It wasn’t all that long ago that I hadn’t played a Battlefield game, and despite plenty of people telling me it was the “thinking man’s Call of Duty” it wasn’t until I wrote a Battlefield 2 review in my pre-TGR days that I tried out what people were raving about. I could instantly see the point they were making – slower games on huge maps, more tactical classes to aid in medic and engineer roles, it was more akin to Killzone 2 than COD but with a realistic setting and plenty of vehicles to drive about the place. Battlefield 3 built on that and really cemented its place in the multiplayer spectrum, but what of Battlefield 4? With current games struggling to bridge the gap between the outgoing and incoming generations of consoles this was the big chance to Battlefield to stamp its authority on the FPS genre, and show that there’s still enough life left in the PS3 and 360 to make games work on both sides of the generation gap. It doesn’t do a bad job, but the series is clearly yearning for some newer kit to run on.
Battlefield 4 certainly looks the part though; the typically war-torn environments are put together nicely and crumble with the carnage that we’ve come to expect from Battlefield’s destructible environments. The new Levolution feature gives your multiplayer battles some excitement too by dramatically changing the surroundings during some matches by knocking down a huge building or washing up a huge boat on the back of a storm – the moments are initially awe-inspiring when you’re caught in the middle of it and can only sit back and admire the events unfolding around you. They’re not as dynamic as I’d hoped they would be though – the events are much the same so what starts off as a “woah…” moment soon turns into a “oh look, it’s happening again” event which just so happens to make things look different.
Elsewhere the online modes work as well as they always have. Ranking up is slow going at first, giving you plenty of time to decide which loadout will suit you best and which class you’re going to focus on. While those more accustomed to Call of Duty might lose heart with the slow progress it’s something that I’m quite a fan of, abandoning endless back-slapping for a more considered and teamwork based reward structure. The maps are as great as ever too, mixing tight spaces with huge expansive areas which give equal emphasis on quick reactions, careful positioning and keeping out of site of those pesky snipers. One thing the larger maps demonstrate though is the need for larger games – 24 players can at times feel a little bare spread out over open areas, something the 64-player next-gen battles will undoubtedly cure.
But get together with a few good squadmates and you’ll be pushing for the win far more than going alone – teamwork is very much the order of the day, and get involved in a perfectly executed bomb planting or high-tension choke point shootout and you’ll be seeing the best that Battlefield 4 has to offer: immersive, co-operative gameplay which rewards working together. The fact there are helicopters and tanks scattering your surroundings for miles only go to enhance the feeling of mild panic that lingers in your mind when you drift into dangerous territory.
Commander mode is quite cool too, bringing you out of the action and presenting you with a top-down view of the map, ready for you to give your team orders and objectives to try and help swing the fight in your favour. It acts almost more like an RTS game, taking the heat out of the situation and leaving you the job of masterminding a tactical victory while others do the ground work. If you’re playing with a team of randoms it’s always hard to know if anyone’s paying any attention to your suggestions, but again jump in with some friends and you’re in for a good time.
But the player count mentioned earlier isn’t the only sign of the latest game engine struggling to behave on ageing technology. On numerous occasions the action slowed to a crawl for a couple of seconds, leaving us vulnerable to being taken out with no chance of avoiding it. It’s also quite jolting if you’re lining up a careful headshot, only for the framerate to plummet and send your aim skywards at the crucial point. It doesn’t happen all the time, maybe once per game, but it’s proof (if proof were needed) that some games aren’t coping well with the step up in power.
And then there’s the single player campaign, which has taken its lead from that of Battlefield 3, dropping campaign length for a series of high-impact set pieces which, over the course of about 5 hours, gives you a lot of spectacles to enjoy but leaves you quite short of a compelling plot and sort of wishing it was quite a bit longer. It’s clear the focus on Battlefield 4’s development was in the multiplayer modes, but it’s a shame that those who enjoy a good solo campaign are being catered for less and less as the series moves on.
In bringing the current generation of Battlefield to a close, Battlefield 4 hasn’t done a bad job by any means, but it suffers where so many others are suffering right now: it’s just not cut out to run on what is now underpowered hardware. While the PS4, One and PC versions will fix almost all of the issues raised with the PS3 version we reviewed, this writeup can’t be swayed by that. Battlefield 4 is a really good FPS title, but it’s time to move onwards and upwards. It’s not a current gen series any more.
Reviewed on PS3