News, Views, and Reviews
After eliminating a few enemy players in my way, I try to find cover as I start capturing conquest point Bravo. I nervously pivot around, simultaneously scanning the area for more enemy players, and watching the control counter on my screen. It cycles from red to white, to show that I’ve taken it away from enemy control and now it is neutral. Seconds pass and the tension rises. The longer I sit here exposed, the more likely it will be that another enemy player will show up and try to stop me. The control counter cycles from white to blue, showing that it is now controlled by my team, and I prepare to move away from this exposed position. I’m still close enough to conquest point Bravo to notice the control counter is starting to cycle back down from blue to white, indicating that an enemy is nearby trying to re-capture it from me. Now I KNOW someone is close, and my anxiety builds as I try to find them. There is a canal on one side of me, and a short building on the other side. The building provides more cover, so I turn my attention there, looking for any signs of movement in, above, or below it. Suddenly, the top right corner explodes into a shower of glass and concrete! A few seconds later, I find the source: a friendly tank, further down the street, has decimated part of the building with its main cannon. I notice the control counter has cycled back to blue, so I assume that tank cannon just eliminated whatever enemy player was threatening me. I thank my good fortune and run down the street towards the tank, hoping to jump into the gunner’s seat on top and the relative safety the tank’s armor can provide. My heart is racing but there is a big grin on my face; this is Battlefield 4, and I love it!
For the past several days, I’ve been trying to play as much Battlefield 4 as I can to give the most informed review possible. The first day I devoted to the single-player campaign, which turned out to be a great idea as the multi-player servers were pretty unstable. They are still having some issues, but I’m getting into more and more matches successfully as the week passes. Still, there is a two-edged sword here: I love and appreciate that DICE has included a LOT more content and game modes to play than they ever have before, but that makes it difficult to try everything in just a few days. I’m already finding my personal favorites, though, so that says something about the content. If you’re looking for a quick summary or “soundbite” to describe the experience, here it is: Battlefield 4 is greatly improved in every possible way!
Campaign: 1 Player Only.
Online Multi-player: 1-64 Players.
Local (offline): N/A; Split-screen: N/A; System-link or LAN: N/A
Custom game options: Only available on paid servers; options only include match settings such as map rotation, game length, and score/winning conditions.
There are seven game modes playable across ten different maps. All of the maps are very large, to accommodate 64 players and ground and air vehicles such as helicopters and jets, but can be scaled down to smaller portions of the map for “CQC” or “Close Quarter Combat” modes like Team Deathmatch or Obliteration. The seven game modes are:
Conquest: This is the standard “Battlefield-type” game mode. There are a number of control points on the map, and each team tries to maintain control over as many of the points as possible. Controlling many points reduces the other team’s “tickets” or reinforcement numbers faster than having fewer control points. Killing players also reduces tickets. When the time expires or one team is reduced to zero tickets, the team with the most remaining tickets wins. Recommended map size and player count is full size with 64 players, but it can be played on smaller portions of the map with fewer players.
Rush: This is an asymmetrical game mode with one team on offense and the other on defense. The team on offense tries to arm and detonate explosives on two objectives at the enemy’s base. The team on defense tries to stop them by reducing their “tickets” or reinforcement numbers (by killing players) before they can detonate both objectives. If the team on offense succeeds at destroying both objectives, they earn new reinforcement tickets and the team on defense is pushed back on the map to another base with two more objectives. This can happen up to three times, with six total objectives, and if all objectives are destroyed, the team on offense wins that round. If at least one objective remains and the team on offense loses all their tickets, the team on defense wins that round. The teams then switch sides, offense for defense, and another round is played. The entire match is over and it ends with one team winning more rounds than the other or it is a draw. Like Conquest, Rush can be played with full maps and 64 players or with fewer players, but the conflict is always contained to just the area surrounding the base and two objectives currently being contested. Some players prefer this more focused and organized team contest over the freedom to go anywhere on the map that Conquest provides, and the matches are typically shorter.
Team Deathmatch: As it sounds, this is a team versus team mode that has no other objective than to eliminate enemy players faster than the other team. This is considered a “CQC” game mode and is usually played with 24-32 players on smaller portions of the maps with no vehicles. This is a great way to get better at “infantry” game skills without worrying about objectives, large open spaces with nothing happening, or random deaths at the hands of merciless vehicle drivers. Battlefield 4 features a very deep set of character customization options, like new weapons, weapon attachments, and equipment, that is unlocked with progress. But, that’s hard to accomplish with some of the bigger maps and game modes, especially if you don’t encounter enemy players very often. I recommend playing a decent amount of Team Deathmatch to improve game skills AND get those necessary “unlocks” and upgrades to your weapons and equipment.
