Stop. Any review you previously read about Battlefield 4 was flat-out wrong. Wrong, we tell you. That’s because any short review based on near-gold code or just a few hours or even a day’s worth of play can’t be complete. In fact, we don’t even consider this review anywhere near done yet, even though by the time you read this, we’ll have logged days of in-game play. To pronounce a verdict on a game this sprawling, this complicated, this organic—and this frakking bug-filled—would be irresponsible.
The Commander Mode is back, with a tablet version promised for the loneliest job in the game.
This shouldn’t be news to anyone who has been a fan of the Battlefield series, though. It’s hard to believe, but it’s been almost 12 years since Battlefield 1942 hit the store shelves with its unique blend of first-person and vehicle combat that revolutionized military-themed shooters. Unfortunately, there was this little game franchise called Call of Duty released a year later that minted money faster than, well, the US Mint, and the two have been competing ever since.
The last couple of versions, Battlefield has been chasing CoD and it’s no different here. Developer DICE again invests resources into a CoD-like single-player storyline that we honestly think few will ever play. We can burn a paragraph or two describing the plot but it’s easily summed up as a bad Michael Bay action movie seen through the eyes of South Park: “Booosh!” “Fwraaash!” “Craaaw!” “Kraaaaasssshhhh!!!” Slow-motion helicopter crash. “Caawwwshhh!!!”
To be fair, the single-player’s graphics are fairly stunning and more polygons are expended on single-player than multiplayer. The AI is passable and the save-points less offensive to us than they were in Battlefield 3, but we don’t really care about the single-player mode and we’d guess the vast majority of long-time Battlefield fans don’t either.
We actually suspect that DICE is finally acknowledging that too, so it’s good to see that multiplayer gets some nice buffs that help justify the franchise’s reputation for being the thinking man’s CoD.
Battlefield 2 players belly-ached for years when squads got whittled down from six to four, and Commander Mode and voice com were axed in Battlefield 3. With Battlefield 4, DICE ups the squad size to five, which gives them a little more effective fire teams. Squads are also helped with the return of voice com and a Commander Mode, too.
No review of Battlefield 4 can go without mentioning the Levolution feature—which means a lot of things crumble and fall apart. It’s the natural evolution of the already destructible environments first tested in select Battlefield 3 maps, and it’s quite impressive. We’ve been in matches where the fighting practically stops while players rush out to get a glimpse of the towering skyscraper crumbling to the ground. Don’t be fooled, though—not everything can be flattened. We’d also be remiss if we didn’t mention the stunning water and weather physics DICE has implemented, which are reminiscent of the epic sea battles of the original.
It goes without saying that Battlefield 4 is an intense game on hardware resources. The min spec is a dual-core Core 2 or Athlon X2 with 4GB of RAM and Radeon 3870 or GeForce 8800GT and up, or— get this—Intel HD4000 graphics with a 512MB allocated for the frame buffer. The recommended spec is a quad-core Intel or six-core AMD part, 8GB of RAM, Radeon HD 7870 3GB or GeForce GT 660 3GB or better. Our experience says that if you want to play on Ultra at 1080p with a constant 60fps, you’ll want an eight-core AMD part or Hyper-Threaded Intel quad-core part with a current-gen $300-tier GPU, and even then, you’ll hit patches of 40–50fps in multiplayer on some maps. Let’s just say you need real hardware to play this game in all its glory.
Of course, it’s hard to say what game hardware works best, as you need a fairly stable platform to even get a feel for it. And right now as we go to print, Battlefield 4 hasn’t been stable.
And that gets right into the most controversial part of Battlefield 4: the bugs. Of course, no release of Battlefield has arrived without bugs, but Battlefield 4’s launch has been particularly rough. At launch, players were beset with crashes, lost stats, as well as annoyingly constant server crashes and disconnects. Others complained of poor “netcode” failing to register hits on opponents and being shot through walls. Our own experience initially resulted in crashes and disconnects every other match or three. Multiple server-side patches reduced that to the point where we could play for maybe two hours without a crash or disconnect, but they still occurred on occasion and we were victims of the shot-through-the-wall-problem on occasion.
DICE has since patched the server code again and issued a 1GB client patch to address the crashes. Unfortunately, that patch caused more issues, including more crashing, server disconnects, an inadvertent blurring effect, and lower performance for some players. For what it’s worth, our experience with the patch was a big improvement in server disconnects and crashes. We played a solid four hours with but one game crash and one server crash. We did, however, get the annoying blur.
We won’t even get into the minutia of the odd weapons balance. One grenade upgrade, for example, gives you three smaller grenades that have a smaller blast radius than the single basic grenade you start with, but we’d swear the smaller grenade actually has a larger blast radius. Two engineers repairing the light helicopter make it invulnerable to direct multiple long strings of anti-aircraft fire, too. And many of the weapons seem to be chosen straight from Jane’s Compendium of Obscure Small Arms of the World rather than the familiar armory from Battlefield 3.
So, where does that leave us? Kind of torn, honestly. From the hours we’ve logged, we do love the game. It’s fun and the immense three-dimensional battle space is everything a Battlefield player wants and needs. Let’s just say we won’t be playing much Battlefield 3 from now on. But that’s contingent on Battlefield 4 working—and often it isn’t.
Yet we have faith that DICE will make it right. Battlefield 4, after all, isn’t about getting your $60 today and moving you along PT Barnum–style. No, it’s about getting your $60 today, and another $50 for the DLC, plus $28 for all of the weapon-unlock packs—right up until Battlefield 5 comes along. Call us suckers, but we’ll probably be there too, lined up with our 60 bucks in hand.
$60, www.battlefield.com; ESRB: M
Immense fun; beautiful graphics and water effects.
Enough bugs to qualify for a Starship Troopers sequel.