Battlefield 3 kept my aging Xbox 360 in business well past its natural life. It exemplified everything a triple A title should be. It was well polished, had slick matchmaking and both variety and quality in spades. Battlefield 4, then, has a lot to live up to, even disregarding the fact that it’s a showroom title for the next generation of consoles. Having put some 600 hours into BF3 by the end of its life, and already sunk a tidy amount into BF4 so far, I’m happy about many of the elements BF4 brings to the table, but somehow I get the feeling that without a sea-change in attitude from developer, DICE, the magic of the Battlefield franchise may be waning.
On day one Battlefield 4 feels both old and new. The move toward ever more realistic interpretations of warfare is initially exciting, but you soon realise that the real joy of the game comes not from fiddling around with the new gadgets, but playing with a team. More so than any other in the franchise that I’ve played, BF4 requires your friends. This comes mainly from the sheer size and expanse of the game. Conquest mode now has 64 players (and runs perfectly with that amount), and with that much lead flying around, you simply can’t do anything on your own. In fact, many aspects of the game simply become frustrations, as you move around without any form of communication with your teammates. Of course in-game voice chat works fine, but the pain of voice chat with the less mature gaming crowd can impair the whole experience.
Smaller game modes fare no better in this regard, and the two freshest modes out of the tin come in the form of obliteration and defuse, both bomb-based modes. The trouble here is that BF4, certainly at this stage in its life, has garnered a hardcore following. This means that smaller game modes are often populated by particularly good squads, who can swing the tide of battle. This is, of course, a real benefit if you’re on the winning side, but I guess what I’m trying to say here is that you may find it difficult to find rooms you like, regardless of the game mode, if you don’t have a handful of friends playing as well.
Speaking of game modes, one major gripe I think is fair to level at BF4 is how they’ve dealt with rush. It is a completely different experience now that, given how well-loved rush has been in the past, has ruined the game for many. Far from being the main focus of the game, it has been relegated to being hidden away amongst other, newer game modes. It’s no longer the massive, expansive battlefront experience it has been in the past with Bad Company 2 and BF3. Games are much, much quicker and favour shock-and-awe tactics over more methodical grinding down of opponents. This is a really sad development from my point of view, as rush mode differentiates the franchise from the less tactical shooters out there.
I guess in many ways Battlefield 4 loses a little in the translation to the next gen consoles. It’s not really as good-looking as it could be, and the matchmaking system, while passable, is a little buggy. Generally, from a technical standpoint, it simply isn’t as competent as any previous version. This is something that won’t have a major impact on the more casual gamer, but for anyone looking to put serious time into the game, it will have leave a somewhat sour taste in the mouth. Similarly, things like having to reset your loadouts numerous times, and the game not accurately keeping up with your achievements and assignments means you don’t really feel you’re playing as good a title as you could.
On the other hand, the range of game modes and maps is immense, with a more moderate map selection than previously. In essence, while there may be fewer maps you love, there are also fewer maps that you turn off to. With 3 map packs already out for those wanting to spend the extra £40 on a premium package, there is a wealth of game for you to enjoy in multiplayer. As a side note, as I think it’s all it deserves, the single player campaign is barely worth your time. To be honest, I don’t know why they bother.
In all, Battlefield 4 feels like something of a test for the devoted, and an open door to players of more action-based shooters (read: CoD). I guess your decision has to boil down to whether or not you’re interested in that. As a fan of the series, it is still testing my patience with buggy rounds and design choices made to bring in new gamers, rather than please fans. While that may sound bitter, I still think it’s the best shooter out there, bar none, so I guess that counts as a solid recommendation.
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