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Posted on Nov 12, 2013 in Electronic Games

Battlefield 4 – PC Game Review

By Peter Suciu

battlefield-4-coverBattlefield 4. PC game review. Publisher: Electronic Arts. Game Developer: DICE. $59.99

Passed Inspection: Commander Mode is back; new maps, new modes, more BF fun

Failed Basic: Campaign mode is serious dud; plan on buying a new computer!

Sequels in movie franchise tend to sometimes go really downhill by the time the number “4”—often “IV” in movie titles—rolls around. With video games sometimes “4” can be pretty good, and in the case of the ever-popular Battlefield series the fourth time is the charm. It not only builds on what worked before, it improves the experience in nearly every way.

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First things first: while titled Battlefield 4, it is actually “4” in name only. The original game in the series, Battlefield 1942, was set during the Second World War. It was a game changer in so many ways for the first person shooter genre, notably as it allowed players to fight as infantry but also drive jeeps and tanks, fly planes and even take control of ships!

That game spawned a number of expansions that increased the action and then it led to Battlefield Vietnam, followed by Battlefield 2. Exactly where the naming convention comes in isn’t clear, but then there was also Battlefield: Bad Company 1 & 2 and finally Battlefield 3 that arrived two years ago. Somewhere in there was a futuristic version BF 2142, but for the most part the franchise has been at least historically based.

Now we’re up to Battlefield 4.

Since BF2 the franchise has mostly looked forward instead of back and has focused on modern day combat instead of historical settings such as WWII or Vietnam. In addition, while it took six years from the release of BF2 until BF3 came out, it appears that game developer Digital Illusions CE (DICE) and publisher Electronic Arts (EA) are now on a two-year cycle, with downloadable maps and expansion packs pretty much already lined up.

Three-Way Fight
When BF2 took the fight to the modern day it included three playable factions: the United States, China, and a Middle Eastern coalition. The expansions added the Russians, British, and NATO powers. The latest take on modern combat is once again about a trinity, but this time it is the U.S., China and Russia. Perhaps cultural sensitivity has weighed in, but it could also be that the major powers seem to make more sense.

Regardless of which power you opt for, the game is generally very balanced in terms of equipment, small arms and even vehicles. While players may prefer one firearm over another, the advancement system allows unlocks for weapons—as well as for achievements—and these help level the playing field. Starting out as a newbie and playing against veterans can be a frustrating experience at times, but that can be said about most shooters.

Once again the game offers a globetrotting experience with settings that include city fighting in Shanghai, a flooded village to navigate and, of course, wide-open terrain in the countryside. This means some maps are going to focus on room-to-room and house-to-house fighting in crowded streets whilst others will be favorites for the tank jockeys and flyboys. Battlefield has always been a series that mixes it up, and BF4 provides a solid balance once again. Sure, there will be maps people love and those that are loathed, but it all depends on the gaming style.

EA has already announced that old favorites including Gulf of Oman and the Paris Metro will make a return as downloadable content (DLC).

Big and Destructible
When BF 1942 came out way, way back in 2002 the game arguably changed the course of first person shooters. A few games at the time—notably Red Faction—had introduced destructible environments where walls and even some buildings could be destroyed. However, these were typically small settings and thus contained the amount of damage.

As BF 1942 added vehicles the amount of destruction was sidetracked, due to the size of the maps involved. The Bad Company titles added destruction to the game with very good results, but while there was a lot of stuff to blow up in BF3 it felt somewhat forced.

Now with BF4 gamers truly get the best of both worlds. Much more of the environment can be affected by the raging combat, so hiding out in a house isn’t going to be the best bet if the building can be brought down upon you! This makes for some intense gameplay. Dashing through the streets of Shanghai as buildings crash down around you can be a serious thrill ride, but more impressive is the ability to take out the enemy within the buildings by blowing up the place!

As we’re still not at the point where everything can be destroyed the game does have limits. Generally, only smaller structures (two stories or less) can be taken down. Taller buildings can now lose the façades, however, and streets can be damaged, causing them to sink in—much to the dismay of those driving tanks. The best thing that can be said about the destructible environment is that taking out a house doesn’t just change the map dynamics slightly. Destroying certain structures changes the very nature of the map and how players need to react.

