Battlefield 4 – PC
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA DICE
Release Date: Oct 29, 2013
Genre: Action, FPS
Reviewed by Mitch Cullen and Mark Smith

Review Score: 4 of 5

This year we are trying something new with our Battlefield 4 review. As many of you know, I enjoy FPS games with a great single-player campaign, and while I will always check out the multiplayer components of these games, they never seem to hold my interest beyond the first few weeks after release. And then we have Mitch Cullen, our staff military expert, real-world solider, and multiplayer aficionado. Mitch was still actively playing Battlefield 3 online when he got assigned to play and review the multiplayer portion of Battlefield 4, so this review will be in two parts; one focusing on the campaign, and the other on multiplayer, and our scores will be combined into the final overall rating.

So how about that single-player campaign? Opening with the song “Total Eclipse of the Heart” playing on the radio, we meet our squad in a slowly sinking vehicle. One member is trapped and you, the player, are forced to shoot out the window so the rest of you can survive. For what should be a troubling moment equated to a squeeze of the RT to fire that fateful round and start the flashback of events leading up to a watery grave for one unlucky soldier.

And yes, I said RT, because I am playing this game with an Xbox 360 controller despite DICE’s efforts to discourage gamepad use by still requiring you to use a mouse (and possibly a keyboard) to navigate pop-up hint boxes, weapons and gadget loadout screens and refusing to show any gamepad button prompts throughout the game. Considering this is the exact same game you can also play on the Xbox 360, and the fact that the B button isn’t doing anything; why must I mouse-click my way around these screens. Yes, I know this is a PC game and I “should” be playing with a mouse and keyboard, but I play better with a controller, and since I don’t care much about multiplayer I don’t have to worry about getting “pwned” online by mouse users.

Battlefield has always trailed the Call of Duty franchise when it comes to storytelling. DICE seems bent and content on delivering a next-gen multiplayer game so why not do that and forego the campaign entirely, because honestly, having no campaign in your game isn’t nearly as bad as having a lame one, and Battlefield 4 has a pretty poor story told over the course of a half-dozen chapters that will take you to some picturesque locales including downtown Shanghai, a frozen Chinese prison camp, and even the Suez Canal. Some of the missions take place onboard ships, below and up on deck, and you even get to pilot a boat and drive a tank, but unlike previous games, there are no aerial missions, although at times you can call in airstrikes from nearby friendly choppers.

The new item in your bag of tricks is the Tactical Binoculars. These allow you to scan the immediate area and tag any enemies and key objects so you can see them even after you put them away. It’s pretty much the same thing you had in Crisis 3 or just about any other recently released shooter. Another new feature is the squad engagement meter. When this fills up you can press RB to callout any nearby targets and have your team lay down suppressing fire. They might actually kill someone, but if they do it will be just plain luck as the squad AI is pretty lousy, and once again your team is there merely for distraction and to keep the conversation alive during downtime. Thankfully, enemy AI is significantly better and offers a nice scaling challenge across all difficulty modes.

Despite some rather large level designs the path through them is quite linear, and quickly devolves into a bit of walking followed by an arena-like encounter and then you repeat. Numerous weapons and gadget stashes means you can reload and rearm often, and there is always a nice selection of enemy weapons left lying around. You’ll want to find and unlock as many as possible including some mission-specific gun for use in future missions.

Since the designers have greater control over where you are going and what you are doing and seeing, the single-player game does offer far superior graphics to those that you will find in the online modes. A reasonably high-end PC will run this game on ultra and dazzle you doing so. I complained last year about Battlefield 3 and their dirty camera lens. They cleaned the lens a bit for Battlefield 4, but there are still some specs when you hit the light just right, but even more annoying this year is the ridiculous amount of lens flares, especially from artificial lighting like being below deck on your ship. J.J. Abrams must have had final approval on the lighting for this game. It’s even more annoying when nearly every enemy has a high-powered spotlight mounted to the barrel of their gun.

