It's fair to say that the Battlefield franchise is built on its ability to create large-scale, varied conflicts on a much larger scale than the competition. Battlefield 4 promises to up the visual ante of its predecessor while providing a host of new, dynamic maps and an all-new campaign story. Read on to find out whether every component of DICE's new title lives up to the hype.
A beautiful war
First things first – Battlefield 4 is a visually stunning experience. If you've played previous titles in the series then this won't come as much of a surprise, with the new title building on the already impressive visuals of its predecessor. It's just about the prettiest shooter on the market at the moment, though it may soon lose that crown to the PS4's Killzone Shadow Fall.
The animations and lighting are particularly impressive, textures are sharp and attractive, and many sequences are flooded with visually-pleasing lens flair effects. I played the title on a PC with an Intel Core i5 3570K processor, a 2 GB AMD Radeon HD 7870 graphics card and 8 GB RAM. Both the campaign and multiplayer ran smoothly at a solid frame rate with the settings cranked up to maximum.
The weak link
If you're familiar with the Battlefield series, then you'll be aware that it's not known for its single-player experience, and the latest addition to the franchise does little to change that. For a series that's built on its ability to present the player with huge maps and an equally huge range of play styles, the single-player experience is disappointingly linear.
The game's story mode is a by-the-books, point-to-point shooter that makes an effort to tick all of the genre's cliched boxes. Whilst the narrative itself isn't necessarily bad, the telling here is noticeably thin and disjointed. I often found myself heading into a war zone with little recollection of why I was there or what my objective was.
While I'm sure that all the information is there in regards to the wider story arc, the thin presentation makes it all too easy to miss key story points. The campaign sprawls across a variety of impressive locales from coastal oil fields and rain-soaked cities to war-torn aircraft carriers, and the narrative does have its moments, though the majority of these come towards the end of the 5 to 6-hour slog.
What's on offer here isn't bad, it just fails to do anything truly exciting or new.
The Battlefield experience
Things brighten up significantly when it comes to the title's multiplayer component. The game's 64-player matches are the antithesis of its single-player experience, providing a wealth of choice when it comes to loadout customization and play style.
The franchise's two main game modes are back for this latest installment, and compliment each other well. Rush involves one team pushing back the other with the active map area evolving accordingly, while Conquest presents a full battlefield on which the teams compete for control of strategic points.
The larger maps feature a range of vehicles including helicopters and tanks, most of which feature unlockable abilities such as stealth coating or lock-on missiles.
The game's environments are more destructible than its predecessor's and actually evolve during a match by means of (mostly) player-driven events, such as a sky scraper coming down in Siege of Shanghai or a tropical storm hitting Paracel Storm. These events generally add to the experience, significantly altering both the terrain of the maps and player strategy within them.
As with previous Battlefield PC releases, there are a number of significant issues with the multiplayer experience at launch. I've encountered a few random crashes, endured periods of lag, and have occasionally been randomly dropped from a server.
The biggest problem I encountered was a complete inability to play through a full match on the Siege of Shanghai map without the game crashing. I've heard there's another significant problem with this particular map, wherein half the players on the server are kicked off when the sky scraper comes down.
None of these issues break the multiplayer experience (with the current exception of the unplayable Siege of Shanghai map), though they do detract from it. It's also worth noting that the problems are unlikely to persist for long, with the developer already working on a patch for most of the issues.
Battlefield 4 is a game in the throws of an identity crisis. Despite its present issues, the multiplayer experience is as great as ever, offering huge and varied conflicts that refuse to feel old. While the single-player campaign isn't necessarily bad, it fails to be exciting or particularly original and leaves us wondering why the developer is still bothering to include it all.
If you're a fan of previous Battlefield games or like the sound of huge, multi-vehicular conflicts, then DICE's latest title is easy to recommend. Just don't buy this title for its single-player experience alone, as you'll likely be disappointed.
The PC version's 64-player conflicts have been carried over to both the PS4 and Xbox One for this latest entry in the series, though PS3 and Xbox 360 users will have to make do with 24-player battles. My experience with the PS3 version of Battlefield 3 would suggest that having a lower number of players does little to diminish enjoyment of the series' trademark battles, but having not played Battlefield 4 on current gen consoles, this is merely speculation.
Battlefield 4 is available now for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360. The title will be available on PS4 and Xbox One when the systems launch later this month.