- Developer - EA DICE
- Publisher - EA
- Platforms - Xbox 360 (tested), PlayStation 3, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One
- Release date - Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Windows - out now. Xbox One - 22 November. PlayStation 4 - 29 November
- Price - Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Windows - £39.99. Xbox One and PlayStation 4 - £49.99
I loved Battlefield 3's single-player campaign. I know a lot of people thought it was tacked-on, or too linear, or emblazoning of the usual patriotic war shooter crap, but I loved it. It was terrifying.
Contrary to Call of Duty, which often has you up close and personal with enemies, Battlefield 3 put you at a distance. Rather than blast through like DoomGuy, you were firing wildly at silhouettes in the distance, hoping against hope that they wouldn't get back up again.
And the sound. Oh, the sound. It was deafeningly loud, with bullets shattering walls, car alarms going off and the cries of your squad-mates blaring all around you. More often than not, I'd be cowering behind cover, trying to pluck the courage up to to squeeze off a few shots at where I thought the enemy would be. In a genre racked with male empowerment fantasies, Battlefield 3 was a war shooter that felt, comparatively, honest. You were scared.
War was hell.
Dumb, racous, appalling
Battlefield 4's single-player mode is nothing like that. Apparently created by a team with no taste whatsoever, it dispenses with all the brave and interesting ideas Battlefield 3 was working with in favour of a dumb, raucous and appallingly written tale of modern warfare.
Single-player levels work a bit differently in Battlefield 4. Rather than funnelling you into one gunfight after another, you're dropped into a series of small hubs and left to attack your enemy as you see fit.
The environments look and feel a lot like Battlefield's online maps - large, explorable and filled with destructible scenery. Enemies arrive in waves, and rather than shuffle through corridors, you get to run around the entire area, popping them off with a huge arsenal of guns and gadgets.
Multiplayer single-player mode
That's the other thing. Rather than use whatever weapons you're given, in Battlefield 4's campaign, you have access to in-game gun caches, meaning you can swap between unlocked shooters and equipment on the fly. Faced with a large arena, you might go for a sniper rifle, whereas in tighter confines, you'll be served better by a shotgun and claymores.
This makes it feel even more like multiplayer, where you customise your loadout then jog around a big location having a deathmatch. The single-player even comes complete with a points and XP system, meaning that every time you cap a villain, a message flashes on screen telling you how much he was worth. "+100 Enemy Killed. +250 Headshot." That kind of thing.
And it breaks the atmosphere over its back. What I said about tension in Battlefield 3, about never knowing when it was safe to peek round of cover, does not apply here at all. You KNOW when your enemies are dead because the game gives you points for doing it. It makes the whole thing feel cheap and arcadey.
The tone of Battlefield 3 was oppressive and bleak. Battlefield 4 feels more like Quake.
Out of step
The distancing is shot to pieces as well. In most of your battles, you're face-to-face with your enemy, shotgunning him, machine-gunning him or knifing him in the head. That kind of splatterhouse fun is fine when it's a sci-fi game, or a horror game, or some kind of fantasy, but when you're dealing with war - and when you have the same pretences of realism and drama as Battlefield 4 - it feels totally out of step.
That's the other thing, the writing. You might think it's unfair to criticise a AAA behemoth like Battlefield for its script because presumably high art isn't what it's shooting at. But I don't think I buy that. There's so much dialogue in Battlefield 4, so much stopping and starting to listen to characters moralise about war this and violence that, that clearly, someone on the dev team wanted this game to say something. But it doesn't.
It's one of the worst scripted games I've ever played.
Characters enter and exit for no reason whatsoever, events jump forward without context and when people talk to each other, they just shout and swear. This one guy, Agent Kovics, dies after being in the game for all of 20 minutes, but still gets to have this long, long soliloquy.
Level of class
Looking at you, he cries: "You...you have to lead them now!" before conking it from a head wound. Compare that to Battlefield 3, where Campo, this guy you've known the whole game, dies quietly off-screen after getting caught with a stray bullet. No monologue, no philosophising - you don't even see him go down. There's no pomp or spectacle or glamour. Battlefield 4 hasn't anywhere near that level of class.
But anyway, the multiplayer's good. Well, it's pretty much the same as BF3 but, you know, if it ain't broke etc.
There a couple of new additions.
- Obliteration: a new game mode wherein a bomb is dropped randomly onto the map somewhere and teams have to fight to claim it then plant and arm it in the enemy base.
- Defuse: a quick-fire game of one minute rounds where if you go down, you don't respawn. There's a bomb in play once again only this time, teams take it turns to either attack or defend, meaning one round you're trying to plant the bomb, the next you're trying to stop it from going off. Most of the time, though, everyone just kills each other.
- "Levolution" effect: whereby activating certain switches triggers a cataclysmic event that reshapes the map. A good example is Flood Zone, where if a player does X, Y and Z, an enormous wave crashes through the game levelling buildings and wiping out players. It's not necessarily a match winner, and I think the people I played against were triggering Levolution for laughs rather than any tactical advantage, but it's a fun idea nevertheless, and an excellent display of Battlefield's always superlative destruction physics.
Even on consoles, deathmatches now support 64 players, so online games are bigger and busier than ever. I'm not completely convinced it works. With that many people scurrying around, fights can become cluttered and scrappy, and any sense of co-ordination gets completely lost.
That's probably why we now have Commander Mode, an additional second screen game that can be accessed via an app on either Android or iOS tablets. It allows an additional player, outside of the team playing Battlefield proper, to get an overhead look of the multiplayer game, tracking things like objectives, people's movements and the location of key things like the bomb in Obliteration. The Commander can order troops on the ground to attack or defend certain areas, as well as call in airstrikes and other tactical deployments to help his squad out. It's a great idea.
Initially, I was worried Commander Mode would be kind of gimmicky and superficial, and that it wouldn't really work. But it adds a sense of strategy to Battlefield 4 that you don't often get in today's big multiplayer shooters. I like it.
But that's more than I can say for Battlefield 4 as a whole. Yes, the multiplayer is good, but that comes as expected. The single-player, which is what I was really holding out for, is a total mess: Scrappy, uninteresting and completely at odds with the perceived tone of the story. I know it's not really the point, I know that if people comment on this, they're going to say "Battlefield's great, who cares about the campaign?"
But DICE totally nailed it with Battlefield 3. They made a convincing and commercial war shooter but also managed to slide in some original and brave new ideas. Not the case here. And as much as I like killing xxxSm0keweed4lyfxxx with a giant tsunami wave, after Battlefield 3, I can't help but feeling this could have been something more than online fun.
- Gameplay: 5/10 - The multiplayer is all present and correct, and it includes some neat new modes, but the campaign is a total shambles, completely missing the points as laid out in Battlefield 3.
- Graphics: 8/10 - Superb as usual. Some niggles here and there with things like texture pop-in, but the destruction physics are still a great showpiece.
- Sound: 8/10 - Again, DICE is on usual form. Brilliant gun and explosion sound effects and a solid voice cast who, despite having nothing to work with, still do okay.
- Writing: 2/10 - Abysmal. Really bad. One of the worst written games I've ever played. And I mean that compared to even other war shooters, none of which are exactly Dickens.
- Replay value: 6/10 - Multiplayer will keep you going forever but the you'll struggle to finish the campaign, such as it is.
- Overall: 6/10 - A great multiplayer game with an appalling campaign. It's not that it's tacked on - quite the opposite. A lot of effort has gone into making it much, much worse. Battlefield 3 was a great template for DICE to build on but the studio's ignored all that in favour of something much dumber. A shame.