Review: Battlefield 4 (PS4)

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Title: Battlefield 4
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (55.3 GB)
Release Date: November 15, 2013
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: DICE
Original MSRP: $59.99
ESRB Rating: M
Battlefield 4 is also available on PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, and PC.
The PlayStation 4 disc version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy.

There are a few series that I’ve been a fan of since their beginnings, Wolfenstein, Doom, Quake, and especially Battlefield (see a pattern?) I’ve been in a Battlefield Clan since the original Battlefield 1942, and even though I’ve moved primarily to console for the last couple of entries in the series, I still play them more than most other games.

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It’s been a long-running joke with the writers at PS Nation that I’ve never actually written a review for Battlefield 4, so after 10 months I’m finally doing so. Why did it take so long? Well, for the first few months the game was an absolute mess. Issues like extreme lag, freeze-ups, numerous glitches in Battlelog and horrible latency issues plagued the game in many situations. Devout players put-up with it though because when it ran well, it was a great experience. So after many patches, good and not-so-good, I’ve decided that it’s finally time to write this review, which will not cover the DLC, but only the game included on the disc or in the initial digital download.

Gameplay:
For me, the Battlefield series is in the top First Person Shooters that I play, and even though there have been some offshoots made for consoles like Battlefield 1943 and both Bad Company titles, Battlefield 4 is the true sequel in the series to me. I wasn’t very fond of the single-player campaign in Battlefield 3 (especially since many of the Battlefield games on PC never even had a campaign, it was all centered around mulitplayer), but DICE put much more effort into the campaign in Battlefield 4. It’s still not as good as some other series out there, but I did enjoy the story this time and the level design was much better than before. Admittedly, I played through the story on the PS3 version, since it hit before the PS4 was even available. The campaign is exactly the same between them though, so only the visuals etc. are different.

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As you progress through the campaign, you’ll travel to quite a few different locales and as expected, the inclusion of those big Hollywood blockbuster moments make the difference in making the experience memorable. But there are still problems with things like not really knowing what you’re supposed to do in certain spots and the fact that you have to eliminate EVERY enemy in an area to continue on, even if that means that one of the AI opponents is stuck underneath a staircase in a remote building. From one extreme to another though in terms of AI, it still seems like your opponents know exactly where you are no matter if you’re in deep cover or not which can be frustrating when things get hairy. On the plus side though, there’s a great deal of diversity in your missions and the story overall is solid.

Starting with Battlefield 3, DICE definitely put an emphasis on a more cinematic approach to how the game is played, and that trend has continued into Battlefield 4. You’ll bound over obstacles as you run, lean in and out of cover to diminish your opponents ability to see or shoot you, and deal with some truly epic moments as tall buildings crumble with you inside of them, just to name a few. The level of immersion that the newest revision of the Frostbite Engine is still higher than games being released now, and the actual gun-play is among the best in the business. Bullets and shells drop because of gravity, smoke fills a room to limit your visibility, and buildings crumble all around you as they’re hit with ordinance. Just about everything is destructible in the environment, which directly affects how you need to play the game.

Visuals:
Even now, months later after launch, it’s tough to find a game the matches the amazing visuals in Battlefield 4. Not only does it run at a consistent 60FPS, but extremely large environments still show an incredible level of detail and destructibility throughout. Sunlight peeks through tree branches, realtime shadows are cast by everything you can see, and just about anything on the map (except for a few trees and hardened buildings) can be destroyed completely. Animations also, are very well done and quite smooth. Helicopters swoop in and out of battles in an eerie realism not seen in many other games, and even the extra armor on tanks flaps back and forth when you hit the brakes.

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The other piece of it though, is the fact that the levels are immense, and the game never loses any fidelity because of it. Individual soldiers all have unique characteristics that can be seen in-game, right down to the patches on their sleeves. The most jarring aspect though is to see even a part of the map after it’s been hammered for 15 minutes in a multiplayer match. Buildings can all be leveled, leaving only rubble and debris. The ground itself will be littered with huge craters made by shells and mines exploding all around. Even better, all of this isn’t merely cosmetic, it actually directly affects how you play the game.

Audio:
Another unique aspect of the Frostbite 3 Engine is that it also includes many unique audio effects, and I think they’re all utilized in Battlefield 4. Every surface and object has a unique sound, every footstep can be heard, as does every sound your weapon can make and everything else that would possibly make noise. You’ll freeze for a split-second when you hear the building you’re in starting to crumble all around you, and large vehicles and shells will test the limits of your subwoofer. Surround is especially quite effective in Battlefield 4, and I actually find myself not doing as well when I can’t at least use some headphones that support surround in some way.