Talking about “nature,” the game also really makes good use of weather, and this includes how one map can be flooded. Another takes place during a hurricane! Mother Nature can be as cruel as that sniper who keeps plugging you.

Game Modes
With BF4 the game developers took a cue from the Call of Duty and Medal of Honor playbook—not to mention their own BF: Bad Company titles—by including a single-player campaign. This linear campaign takes the players to various settings, many of which make up the multiplayer maps.

Narration is told through the expected cutscenes, which have all the punch of a bad direct-to-video movie, and the balance of missions is far from perfect. It is a run-and-gun experience that can get bogged down by some difficult to achieve objectives. At times it becomes rather tedious, whereas games should be fun.

To be blunt, however, the solitaire campaign probably isn’t why anyone will pick up BF4, so to that end we can more easily overlook its shortcomings. The campaign might be a nice way to get up to speed with the game, but as with past titles, this one is still very much about going online and playing with and against friends.

The online gameplay is very good and not really all that different from BF3, with one notable difference. The commander mode, which was seen in BF2 and BF 2142, has returned. This allows players to experience the game not so much as a shooter but as a strategy game with a bird’s-eye view of the action. As with the past versions, commanders can chat with every squad leader, issue orders, scan for the enemy, and drop supplies and vehicles. There is also the ability to launch a missile strike, and this has been refined from the old artillery strikes, notably in that friendly players must be able to see the target. Apparently blind shooting isn’t something commanders can do any longer.

The return of the commander mode is a mixed bag, to be frank. While I enjoy the ability to launch a missile strike and issue orders to players, it is still frustrating when players opt not to follow orders. Worse still is when the commander gets the blame for losing when this is still a game about teamwork.

As a multiplayer game BF4 does up the ante. First, the game supports 64 players, meaning 32-on-32 matches. That can make the action—in a word—intense. On the flip side there are options to play with smaller teams, which make for more intimate game sessions. Sometimes that might mean a lot of running and capturing flags, but nothing will get your heart pumping like thinking you are safe and suddenly you find out that you are not! The maps can be scaled to fit the number of players, so again this one scores points for variety.

There are the usual modes that include Conquest, Domination, Rush, Team Deathmatch and Squad Deathmatch, along with two new modes called Obliteration and Defuse. Conquest involves fighting over a handful of set positions, while Domination is very much the same but on a smaller scale with one key point to control. Rush involves a move forward to various objectives.

The Deathmatch modes are also good, but experienced players and those with fast computers will often get the upper hand. The Obliteration mode is a bit like Rush, but instead of a series of bombs to set off, this one involves a single bomb. The Defuse mode also involves a bomb but with a twist.

Defuse is very much like the classic Counter-Strike in that players don’t respawn. This is designed for 5-on-5 matches with one life per round, and generally these can be played quickly. It also adds the possibility of LAN gaming, which is something the BF series has typically lacked. Defuse isn’t for everyone but does suggest this iteration of BF has a lot of variety to offer in terms of gameplay styles.

Final Thoughts
Battlefield 4 is another hit in a franchise that has had few misses. If you think all this sounds like not a lot has changed since BF3, you’re correct. This one features minor improvements, notably with graphics and the added modes. In this way it does feel like a smooth transition from the previous game while offering some new maps, new small arms and just a little bit more of what has always made this series one of the best shooters out there.

If you were tired of the action in BF3 this one isn’t really going to offer much new, but the variety of maps and gaming modes should add some freshness. It is also nice that this has come out after just two years, so it hardly gave BF3 time to feel that old.

Overall, BF4 is a top-notch game, but with one major caveat (beyond the lackluster campaign mode): the game might require that you upgrade your system. The specs call for 4GB of memory, but it is recommended you have at least 8GB, and while it can run on an Intel Core 2 Duo or Athlon X2 a Quad-Core or six-core AMD is recommended.

If you have a newer computer than you should be fine, but if you haven’t upgraded in a while this might require it—and might be worth it.

Armchair General Score: 95% for online play; 50% for solitaire campaign

About the Author
Peter Suciu has been collecting militaria and playing military simulations since he was a child. He’s been reviewing computer games for nearly 20 years, and when he’s not waging battle from his desktop he is a business reporter for several magazines and websites. His work has appeared on CNBC.com, Fortune.com and Forbes. He also collects military helmets and runs the MilitarySunHelmets.com website.

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