Once More Unto the Mediocre Breach: A Battlefield 4 Review

Battlefield 4's multiplayer is strong as ever. The single-player? Not so much.

Review by Kat Bailey, .

Strange as it may be to say about a series that has built its reputation on raw scope, Battlefield's biggest problem might be that there are times when it's not nearly big enough.

That certainly is the case for Battlefield 4, which, like its predecessors, is both really good and deeply flawed. I've spent a lot time thinking about why this might be the case, and I've come to the conclusion that its problems are most evident when it gets away from what it does best: Namely, massive battles featuring the full suite of vehicles and destructible environments. After all, this is a series built around the notion that it's really cool to drive a tank through a collapsing skyscraper. It doesn't really do subtlety.

Nevertheless, you'll find times when Battlefield 4 seems bent on limiting its scope as much as possible. This seems to be especially true during its single-player missions, which might explain why Battlefield 4's campaign is as weak as it's ever been. Starring a decent but ultimately underwhelming cast of characters headlined by Michael Williams (Omar from The Wire), the adventure jumps from Shanghai to a Chinese Prison to a battle in the Suez Canal, with the unifying thread being war with the Chinese and the Russians. The context for the story is breathless and poorly-explained, with much of the dialogue devoted to developing a relationship between Williams' one-dimensional Irish and Hannah, a Chinese operative working with the U.S.

Isn't it ironic that Al Gore is a peacenik liberal, but we keep using the Internet he invented to wage war and simulate mass destruction? Don't you think?

The campaign's best mission -- and, as it turns out, also its largest and most dynamic -- is a firefight through a gutted aircraft carrier that is taking on water followed by a running battle at sea. It's this battle that feels the most similar to the actual multiplayer missions, which are heavy on vehicles and set piece design. Afterward, the campaign becomes markedly less ambitious, opting instead to stick to suffocating corridors and individual gun battles, which are hampered by some really frustrating choke points. The campaign would have done well to have taken a page from a contemporary like Halo, which has always done a good job of dropping players into what amounts to a sandbox and letting them get from Point A to Point B however they want. As it is, the single-player continues to have relatively little of what I like most about Battlefield -- the huge, chaotic battles that define the multiplayer.

Thankfully, once the single-player is out of the way, Battlefield 4 largely finds its feet. Its trademark Conquest Mode remains customarily excellent, especially when playing on full 32 vs. 32 maps. The battles that erupt on such maps can be awe-inspiring, particularly when there are skilled players on both sides. Helicopters and stealth jets shoot through the air, while tanks and attack boats dominate the land and sea. The best maps are the ones that allow this action to flow naturally; among them, Zavod 311 and its rickety old factories, and the dynamic Rogue Transmission, where battles rage above and below its huge communications dish.

Control all your favorite vehicles! (Action figures not included. Poses require hand support.)

The map selection has its own set of flaws though, which is most apparent in levels like Flood Zone, where the map can go from "solid" to "unplayable" in the space of a few moments. Blame "Levolution" -- a new feature in which certain triggers can completely change a map. It's a cool idea, especially when massive skyscrapers are collapsing onto the field, but there are times when the execution is left wanting. Flood Zone is probably the worst offender, where an abrupt flood brings the action to a grinding halt as players are forced to swim through flooded canals, unable to use more than a pistol.

Other maps focus too much on close-quarters combat, which is where Battlefield is arguably at its weakest. Though hardly unplayable, maps like the one set in a claustrophobic Chinese prison sacrifice the dynamism and excitement of Battlefield's vehicles. Once again, when Battlefield tries to limit the scope of its engagements, its flaws become readily apparent. In the case of the Chinese prison, the support classes have a much harder time filling their particular niches in such tight quarters. Easily campable spawn points and massive choke points also turn modes like Obliteration (a sort of tug-of-war in which two sides fight over a bomb) into a total slaughter. At one point, I found myself stuck in one such engagement, which dragged on for 40 long minutes before being mercifully cut short. Another reviewer likened that match to trench warfare in World War I, and I'm really hard-pressed to disagree.

