"War. War never changes." That mantra, borrowed from the incredible "Fallout" series, easily applies to the current crop of military first-person shooters (FPS) flooding the market. And while the single-player campaign mode of "Battlefield 4" falls into many of the clichéd tropes littering the genre, right down to the heavy-handed jingoism, its multiplayer component is off-the-wall fun. The fourth installment by EA and DICE sees the return of the series' Commander Mode, and an increased emphasis on teamwork helps to round out the package. But is "Battlefield 4's" multiplayer enough of a reason to drop $60 on the game?
If you've played any first-person shooter in the past five years, you'll feel right at home with "Battlefield 4." Players spend the majority of the roughly 6-hour campaign running from checkpoint to checkpoint with their AI-controlled squad mates, shooting nondescript Russian and Chinese soldiers along the way. Getting shredded by a machine gun? Take cover behind the nearest concrete barrier, log or wall to regenerate health, and march ever onward.
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Players carry up to two weapons and two gadgets at a time, in addition to multiple grenades. Weapons range from your standard submachine gun to .50 caliber sniper rifles. Each gun has its own attributes that affect how well it fires hot lead at your enemies. You acquire guns by taking them from fallen foes or swapping them out at conveniently placed gun boxes. Incidentally, the positioning of a gun box is usually a dead giveaway that you're walking into an ambush or major battle.
Opening a gun box freezes gameplay, which, though admittedly helpful in a chaotic firefight, all but eliminates any sense of urgency to complete the stage's ultimate objective.
Gadgets include an array of rocket launchers, C4 explosives, anti-tank mines and the like. As with guns, you equip yourself with different gadgets at gadget boxes, which, again like the gun boxes, generally indicate you're about to throw down with a squadron of enemies.
Part of the allure of "Battlefield 4" is its realistic environmental destruction, which comes courtesy of the game's Frostbite 3 graphics engine. And though the engine's capabilities are certainly on display during the single-player game, with everything from walls to an aircraft carrier crumbling before your eyes, you won't get to experience Frostbite 3's full power until you jump into a multiplayer match. It's then that you'll be able to take down entire buildings with a few well-placed tank shells.
What sets the Battlefield franchise apart from its FPS brethren is its heavy reliance on vehicular combat: You'll find yourself rolling across Singapore in a tank and zipping across rolling oceans in an attack ship. But for the most part, you'll hoof it across "Battlefield 4's" single player campaign.
"Battlefield 4" serves as a kind of sequel to "Battlefield 3." The game's world is the same as its predecessor's, but you play as a new soldier, Marine Sergeant Daniel Recker. The story starts as you and your fellow Tombstone Squad members, Dunn, Irish and Pac, are trying to escape Baku, Azerbaijan, with intelligence indicating that Chinese Admiral Chang is planning a military coup. If successful, Chang would receive the full support of the Russian military, which is already fairly peeved at the United States, and World War III would be underway.
What follows is one long military shooter cliché, as you and your squad face overwhelming odds as you try to avert a global conflict involving the world's three largest militaries. To do that, you'll kill faceless foreigners, watch a cut scene, kill more foreigners, rinse and repeat. Like most military shooters of its ilk, "Battlefield 4's" story is incredibly jingoistic, with the stalwart Americans seemingly always on the right side of any moral quandary. In a few instances, an American character's moral superiority is called into question, but it's only for a fleeting moment and then easily forgotten.
To its credit, the game does try to add some emotional elements, but they fall flat. Who would have thought it would be so difficult to care for people who haven't been developed beyond muscular caricatures of soldiers, whose every word is some kind of swear?
Multiplayer and Replayability
While the single-player campaign falls flat, "Battlefield 4" really shines in multiplayer mode. There's nothing like squaring off in frenetic, heart-pounding battles against up to 64 players (PC and next-gen consoles only) from across the globe.
Multiplayer is broken down into four character classes: Assault, Engineer, Support and Recon. Assault is the default soldier and comes, appropriately, with an assault rifle and med kit. Leveling up gives you access to the defibrillator gadget, with which you can revive fallen teammates. The Engineer is the anti-vehicle class, and sports various rocket launchers and mines. Of course, you can also repair vehicles with the repair gadget. Support is your basic grunt and rocks a heavy machinegun and C4 explosives, while Recon pulls sniper duty.
Players do battle across 10 different multiplayer maps and 7 different game modes. Environments range from the urban streets of Shanghai to an island chain in the South China Sea to a frozen mountain prison to a city being inundated with floodwaters. It's during multiplayer matches that you'll be able to take full advantage of "Battlefield 4's" Frostbite 3 engine. On the Siege of Shanghai map, for example, you can topple a massive skyscraper, completely transforming how you navigate the map in the process. DICE calls the mechanic "Levolution," and it's present on the majority of the game's multiplayer maps.