The campaign was a total letdown. The characters aren’t that likeable, their banter is annoying, and I hate to think the future of the world is in their hands. The game has a few epic action set pieces which I won’t spoil here, but even their best Michael Bay moment is not as good as Call of Duty’s worst. DICE just can’t tell a story or make an action movie, so please stop trying and just put all your focus into multiplayer for Battlefield 5. I give the campaign mode 2 out of 5.

So, how about that multiplayer Mitch?

I had been playing the demo for Battlefield 4 for weeks prior to release, so I was eager to explore the entire package. For those trying to decide on PC versus console, just know that the PC is running full 32 vs 32 games that are some of the most impressive online experiences you can share assuming you don’t get dropped. Despite all of the beta and server stress tests, Battlefield 4 is an unpredictable mess when it comes to playing and actually finishing a match. Things are slowly getting better a week after release but be warned; you may have issues.

Conquest mode seems to be the favorite at the moment but I encourage everyone to check out the Domination mode, especially if you aren’t a fan of the vehicles since Domination is an infantry-only mode. The maps are incredible, perfectly scaled for these 64-player battles waging on land, air, and sea. DICE’s new tool in their toolkit is also a potential wrench in the gears of gameplay. I‘m referring to “Levolution”; a new system that can change the entire landscape of the playing field with a single event. Those who played the demo will know you can drop that giant skyscraper creating all sorts of chaos, but in Flood Zone you can actually blow up a dam and flood the level. What would have been a great opportunity to break out the watercraft and do some boat battles on the new canals simply devolves into players dogpaddling through the water engaging in pistol combat. Other game-changing moments aren’t nearly as epic. You might have a blizzard blow in frosting over your scope, or perhaps a hurricane will change up your battlefield tactics.

Battlefield 4 is best when it’s going all out on the biggest maps with the most players. Of course the one issue that has always plagued the Battlefield franchise is that you can play any mode on any map, but many maps are clearly design to play better with a certain mode. Figuring out which modes work best on which maps and then seeking out those games from the lobby is a key factor in your overall enjoyment of the game. When the levels get smaller and you start engaging in CQC it seems the game is trying to emulate Call of Duty, and that’s not what Battlefield players want. Support classes are virtually ineffective in the tight confines of some of the smaller levels. Spawn points become easy target for campers in these levels, making it hard to even get started let alone gain traction.

Indoor levels seem claustrophobic compared to the expansive outdoor environments that let you dominate the battlefield from the air or even the sea. Vehicles have always been a huge part of the franchise and once you get proficient at flying a plane or helicopter or steering a tank or a boat you just became that much more valuable to your team. As it stands now, the multiplayer portion of Battlefield 4 is a 4 out of 5, but with a few more patches and some big map DLC, that score could go up over the next year.

The overall presentation of the game is no better or worse than Battlefield 3. You are still going to be launching from the browser-based Battlelog system, which does seem a bit more stable this year. The graphics look just as good as Battlefield 3 does on the same system so I am guess there have been no significant improvements in the Frostbite 3 engine. And since the PC version offers the best technical specs when it comes to graphics I see no reason to even consider an Xbox One or PlayStation 4; at least for this game, unless you just don’t have a PC powerful enough to play it.

The audio component features some super-realistic weapon sounds – something Battlefield has always done better than the exaggerated effects in Call of Duty – but the overall mix is all over the place with dialogue buried beneath other sounds requiring the use of subtitles, and the music is minimal at best. The overall surround mix is excellent with great spatial use of digital PCM audio supporting up to 7.1 systems and great bass effects for those with subwoofers.

Battlefield has never been known for its campaign or storytelling abilities, and people coming into Battlefield 4 know this and are hopefully prepared to spend the majority of their time in the excellent online multiplayer modes. DICE knows war and the bigger the battlefield the better. You won’t find a better 64-player FPS on your PC; certainly nothing with this level of graphics, dedicated community support, and a loyal fan base that will keep this series going for another year until EA can try to do better.