The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Battlefield 4 was meant to be the flag bearer for a new generation of console shooters. Everything from its glossy marketing campaign to the circumstance that surrounded the next coming of one of the most popular modern multiplayer shooters insinuated that DICE and EA were on to something big.
And in that regard, they succeeded. Battlefield 4 is big. But it’s hollow, it’s tired, and perhaps most inexcusably, it’s broken.
Now a few months since its debut, the tickertape parade that heralded its release has subsided, and all we’re left with is a confetti potpourri of unplayable maps, glitches galore and a lack of flexibility.
By comparison, the inconsistencies of Battlefield 3 pale to those of its successor. These aren’t just glitches and bugs that you would associate with usual Battlefield releases; rather they’re ailments for a new generation, for the more that DICE try to fix, the more they seem to break.
This is your Battlefield 4; limping, wounded, and just like you, it’s crying out for a med-pack.
Firstly, let me start by lauding the Battlefield 4 campaign for being a marked improvement on the droll offering in Battlefield 3. The same ‘everything is at stake’ motif echoes again in the background, but despite its painstakingly short length, it is a hugely fun experience that thankfully rectifies the meagre offering that preceded it.
And if only for some multiplayer collectibles or a glance at some truly tactically positioned lens flare, campaign is a blast, and now that its corruption problems have been mostly rectified, why not leave it until your next unscheduled disconnection from the EA Servers to try out.
But Battlefield is and always will be a predominantly multiplayer title, and so, EA Servers permitting, the first time you boot up the game will likely be to delve back in to the same multiplayer that you’ve always loved, only with a delightfully next-gen twist.
In this sense, Battlefield 4 is a suitable improvement over its predecessor.
This is a series that has always been about an amalgamation of several different FPS aspects and ideals that in-turn create a fun team-based experience with just a hint of realism, and Battlefield 4 isn’t going to buck that trend just yet.
From its air combat to infantry skirmishes, nautical battles to a tank siege by land, the games pure values remain intact, complimented even further by the introduction of Battlefield 4’s party trick ‘Levolution’.
In essence, Levolution is the complete and utter destruction of certain parts of each map orchestrated by one of several player-triggered events. You may already be familiar with the much popularized collapsing of the Shanghai Tower on the Siege of Shanghai map, but the wanton destruction doesn’t stop there.
On one map, an entire radar installation collapses atop the heads of errantly positioned infantry, on another a storm causes a huge battleship to careen inland and decimate a small island. Most impressive though is the Levolution moment on the map Flood Zone, which sees a burst dyke flood the city, essentially changing its whole makeup in a matter of moments.
Next to the usual plethora of impact craters and completely collapsible buildings, Levolution brings a whole new dynamic to the game that alters terrain in ways you never thought imaginable. This is essentially the same game engine that brought us Battlefield: Bad Company 6 years prior after all, and although Battlefield’s destruction back then was impressive, it’s nigh on incredible now.
Even without the added devastating panache of Levolution, the maps of Battlefield 4 remain the same perfect mix of vehicular playgrounds and infantry mass-graves. From rooftop shanty towns to confined prison hallways and the charred grass of freshly spoiled fields, the makeup of the games maps is still everything we’ve come to expect, and yet at the same time, they feel more rigid than they ever have before.
And what I mean by that, is that unlike in previous Battlefield iterations, a single map may not have all the tools to encompass each and every game mode that Battlefield 4 has to offer.
Paracel Storm may be a great Conquest Small map, but on Rush it loses some of its lustre. Golmud Railway may be a decent Rush map, but it fails in Obliteration. And although you love playing Conquest Large on Siege of Shanghai, in Team Deathmatch the map just isn’t the same.
This somewhat infuriating design oversight does nothing but narrow down player choice, and although I accept that there are certain allowances that have to be made on a per-map basis, there seems to be a certain sloppiness to objective placement and general match flow that suggests a lack of care and a hurried approach.