Isn't Shanghai a beautiful, sophisticated city? Let's blow it up. 'MURCA!

Such battles make me wish that Battlefield 4 were a more focused game. I originally fell in love with the series in large part because of its incredible scope, and those feelings have hardly waned over the years. If the series were to apply some of that magic to the single-player in particular though, I wonder if it couldn't be even stronger than it already is. That might be what it takes for Battlefield to take the much-desired next step and become the dominant multiplayer shooter of our age.

Even if it doesn't reach the dizzying heights to to which it aspires as a AAA shooter, though, Battlefield 4's core modes remain great, and they will only get better as new maps and vehicles become available. Thanks to its sheer enormousness, it retains a particular niche that I personally find very appealing, and I expect to continue playing throughout the year. I just hope I don't have to spend too much time in Chinese prison.

The Specifics:

Visuals: While not a huge leap up from Battlefield 3's already strong graphics, the Frostbite 3 engine still manages to impress with spectacles like collapsing dams and skyscrapers. At max settings, it's one of this year's richest and best-looking games.

Music: Battlefield 4's soundtrack is relatively sparse, with what little there is alternating between soaring action movie tracks and droning, reverb heavy grinds. Where it really shines is its sound effects. Explosions, gunfire, and jets are distinct and rich, and do much to bring the battlefield to life.

Interface: Battlefield 4's customization is almost overwhelming at times, which I blame on the interface. Loaded as it is with jargon, it can be tough to tell what you're getting when you're attaching one of a dozen scopes, or choosing between various gadgets. The result is a trial-and-error approach that can be a tad frustrating when trying to optimize a class for battle.

Lasting Appeal: Battlefield 4 is less a game than a platform. Over the next few months, it will be heavily supported with new maps and other content, making it the kind of shooter that can easily last an entire year. Further adding to its lasting appeal is the Spectator Mode, which ought to go a long way toward increasing its viability in eSports and competitive communities. All told, Battlefield still has a really strong core experience. A map can be approached in a dozen ways, by land, air, sea, or on foot, which does a lot to keep them interesting over a long period of time. Of all its strengths, lasting appeal might be the biggest.

Battlefield 4's below average campaign is once again disappoints, but the excellent Conquest mode and large-scale combat is enough to carry the series for another year. Pretty much status quo for EA's top multiplayer shooter.

3.5 /5

Once More Unto the Mediocre Breach: A Battlefield 4 Review Kat Bailey Battlefield 4's multiplayer is strong as ever. The single-player? Not so much. 2013-10-30T11:20:00-04:00 3.5 5