Online/Multiplayer:
Online is the bread and butter for the series in my opinion, and I’m very happy that DICE switched some key aspects back to how things were implemented in Battlefield 2. First, the Commander makes a comeback, and instead of hitting the ‘G’ key to zoom out to the interface, in Battlefield 4 the Commander is a dedicated role. The nice thing though, is that you can do so right from your mobile device on iOS and Android, while still earning XP on your actual account. It’s great when you have an effective Commander too, as he/she can drop supplies, vehicles, and even run scans on specific areas to give you a heads-up before you rush an objective.

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Along those same lines too, the command structure has also returned, with squad command support passed-down from the Commander. Unfortunately though, voice chat within the game’s system is still sub-standard and spotty at best. This issue undermines the effectiveness of squad communications when you’re not playing with friends that you can join-up with in the PS4’s party system, which will obviously vary depending on how many friends you have to play this game with. The good(?) news is that even if you’re in a party, you can hear other members of your squad, which can be helpful if you get that rare occasion where a random player is actually good.

The modes available should be familiar if you’ve ever played a Battlefield game before, but Rush Mode, which is most familiar to console players, is pretty weak this time, mainly because of the map design. Personally, this isn’t a huge loss, but many have loved Rush since it was introduced on the console versions of Battlefield. For me though, it’s always been about Conquest mode, and with only a couple of exceptions, the multiplayer maps are pretty fantastic.

Only two really disappoint me, Operation Locker and Flood Zone. Locker is the map that most players from the Call of Duty world will relate to the most, with no vehicles and more close-quarters areas. The problem has always been though that there a couple of choke points that became grenade-fests. DICE has attempted to minimize this by making grenade replenishing almost non-existent on this level which has changed the dynamic somewhat, but it’s still one of my least favorite maps. The other, Flood Zone, we all thought would be one of the best after DICE showed demos numerous times on it. But, getting around the map can be frustrating, especially when it becomes flooded. We’ve actually made the map fun though, as we always make it a point to hold ‘A’, instead of going anywhere else.

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Again, reaching back to how things were handled in Battlefield 2, class customization and progression have been made much more diverse again, with a ton of weapons and modifications to be unlocked. I do wish they gave an easier way to compare different setups though, but if you take some time, there are some great guides online.

There are still a few issues in multiplayer though. Client-side prediction is still a bit wonky at times, seemingly when you’re on a server with players from a continent other than yours. Get ten feet behind cover and still get shot in the head, or even magically get shot when you’re prone behind cover. It still happens, and even though DICE has promised another patch soon, it’s pretty ridiculous that stuff like this is still happening nine to ten months after release. For quite a while, EA/DICE wouldn’t even admit that there were problems and went to great lengths to make players feel like it was the fault of their Internet connections, which only made most players even more frustrated.

Even with all of the complaining though, I have over three hundred hours into the game online and I still play on a regular basis. The design is just that good and it still holds some of the most solid online gameplay you can find in an FPS. But to compare it to Call of Duty is still like comparing apples and oranges. They play at a very different pace, and in many very different ways, so it would probably be best if you don’t try to do that. If you’re a CoD veteran though, you may have difficulties making the move to the vastness afforded in Battlefield 4, especially since you’re not rewarded simply on your K/D Ratio and more on how you work toward your team’s goals instead.

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Also, once again Battlelog is integrated into the entire game, which can be a mixed bag even now. With every patch it acts differently, and many of those times it’s more of a hindrance than a helpful tool. In some iterations, you could easily pull your Friends List up and join them from there. But even now, on the newest version of the game, Battlelog once again isn’t showing online friends at all. I understand what they want to accomplish with it, but I think that they really should evaluate if will ever work the way they want it to. I doubt that will ever happen, but it doesn’t seem that EA realizes that it’s only annoying the people that are paying money to play their game.

Conclusion:
So this is where things get weird. This is still probably my most played game on PS4, even with all of the problems for the first probably five to six months that it was out. It’s losing a full point because of that actually, but it’s still an exceptional online game. The campaign is the best they’ve ever offered in a Battlefield game, but that offering is still pretty new in the grand scheme. Also, in this time of DLC and Season Passes, I will say that if you play the game enough, that Premium is definitely worth it. The amount of content offered is massive, and with only a couple of exceptions, the maps are really good.

Battlefield 4 can still be used to show your PS4 off to friends, it’s simply beautiful and plays like a dream. With Battlefield: Hardline coming next, I have a feeling that I’ll still spend more time on this one, because I truly love playing this game. Let’s just hope that I don’t have to wait nine months to review the next one.

Score:
8.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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