But the problems of Battlefield 4 extend far beyond that of just map and game mode mechanics, for at its inherently rotten core, a sickness resides that serves to manipulate the flow your average multiplayer match like a sinister puppet master.
Due to a lack of synchronicity between Player A, Player B and the server, basic gunplay in Battlefield 4 is broken, and in dire need of parity.
What used to be negligible deaths easily chalked off to occasional lag and latency problems is now something that you have to plan your entire match around. I used to be confident of scoring a kill when heading into a one-on-one gun battle with an enemy, now I know that it’s not our skill or accuracy that will determine the victor, rather a set of oblique circumstances outside of our control.
My entire Battlefield 4 experience is thusly governed by luck and the hope that my nearest adversary isn’t surfing along a wave of unbreakable netcode armour.
Too many times have I been killed by an enemy wielding a rifle and firing it off like a shotgun. Too many times have I needed to put down the controller and wonder how things ever became so contorted.
An absurdly imbalanced gunplay mechanic is made even worse by frequent rubber-banding and drop in frame rate that make certain maps near unplayable. Of the ten vanilla maps available, Paracel Storm and Hainan Resort are regularly choppy, whilst Lancang Dam’s appearance is enough to make me leave the lobby, knowing that it is in such a state of disrepair, it would serve me better to leave rather than contemplate another game struggling to aim my weapon and fire off an accurate shot.
All of these problems readily force me to fall back and entertain the prospect of vehicular combat, but what was once another egg in the Battlefield basket is now rife with exploitation and disparity that has seen even the most pure aspect of Battlefield gameplay corrupted and maimed beyond recognizing.
Be it transport helicopters being completely invincible due to the same Engineer trick that has yet to be fixed for 3 whole games, hit markers either not appearing upon a successful strike or appearing when you’re not even in combat, a combination of unlockable bonuses leading to your MBT being an impenetrable rolling fortress of death or even the absolute lack of sound as your attack boat fires off enough explosives to level a small village, the fractured nature of Battlefield 4’s combat isn’t exclusive to any one aspect of the games usually stellar repertoire.
And when such integral parts of the game aren’t functioning as they should be, then what’s left?
Well, Battlefield 4 has introduced a new levelling system, so there’s that. Levelling is now much steeper, and on a scale of one to one hundred. As you level up, you will gradually earn some ‘Battlepacks’ which contain random items for assorted weapons. You only get a set amount of packs per level increment though, and it is possible that you could reach the max level having still not unlocked the specific item that you’ve been in search of. In this case, the only way to ‘over-level’ and earn more Battlepacks to complete your arsenal will be to (sigh)…purchase all DLC content. And here I was being pleasantly surprised with how Battlepacks weren’t pilfered as microtransactions on the side.
You may think, given this review, that I hate Battlefield 4, but that simply isn’t true. Instead, I hate what Battlefield has become. A pinnacle of the rushed product. A beacon of lazy implementation.
Like its predecessors, Battlefield 4 has evolved, and some of the changes it has made have really been for the better. In this review, I’ve criticised the lack of map versatility, general imbalance, its broken nature and the utilization of Battlepacks as flaws, but there are things that the game does do right. Weapon customization is the best it has ever been. The selection of vehicles available is phenomenal, and the general ethos of the series remains intact. But despite this, the games breakage means that I just can’t enjoy it as intended.
Battlefield 4 may be a V12 engine, but it’s an engine affixed with glue and glitter, totally incomprehensible, and in need of a mechanic.
Perhaps even a victim of its own success, Battlefield 4 has gone from gleaming showroom to dilapidated garage, and is a long way from being in a fit enough state to ride again.
There are finite ways for a game to be disappointing, but Battlefield 4 took one of those ways and made it its own. Battlefield 4 is broken, and several patches later, it’s still a dishevelled shell of its former self. Perhaps most disappointingly, Battlefield 4 isn’t a bad game through lack of trying, but rather through its marauding as a AAA title when it is barely functional. If you're looking for a competent multiplayer FPS for the Playstation 4, do yourself a favour, and stick with Killzone: Shadow Fall.