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Comments 11

  • Avatar for Shotofen #1 Shotofen 4 years ago
    Nice to see a balanced review of a big holiday game for once. However, next time please tell us the total number of multiplayer maps that the game ships with - this is very important information and needs to be prominently displayed, IMO.
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  • Avatar for samuelhowitt #2 samuelhowitt 4 years ago
    @Shotofen Google can help you with that information
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  • Avatar for touchofkiel #3 touchofkiel 4 years ago
    I just now finally got around to playing BF3's campaign, and it was pretty laughable. I'll be picking this up - I've been playing too many RPGs and I just need to SHOOT something for a change - but it's all about the multiplayer for me.
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  • Avatar for brionfoulke91 #4 brionfoulke91 4 years ago
    This is the most honest and unbiased review of this game on the internet.
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  • Avatar for Daedalus207 #5 Daedalus207 4 years ago
    @touchofkiel My favorite part of the BF3 campaign was finding ways to break the scripting. The early "shoot the bazooka at the sniper" scene has an awful lot of bizarre ways to game over if you don't do exactly what the game wants you to do.
    I think my favorite is to dance around on the roof like an idiot until your squadmates get to a certain trigger, at which point the game insta-kills you.
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  • Avatar for touchofkiel #6 touchofkiel 4 years ago
    @Daedalus207 Actually, the incessant scripting was what really bothered me. The scene where you and your squad are taking cover from a fighter jet on the bridge comes to mind. But I suppose it is funny, in a way. But also terrible.
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  • Avatar for metalangel #7 metalangel 4 years ago
    So BF4 is to BF3 what BF: Vietnam was to BF: 1942: an entirely unnecessary sequel to fill a gap in the release schedule as mandated by the suits.
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  • Avatar for bigdsweetz #8 bigdsweetz 4 years ago
    Not gonna lie. The campaign is what I play first and if it sucks I don't even bother with the multiplayer. The last one was linear as hell and this one is only 4 hours. Yep, I'll be renting this from Gamefly and returning it once done.Edited 2 times. Last edited November 2013 by bigdsweetz
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  • Avatar for kevinwalter66 #9 kevinwalter66 4 years ago
    While I can't disagree on the front of the campaign being pretty bad, this review turned stupid when the reviewer started talking about multiplayer. The entire point of Flood Zone is not that you have to swim around with a pistol. Once the levee is broken, it forces infantry to ascend to the rooftops to continue their battle, while vehicles become even more dominant (and in fact, a necessity) in the flooded canals below. It's meant to increase the difficulty of that particular fight. If you want static maps where everything stays the same, go play Call of Duty. But stay away from Ghosts, I heard you can make a gas station topple over in that one...
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  • Avatar for rocksteady13 #10 rocksteady13 4 years ago
    @kevinwalter66, excellent point in regards to multiplayer. Breaking the levee sounded pretty cool to me because it changes the entire level dynamic. I love that and would actually consider it a pro and not a con. Usually people that don't adapt well quickly love linear levels and lack of adaptation and it sounds like the reviewer was one of those. On a side note I just picked it up today for PS4 and it comes with 7 free days of PS+ which is cool!
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  • Avatar for guitarprince #11 guitarprince 8 months ago
    On PlayStation 4, Battlefield 4 suffers from a handful of irritating launch issues. The 1.50 firmware update caused a number of issues. The core gameplay is unaffected -- it's still great -- but limited servers, unreliable connectivity at press time is frustrating. It's been difficult to find any Conquest games, too. Additionally, Battlefield 4 has a hard time functioning properly with PSN. I crashed back to the PS4 home screen after a number of errors, as did many of my squad mates. If you're worried about not having the best possible experience with a great game, wait for Battlefield 4 to stabilize. When and if these problems are solved, we'll remove this disclaimer. We still believe Battlefield 4 is a great game, as you'll see in the review below, but be advised. DICE and EA have taken to delaying "future projects" as well as Battlefield 4's map expansions as a result of these issues. You can learn more about why here on IGN.

    Battlefield 4 is a greatest hits album of DICE’s multiplayer first-person shooter legacy. It retains the defining DNA of Battlefield 1942, re-adopts Battlefield 2’s brilliant Commander mode, and exaggerates the destruction of Battlefield: Bad Company 2, all while embracing the realism, class reorganization, and gorgeous graphics of Battlefield 3. Most of the time, Battlefield’s unpredictable, vehicular-based competitive combat is predictably excellent. What I didn’t anticipate was DICE getting in its own way.

    What we've never seen before in a Battlefield game is the drastic, and often inconsistent way Battlefield 4 forces its two massive 32-player teams to adjust to evolving environmental conditions. A dam bursts, crushing everything below with metric tonnes of rubble and floods. Half a hotel disintegrates, exposing a control point and depriving snipers of a valuable perch. Large-scale destruction like this changes the fundamental layout of an area, forcing combatants to react intelligently and change their strategies and loadouts on the fly. Even after the magic and surprise is gone, teams always need to be prepared for how they’ll react when a crumbled tower keeps their tanks out of enemy territory. Coming out on top because your new strategy adapts to and harnesses the new level design is even more satisfying than the XP and armory unlocks you earn along the way.
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