The map Flood Zone, in particular, is a perfect example of how Levolution can change the way you play on the fly. In an urban area being slowly swallowed by floodwaters, players must go from running from building to building to swimming across the map in a matter of minutes. It's a unique mechanic that helps add an extra dimension to the multiplayer experience. Naturally, you'll still spend a lot of the game blowing holes in everything from buildings to trees with various vehicles including tanks, personnel carriers, helicopters and jets.
Game modes in "Battlefield 4" include mainstays such as Rush, Domination, Conquest, Team Deathmatch and Deathmatch, as well as new additions, Obliteration and Defuse. Obliteration sees two teams fighting over a single bomb that they must plant at the opposing team's bases. Once one base is destroyed, a new bomb spawns until all of one team's bases are destroyed. Defuse will be familiar to any Counter-Strike fan, and calls on players to plant a bomb at the enemy team's base. The twist, however, is that you can't respawn once you've been killed.
Happily, DICE has also seen fit to bring back the awesome Commander Mode that originally debuted on "Battlefield 2." In this mode, each team gets one person who acts as a commander and has the ability to call in missile strikes, gunships, troop resupplies and drones, and to issue team orders. But you don't just get access to these options at the start of the game. Each of the aforementioned abilities is directly linked to your team's performance. The idea is to foster teamwork, ensuring that each player works toward a single goal rather than focusing solely on their kills-to-deaths ratio.
The new squad bonus function also builds on teamwork. As with the different abilities in Commander Mode, your squad's capacity to work together directly affects bonuses. Capturing enemy control points and the like will build your squad bonus, giving you passive ability boosts, including faster sprinting and more grenades.
But "Battlefield 4" hasn't completely abandoned the individual game experience. You're still able to personalize your character's load out, from your camouflage patterns to the guns you spawn with. You can even customize which squad bonus you want to use.
Graphics and Art
It's not an exaggeration to say that "Battlefield 4" is beautiful. The Frostbite 3 engine is capable of incredible things. Watching a massive skyscraper come crashing down around you as rocket fire rains down from every direction is absolutely mind-blowing, and the fact that the game engine can render all of this without skipping a beat is a testament to DICE's work. We were especially impressed with how amphibious vehicles reacted when driven into water, bouncing upward and slowly rocking back and forth before adjusting to the waves and sailing forward.
Lighting effects were absolutely gorgeous, with beams of light cutting through foliage and streaming through intense cloud cover. Explosions in particular looked fantastic, with bright flashes of red and orange ripping across the screen as each fighter jet fell from the sky and each tank blew up. Character models were also impressively detailed; however, at times they looked a bit too flat, giving the soldiers a lifeless appearance.
This kind of eye candy will only be available on a high-end gaming PC or next-gen console. PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 users will still get a quality experience, but don't expect visuals anywhere near what you'd see on a more powerful system.
Music and Sound
"Battlefield 4's" musical score is your standard military shooter fare, complete with soaring orchestral pieces and low, thumping drums. Nothing truly stands out, save for the brief intro during which you hear the classic "Battlefield" theme song.
Sound effects, on the other hand, are above reproach. Bullets zip by with a distinct whiz, and gunshots ring out across open expanses and reverberate off of the narrow interior of a naval warship. Explosions offer a satisfying percussion, while the sound of tanks roaring by as you hide behind a nearby wall is enough to give you chills.
"Battlefield 4" vs. "Call of Duty"
If you're trying to decide between "Battlefield 4" and "Call of Duty: Ghosts," it really comes down to your taste in gameplay. Whereas "Battlefield" often requires more of a tactical approach, especially in Domination and Rush game modes, "Ghosts" depends on your fast-twitch reflexes, similar to "Counter-Strike." The expansive use of vehicles and destructible environments in "Battlefield 4" also adds an extra dimension to gameplay that "C.O.D." lacks. At the same time, the smaller maps in "Ghosts," along with its lack of destructibility and vehicles, makes for quicker matches, something "Battlefield 4" isn't known for.
"Battlefield 4's" single player campaign is graphically gorgeous, but that beauty is unfortunately marred by a lackluster and overwhelmingly clichéd gameplay and story. However, those who purchase the game for its multiplayer mode will not be disappointed. The ability to drive, fly and blow up nearly everything on the map is nothing short of over-the-top, and you'll be hard pressed to find a lull in the maelstrom. If you're in the market for a new multiplayer shooter to obsess over, sign up for "Battlefield 4."
Genre: First-person shooter
Minimum requirements: OS: Windows Vista SP2 32-BIT
Processor: AMD Athlon X2 2.8 GHZ / Intel Core 2 Duo 2.4 GHZ
Memory: 4 GB
Graphics Card: AMD Radeon HD 3870/ Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT
Graphics Memory: 512 MB Hard drive: 30 GB
Release Date: Oct. 29, 2013
Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360, PS4, Xbox One
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