Obliteration: Both teams fight over possession of a “neutral” bomb on the map, and both teams have three objectives to defend from the other team using that bomb to destroy them. The first team to destroy all three of their enemy’s objectives wins. When the bomb is successfully detonated at an objective – or if it disappears from the map or falls into water – a new bomb will appear on the map and both teams will resume fighting over it. Like Conquest and Rush, Obliteration can be played on full maps with 64 players and vehicles, or it can be scaled down to smaller portions. I think this is a good compromise between those two game modes, as it features both the larger maps and open freedom of Conquest and the more focused, team oriented, frantic game play of Rush.
Squad Deathmatch: This is a variation of Team Deatmatch that actually faces four different squads against each other. Your team is always outnumbered because you are facing three other teams, but their attention will be divided, too. I haven’t played many games of Squad Deathmatch, but I think it can feature vehicles on larger maps or be scaled down to infantry only on smaller maps. In my opinion, it might be easier to learn the maps and work on “unlocks” and player progression by playing something like Team Deathmatch instead of Squad Deathmatch, as you’ll have a larger team to move around with. Still, there is something to be said about the stakes and intensity being raised by being outnumbered.
Domination: This is a variation of Conquest that features smaller portions of the maps, no vehicles, and is suitable for 24-32 players. It’s essentially the more intimate, “CQC” frantic nature of Team Deathmatch with the added “bonus” of giving players objectives to worry about instead of just trying to get more kills than the other team. I can’t help but notice the irony of games like Call of Duty “borrowing” the Conquest game mode, renaming it “Domination” because it’s infantry only, and then Battlefield absorbing that game mode as one of its own. If imitation is a form of flattery, what is it called when you imitate someone’s imitation of you? At any rate, Domination is a great variation of Conquest/Team Deathmatch that can also be used to improve skills and unlock more weapons and equipment. The one quality that the “CQC” game modes seem to share is that the “engineer” or “anti-vehicle” class is somewhat poorly utilized in infantry-only matches. But, the engineer class has weapons, attachments, and equipment to unlock, too, so its still a good idea to use this class in “CQC” modes.
Defuse: Believe it or not, Battlefield has added a game mode made popular by Counter-Strike. Defuse is an asymmetrical game mode featuring a team on offense and a team on defense. The team on defense has three objectives to defend from the team on offense, and the team on offense only has to destroy one of them to win that round. The team on offense only has one bomb, although any one on that team can pick it up, drop it, and let someone else carry it. This creates a unique situation where the team on defense isn’t sure which objective to guard, and the team on offense can maneuver several strategies of faking out the other team by attacking several objectives at once or rushing one objective in force together. All players have only one life, so either team can win simply by eliminating all the players on the other team, regardless of anyone planting the bomb. When one team succeeds or fails at destroying an objective, the round ends, and then the teams switch sides for the next round. With no chance of re-spawning, the pressure is on every player to do well, so this isn’t recommended for new players.
Finally, Battlefield 4 also features a Test Range for one player only, which allows players to move freely about a mid-sized map and get familiar with all the weapon and vehicle types. The biggest benefit is learning the controls of the helicopters and jets, as it can be very frustrating to try and learn how to fly them during a normal match versus other players. There are a few dummy drones circling in the air, and some cardboard-type targets on the ground, so it’s still difficult to master firing the helicopter and jet weapons at other players, but at least there is A Test Range to learn the movement controls.
Classes: One key difference between Battlefield games and other shooters is the separation of weapon sets and abilities or “classes” that feed into the more team-oriented, strategic game play. BF4 has four classes, Assault, Engineer, Support, and Recon, but each of those classes have a number of weapons and equipment to choose from, granting players more options to find a role they prefer to play. An Assault class, for example, could carry assault rifles, med-kits, and defibrillators for reviving teammates, but could swap those out for carbines or grenade launchers to be more of a damage dealer than a medic role. Every class has an exhausting list of weapons and equipment they can unlock, simply by earning experience from that class, and even those weapons have their own list of attachments to unlock. If you want to unlock the M4 carbine, for example, you only have to earn so much experience as an Assault class in general, but if you want to unlock a specific scope for the M4, you have to earn experience with that M4. As you earn overall experience and rank up, you are also awarded random chests that may contain weapon attachments and paint jobs for your weapons. Because this is random, it’s fairly common to unlock a bi-pod or a barrel variation for a weapon you haven’t unlocked yet, but it’s sort of nice to have a little bit of randomness included in player progression.
Vehicles: The Battlefield series also has a reputation for vehicle combat, and that reputation improves with BF4. There is a wide range of vehicles here: small ATVs, large tanks, small helicopters, bigger assault choppers, and the infamous fighter jets. The vehicles have improved controls and responsiveness, although it’s recommended to learn the flight controls in the Test Range. The water vehicles have more value, based on better map design, and it’s also fun to point out that the water itself can raise or lower in intensity, based on weather conditions. One of the maps even features a chance to flood the area, which extends the ability to pilot boats up and down the streets! Another big improvement in BF4 is the balance of infantry versus vehicles. A skilled pilot used to be able to decimate forces on the ground, with little chance for the poor, picked on people to retaliate. Thankfully, BF4 includes more options and capabilities to lock rockets on target, and in some cases, increased the damage those rockets do to the vehicles.
