It’d be nice if the makers of Battlefield and Call of Duty would just stop pretending they care about a single player campaign. The unwritten rule of these first-person shooter powerhouses is that multiplayer be top notch while the single player story is cliché, boring, ridiculous, and infuriating. Battlefield 4 is no exception to this rule. Perhaps we will live in a world where the single-player story is handled with care, but with the multiplayer-only Titanfall on the horizon, it’s only a matter of time before the single-player shooter campaign fades from existence completely.
Not quite next gen, but not quite last gen, Battlefield 4 is a gorgeous in-between title to greet the new console generation. The graphics, especially the facial capture, put Call of Duty: Ghosts to shame. Soft lighting, particle effects, reflections, realistic waves, and much, much more show that Frostbite 3 is going to be the game engine to beat this generation. Star Wars Battlefront, the next untitled Mass Effect, and Dragon Age: Inquisition will all use Frostbite 3, and I’m ridiculously excited to see what else can be done with this engine. It’s a shame the motion capture while in the middle of a level isn’t as good in the real-time rendered cutscenes, but it’s understandable since you’re generally looking for enemies and trying to not die. 2011’s L.A. Noire still dominates with its facial capture technology, but Battlefield 4 certainly doesn’t disappoint. Regardless of the graphics, the sheer amount of things on screen at once is astounding. The game may not be entirely next-gen, but it’s certainly one of the best looking games to date.
Where the graphics excel as being one of the best looking games on the market, the single player story (which I’m sure all of a dozen people played) is frustrating at best. Breaking from the recent first-person shooters, the story is somewhat interesting, with a shockingly diverse cast of memorable characters, despite some fumbles here and there. Some motivations of the characters are a bit unfounded, like one character’s reasons for not trusting a character, but some of your fellow soldiers actually show character development beyond only being able to aim and shoot. One of the best parts of the campaign is the ability to tag enemies for your squadmates and for your own benefit, just like in multiplayer. It makes the game feel more tactical than Ghosts, and it makes planning feel intensely rewarding when you actually succeed. You can order your squadmates to open fire on the tagged enemies you’re aiming at, giving you the ability to flank, snipe, or blow up the opposition.
Unfortunately, Battlefield 4’s enemy AI has an almost supernatural sense of where you are at all times. This superpower is enhanced by their ability to hit you with shots well outside the range of their weapon’s accuracy. For example, I was across a cliffside with a sniper rifle aimed at enemies. They appeared to be maybe 100 meters away. Barely peeking out from behind a wall, I fired a shot and took down one enemy. Immediately, every assault rifle opened fire on me, which was to be expected. Despite being almost entirely behind cover and prone, it was impossible to line up a shot because enemies would frequently manage to hit me, causing me to miss the shot. Getting hit is to be expected, but getting hit once a second from a hundred meters away seems a bit unrealistic. Enemies are also bullet sponges at times, requiring an exorbitant amount of shots to take down, with only a headshot from a sniper rifle or shotgun being guaranteed one-hit kills. Furthermore, enemies seem to have the ability to shoot through walls, with invisible walls present on some corners, and other walls that enemies can see through, but I obviously cannot. It leads to a frustrating experience that just makes me never want to play this game again.
Multiplayer, however, is functionally as fantastic as ever, with massive maps, multiple vehicles, and intense gameplay heralding the beginning of this new generation. In a series first (and maybe genre first), players can test weapons and vehicles in a testing range, allowing them to learn the controls without players instantly blowing them up. This is one of the best features of this title, and it makes the game for easier for newcomers to at least try to survive longer than a few seconds before some sniper gets you from across the map. Battlefield 4 also features a new destructibility mechanic called “Levolution.” Some maps have dynamic set pieces—the skyscraper in the middle of the level Siege of Shanghai is the most notable—that changes the course of the match. In one level, a skyscraper can fall, changing the capture point from atop the massive tower to in the middle of the crumpled island of debris in the middle of the water. It leads to awesome matches where you have to balance protecting the base and the roof of the map, making it seem a bit less one-sided. Water physics are also immensely improved, with massive waves allowing boats to actually gain cover, with intense aquatic combat that hasn’t really be done before. All this combines to make multiplayer a truly awesome experience. There’s no split-screen, which is ridiculously unfortunate considering Ghosts has it. I’d understand it not being present on the 360 version, but splitscreen’s absence from the Xbox One version is a disheartening continuation of multiplayer shifting from on the couch or online to being strictly online. There are some clipping issues with invisible walls and walls that can be shot through, but they don’t happen too often.
The game also supports using a tablet or laptop so you can play as a commander in multiplayer, change your loadout, or view leaderboards. The idea of being able to tap an area on-screen to deliver a missile strike is awesome, despite being a bit unnecessary. It makes second-screen functionality seem a bit more impressive and practical than simply having a cellphone that rings, like in Dead Rising 3, and heralds a new era of gameplay.
Unfortunately, despite any improvements to multiplayer, there have been widespread reports of several crashes when the game tries to load on the Xbox One version, as well as the other console versions. There are also reportedly common server issues that make multiplayer virtually unplayable, with some players barely being able to play online at all. In a supposedly next-gen title that is almost entirely focused on multiplayer, it’s disappointing and makes the game feel rushed to beat Ghosts and be with the new generation at launch, which is unfortunate.
Battlefield 4 isn’t really a next-gen title, but it’s hardly a waste of time. The game looks gorgeous compared to other games in the genre, but it’s not quite as good as what was promised in other next-gen titles like Watch Dogs and Quantum Break. Battlefield 4′s intensely fun multiplayer and the new test range almost outweigh the forgettable, sometimes broken single player campaign and the massive server issues, but the game ultimately feels like a retracing of steps we’ve taken a dozen times before. The story is interesting, as are the characters, but the AI being bullet sponges with the ability of seeing everything sully the overall experience of the short seven to eight-hour campaign. If you like fun multiplayer with friends, Battlefield 4 will be a fun experience like so many other first-person shooters once the game actually works and allows players to enjoy it. If you want a single player campaign that is fun and engrossing with mulitplayer servers that actually work, stick with Call of Duty: Ghosts. If you want a true next-gen first-person shooter, try waiting for the next Halo.