrambling for dry ground so you can get back to killing each other. Imagine a typhoon breaking out over once-idyllic tropical islands, obscuring vision and sound with intense rain.
Yeah, I’m referring to leveloution. Despite the stench of marketing about the name, it’s real, it works, and it’s why Battlefield 4 is so goddamn fun.
It’s much more than just buildings falling over, which may be what you’re expecting if you saw the E3 demo or played the beta. The concept is both large and small, ranging from the aforementioned flood to smaller events like the lights cutting off in a building or a capture point that’s on a moving train. You experience it most often in small-scale destruction; almost every piece of cover in the game is destructible. One second you think you’re untouchable and then a rocket completely evaporates all cover around you leaving you as naked and exposed as a newborn baby. It keeps you on your toes and generates new ideas and strategies in shootouts with other people.
Commander mode is the other huge new addition to Battlefield 4 and it can be awesome as long as you’re playing with a team that communicates. It’s a similar idea to Battlefield 2 or even Tribes 2—when you become commander, you get an overhead view of the entire map and issue orders to squads. Provided that the squads trust in your tactics, it can be a very powerful strategic tool, but good luck finding that kind of harmony in random online games.
Even if that team synergy isn’t present, the commander still has powers that can help the team. You can drop UAV scans to reveal enemy positions in a specific area, drop vehicles or supplies for squads, and even spawn roving gunships or missile strikes depending on which capture points your team owns. Tying commander powers to capture points is a great idea—it adds even more strategic depth to capturing points beyond just trying to win the match. Plus, dropping a giant missile on the map feels godlike.
A handful of other additions and general improvements elevate the experience over Battlefield 3. Field upgrades have replaced squad perks, granting you four levels of stat improvements based on your squad’s teamwork—squad heals, resupplies, spawning on squad, those sorts of actions. Just like perks, it’s a nice boost to earn, and I like that it’s tied more to how you perform as a squad rather than the collective hours you pump into the game. Equipment unlocks have been shuffled for a smoother experience as well. For instance, with jets you now have missiles right off the bat, meaning you’re not stuck trying to kill helicopters and tanks with your guns for hours. For that matter, damage on vehicles awards partial credit as you do it, so you don’t have to pray for an assist just to get some unlock progression.
From the levelouted maps to commander mode to the new squad mechanics, Battlefield 4 is a top-to-bottom improved multiplayer experience over Battlefield 3. And Battlefield 3 was damn good, so that’s saying a lot.
Even the single-player is improved since it takes more advantage of Battlefield’s essence. Rather than provide a series of scripted events, and hallways filled with gun-holding scarecrows, Battlefield 4’s campaign contains several open areas that give you the freedom to engage your enemies how you choose. The AI presents an interesting challenge too—if you command your squad to lock them down with covering fire and try to flank, they’ll retreat. If you sit in one place too long, they’ll rain grenades down on you. It makes you play smart and fast, which is worlds apart from Battlefield 3. Even the scoring system is a good addition, allowing you the chance to unlock guns based on your performance. It’s not as deep as Bulletstorm’s or even Halo’s but it’s something.
The story is… OK. The events revolve around a squad of harrowed soldiers stomping around Europe and Asia untangling political cock-ups and preventing World War III. That’s the framing of just about every modern military shooter, but it’s enough motivation to get the bullets flying. Most of the campaign focuses on the personal drama of the squad which is a wise choice. In addition to tense war drama you also get light-hearted moments that endear these characters more than your typical square-chinned shooter cast.
I have some small issues with the characters though. Most of the conflict revolves around Irish, and his first major character conflict is forgotten in favor of another about halfway through without much interesting resolution or commentary. Still, I remember all the characters’ names and would like to see them again, which is way more than I can say about Battlefield 3. The campaign isn’t anything profound or new, but it at least earns its place alongside the multiplayer this time around.
In fact, that echoes what I said previously about multiplayer. Battlefield 3 was some of the best fun you could have online when it came out, and Battlefield 4 is all of that and more. If you enjoyed 3, there’s no reason at all to skip out on the sequel. And if you’ve never played a Battlefield before, now’s a great time to start. Get in here and start blowing up awesomely yourself.