Maps: Battlefield 4 includes ten maps, and when used in their full size, each feature something DICE calls “Levolution.” Environment destruction was added to the Battlefield series in the “Bad Company” spin-offs, was dialed way down in BF3, and makes a triumphant return in BF4. It also includes one major structure on each map that can be completely destroyed that alters the way the map “flows” for the rest of the match. The map or level evolves = Levolution. The most famous example of this, used in advertising materials and the brief beta released at the end of September, is the destruction of an entire skyscraper on the “Siege of Shanghai” map. Again, these big events can only happen if the entire map is being used, and some of the map changes are cooler than others. Flooding the aptly named “Flood Zone” map is pretty cool, but most of the firefights tend to take place on the rooftops, anyway. Further, playing a game mode like Obliteration, where the bomb disappears if it falls into water, is more frustrating than fun in those conditions. Still, I really appreciate the variety of maps, the return of environment destruction, the ability to scale maps for smaller game modes, and the “Levolution” feature is just icing on the cake.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep saying it: Battlefield 4 is greatly improved in every possible way. When BF3 was released a few years ago, it felt like an unfinished product in many ways. The single-player campaign started strong with a lot of detail and neat effects, but those details diminished until the very un-impressive finish that made me feel like I was playing an N64 game. Similarly, although the Battlefield series has typically been associated with THE one game mode, Conquest, it didn’t feel like the few game modes and small map selection justified a full $60 purchase. After a few expansion packs (~$15 each) added more maps and more game modes, BF3 improved its relative value, but I lost interest long before that happened.
I don’t want to start a flame war, facing Battlefield versus the Call of Duty series, but those comparisons are inevitable. Until now, I’ve deflected those comparisons, because both series focused on a certain “feel” or type of game play. Call of Duty excels at smaller maps, with fast, intense, infantry combat, and player skill, speed, and reflexes make a big difference. But, the intuitive, responsive controls and the ability to contribute to your team with different perks and “killstreak” rewards, means novice players can also have fun. That is the key to Call of Duty’s success: it appeals to a broad audience, including new players, casual players, and hardcore, even professional players. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Battlefield series excels at larger maps, with massive multi-player battles, vehicular combat, a slower, more methodical pace, and teamwork and strategy are more important than individual skill. There is some appeal to novice players, provided they have the awareness that they can contribute to their team in support capacities if their skills aren’t quick enough, but overall, the learning curve and complexity mostly appeals to seasoned game players. In short, it’s not so much a question of which series is “better” than the other, rather, it’s a question of preference. Adding game modes like Team Deathmatch in those expansion packs may have made Battlefield more similar to Call of Duty in content, but they still didn’t function the same way. The sluggish controls of BF3 provided a much more frustrating experience than it was trying to imitate, so why bother?
Why bother? If the answer is “to refine and polish the controls and make the game run smoother, faster, and better than ever,” I have to say that I am so glad they bothered! Clearly, DICE has put in the work, and now the content and function are much closer in comparison. Battlefield still moves a little slower and features more “realism” than Call of Duty, but the controls are nearly the same where it counts in responsiveness and accuracy. Battlefield is attempting a closer “simulation” to reality, and as such, presents a challenge for new players learning the controls. The overall user interface for choosing matches and customizing your weapons and equipment is an obstacle all of its own. Good luck using a game pad instead of the keyboard/mouse inputs, as it’s pretty much trial and error learning what the buttons do and how to accomplish even the most trivial of operations like changing seats inside a vehicle or parachuting to safety from a burning helicopter. But, if you have the patience to learn the controls, and the awareness that this is still a slower paced, more teamwork oriented style of game, there is a lot of fun to be had with Battlefield 4.
Battlefield veterans have enjoyed this series for years, and they’ll likely enjoy Battlefield 4. Adding more content, more maps, and more game modes may be irrelevant to them, as they’re probably happy playing more rounds of “traditional” Conquest. Players on the fence, however, should be impressed with the many improvements to the function of BF4, as well as appreciate the new content and new game modes. In short, there is a broader appeal to BF4, so Call of Duty better watch out. A learning curve, as well as a design choice to start all players with crappy weapons and equipment, may deter some players, but I encourage them to stick with it. Play around in the Test Range for awhile, or play some of the “CQC” game modes on smaller maps, until you’ve unlocked some better equipment and improved your skills. Before you know it, you’ll be playing with a big grin on your face, too!
Battlefield 4 is rated ‘M’ for Mature for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language. BF4 launches October 29th for PC, Xbox 360, and PS3, November 15th for PS4, and November 19th for Xbox One.
* The Commander Mode has returned to BF4, which gives one player on each team a different perspective of the match and capabilities like calling in supply drops, UAV drones, and airstrikes. In true “next-gen” fashion, the Commander Mode is also available as a “second screen” experience, which gives some smart phone and tablet owners the ability to play BF4 Commander Mode on the go! Unfortunately, I have yet to experience this feature, so I can’t include it in my review.