EXCLUSIVE GAME REVIEW: Battlefield 4

As the saying goes, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Clearly, it’s one that, DICE, the makers of the Battlefield games, have taken to heart because after failing repeatedly to make a single-player mode that’s as compelling as their online multiplayer ones, they’ve finally pulled it off with Battlefield 4.

Oh, and the multiplayer is still good, too.

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With Russia and the U.S. in the middle of another cold war, and China in the middle of a civil uprising, the Ruskies decide to help the Chinese people elect a leader who will be sympathetic to their cause through grass roots outreach programs, directed mailings, and town hall meetings. By which I mean espionage. So it’s up to you, as a democracy-loving American, to stop the Russians and let the Chinese pick the leader they want. Well, as long as he’s on our side.

Published by Electronic Arts, and available for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC (with versions for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 due out when those consoles are released), Battlefield 4, like so many modern military first-person shooters, owes a huge debt to the action movies of the ’80s. And not just because the Russians are the enemy. Besides having both big, explosive moments and big explosions, it also has huge plot twists, good guys who can take more shots to the chest than a porn star, and a penchant for obeying Murphy’s Law so strictly that it might as well have the slogan, “Anything than can go wrong, will, and badly.”

Admittedly, the ’80s action movie vibe does make Battlefield 4 feel like so many other first-person shooters lately. But what helps distinguishes from its fellow gun games is that the environments are destructible. Shoot a red barrel, and it won’t just explode, killing the bad guys who were standing next to it, but it’ll also destroy a nearby wall, crushing all the enemies on the other side as well.

You can also now command your fellow soldiers, which comes in especially handy when your squad gets a helping hand. Like, for instance, during the first mission, when a friend shows up with her attack helicopter, and you can ask her to take out some of the bad guys in your way.

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But what really sets Battlefield 4 apart from other shooters, including other games in this series, is that its gunfighters are grittier, raw, and more frantic. This is deeply augmented by the sound design, which gives the gunshots a weight to them, and makes them feel much more substantial than the typical “pop pop pop” of other games. But credit also goes to the bad guys, who not only come at your from all angles, but can take as many shots as, well, you can and keep going, which can make these shootouts rather challenging.

This is not to say that the campaign in Battlefield 4 is without its flaws. For starters, enemies will sometimes make a beeline for you, even running past your squadmates or through obvious hazards to get to you. The music can also, at times, be so loud that it’s difficult to hear the dialog, which is ironic given that some of the same music is effective at creating tension. Too bad it’s technically impossible for a game to have separate volume controls for the music and the sound effects. Oh, wait…

Some of the tension in the firefights is also undercut by how there’s an ammo crate on every corner. This is not to say that you won’t sometimes run out of ammo at exactly the wrong time, but it doesn’t happen often, and usually just means you have to backtrack a bit to find a supply dump.

I’d also bitch that the campaign is rather short, clocking in about a half-dozen hours, were it not for the fact that its so much fun that I want to play it again (something I’ve never said about a Battlefield game before).

Of course, people don’t just play Battlefield for the campaign. They play for the multiplayer, and it’s here that Battlefield 4 excels. Though it’s also where the game largely stays the course. While it does have some refinements and a new mode or two, for the most part, DICE have taken the attitude that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

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Which isn’t to say they didn’t add some new stuff. For starters, some maps have these massive events that can change the layout, such as when a dam collapses or a skyscraper comes crashing down. Granted, it’s not an original idea — Gears Of War 2 and 3 both had multiplayer maps that got buried by an avalanche or were flooded, respectfully — but it’s still effective in keeping things interesting, especially since these disasters are man-made (or should that be “player-made”).

They’ve also changed the different classes around, and made them more about what gadgets you have than your guns. As a result, you can hold your own in a firefight, regardless of which class you pick, which will hopefully result in more varied teams.

That said, without any major changes, the multiplayer in Battlefield 4 will appease people who’ve enjoyed it in previous games…but it’ll annoy people who didn’t like it in previous games. People like me, for instance, who find it annoyingly unforgiving. Admittedly, I suck at these things. But at least in Gears Of War, Halo, and Call Of Duty I can last longer than five seconds before being gunned down. No so in Battlefield, since you don’t have a lot of health, and what little you do doesn’t regenerate unlike in those other games (and, oddly, this one’s campaign). For someone who gets shot, a lot, it’s a not just a lethal combination but a irritating one as well.

This is not, however, a criticism of this series. Quite the contrary. I think by being so unforgiving, the Battlefield games distinguish themselves from Call Of Duty and other first-person shooters, modern military and otherwise. But it is a warning that if you’ve gotten your ass kicked in previous Battlefield games, and it made you feel their multiplayer modes were more frustrating than fun, you’re not going to like Battlefield 4 either.

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Batman: Arkham Origins Battlefield 4 also has a problem, both in multiplayer and the campaign, which is so prominent in gaming these days I feel like I could cut and paste this paragraph into every review I do: the type is too small. Unless you sit as close to the TV as your mom told you not to, it’s impossible to read anything when you go into any of the menus.

Ultimately, Battlefield 4 may be the best overall game in the series so far, if only because it same quality multiplayer, but finally has a strong campaign that’s worth playing more than once. It’s a good thing that DICE decided to try, try again.

SCORE: 8.0

 

To read my exclusive interview with Battlefield 4 writer Jesse Stern, who previously worked on Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and Modern Warfare 2, click here.

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