The Battlefield franchise has really always been most at home on PC setups, boasting gorgeous visuals and effects as well as a size and scope that console iterations simply couldn’t touch. It’s for that reason that console fans have been bubbling with excitement over the releases of Battlefield 4 for Xbox One and Playstation 4, which both support 64-player matches and sport a slick aesthetic that comes extremely close to replicating the PC experience.
While the PS4 version only runs at a resolution of 900p and the Xbox One runs even lower than that at 720p, they’re both immediately impressive and look better than anything we’ve seen on current gen consoles. A good PC rig is still capable of rendering superior visuals but, unless you had all three versions running side-by-side, you’d be hard-pressed to notice a difference. What are somewhat noticeable are the occasional framerate drops the Xbox One version suffers from. The dips never seem to go below 30fps, but it certainly doesn’t maintain a constant 60fps lock. It’s a minor blemish on an otherwise outstanding looking presentation though.
The meat of the experience in Battlefield 4, for most players, lies with the robust multiplayer offering. Thanks to the larger player count (which doubles the available team sizes from the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions) the experience feels altogether new. In addition to the familiar modes like Conquest and Team Deathmatch, there are a couple new game modes here entitled Obliteration and Defuse. In Obliteration, two teams fight to obtain a bomb that randomly spawns on to the map. Once acquired, the holding team needs to push through enemy defenses to get the bomb into the opposing team’s base to arm and detonate it. Whereas this mode can lead to longer, brutal matches, the somewhat lighter Defuse mode plays a bit more quickly as there are no vehicles involved, the maps are smaller, and there are no redeployments after a player dies. Players try to attack and defend a series of bombs over several rounds that play out in only a few minutes. These are fun distractions, but I still find myself wanting to play nothing but Conquest mode, in which players fight to capture and control various areas on a map.
Developer DICE has touted their new (and terribly-named) “Levolution” which refers to a huge destructive incident that can be triggered on several maps that physically alters the playfield. The results are often jaw-dropping to watch – whether it’s an oil tanker crashing into an island during a freak storm or a skyscraper falling dramatically to the ground. The problem is, not all players will see this happen as you need to be in a specific area to witness it and, after it has occurred, there are only subtle changes made to the terrain. It would be far more interesting to have these features alter the play area in a very drastic fashion. Possibly the coolest and most welcome new addition is Commander Mode. Well, technically this isn’t new since Commander Mode was around earlier in the series – but now players can take the role of Commander without even turning on their console as long as they have access to an iPad or other supported tablet. By downloading the official (and free) app, players can search browsers for a game and jump into one right from your tablet, playing with people in real time. Commander Mode essentially puts you in a position to guide every squad on the battlefield and it works wonderfully on a touchscreen. By touching squad icons and dragging to an objective, those squad members immediately will see your orders on their screen. Commanders can promote players, drop supplies, order UAV scans, deploy gunships, and even fire cruise missiles to help your team succeed. Since each team has a Commander, there are often “proxy attacks” between them as they try to block the opposing commander’s functionality temporarily. It’s all insanely fun and a great way to earn experience points even when away from your system. Moreover, there’s also a “Battlelog” app which lets players track stats, access the BF4 forums, and outfit their soldier at any time. I don’t think I’ve ever seen mobile apps incorporated into an existing game as well as they have been here.
Aside from some fancy new features though, what’s really important here is the design of the maps themselves. In my opinion, DICE have outdone themselves with regards to the way each play area is structured. The bottlenecks appear in just the right areas, but there are always multiple routes to an objective when one location gets too hot. Even the maps that are vast and wide-open never seem to feel dull the way they have in some previous games in the series. It seems there is always an area of strategic importance nearby you wherever you are, which really helps to keep you constantly engaged in the game. With a group of friends (you can form squads of five people) I could sit and play Battlefield’s conquest mode with a group of friends for hours uninterrupted – or at least I would if the game would allow me to. See, when Battlefield 4 works, it works wonderfully. Unfortunately, the game as it currently stands is utterly broken.
I understand the days when developers had to be sure their game was 100% ready before shipping it are long gone as post-launch updates and patches are now the norm. But when a game functions as poorly as this, it’s inexcusable. Multiplayer matches constantly crash, sending players back to the menu, “hardcore” playlists are unplayable, it is extremely difficult to join friends in a game, in-game chat is a complete mess, attempting to join one type of game mode will often send you to another — the list goes on. It’s not altogether surprising as Battlefield 3 had its share of launch troubles but it’s disappointing that early adopters shelled out $60 to beta test an unfinished product. Perhaps most frustrating is the fact that all of my single-player campaign progress has been completely erased. FOUR TIMES. This is also a widespread problem affecting many users and is infuriating for a number of reasons. Aside from the obvious time lost in attempting to beat the game numerous times, playing the campaign itself isn’t exactly the most exciting way to spend your time with the title. Yes, it looks amazing and yes, it’s incredibly action-packed, but the convoluted plot and over-the-top clichéd script just seems custom-tailored to make an entertaining trailer, not a memorable gaming experience. I’m aware not every military shooter can benefit from the stellar writing of 2011’s Spec Ops: The Line, but there’s simply nothing here to engross the player that goes any deeper than surface-level action and explosions. It’s not that the single-player offering is unenjoyable (in the way Battlefield 3’s was) but, especially with the top-notch visuals, fantastic sound design, and tight gameplay it offers, it could have been much more than a simple addendum to a multiplayer game.
The two reasons I subjected myself to it over and over then, were the achievements/trophies and of, course, multiplayer unlocks. Since progress is reset every time the game wipes your save, achievement hunters need to create a new save and start looking for collectibles all over again – and playing on hard mode obviously. Then, like clockwork, the next time I start up the system *poof* gone. After this happened three times, I decided to just play the campaign straight through from start to finish as not to lose anything. On the second to last level, after about seven hours of continuous play, I was suddenly kicked to the Xbox dashboard. When I went back to the game, progress was gone again. To date, I still haven’t completed the campaign and my will to do so is wavering.. In the meantime, the developer has acknowledged they are aware of the issues and are working tirelessly to fix things, promising that a patch is on the way this week, but it remains to be seen if that will do the trick. They’ve even offered all early adopters of the game an exclusive pistol and a week-long period where they can earn double experience points – it’s admirable that they are at least admitting the game is having a rocky start and extending an olive branch to their fan base. Either way, the game will eventually work as intended and I’d still recommend it in a heartbeat. Even while currently hampered with and insurmountable amount of bugs, the game will continue to improve as the devs polish it. As I said, when it works, it’s unbelievable — definitely among the finest multiplayer shooters I’ve ever played.