It's been a mere two years since we first played Battlefield 3. Since then, we've fought through many different multiplayer maps, expansions that brought the action to dizzying new heights and reduced entire regions to rubble thanks to the Frostbite engine. In Battlefield 4, the newest iteration of the series, we're promised more of what makes Battlefield unique among first-person shooters in today's market. We hope that the new Frostbite 3 engine won't mean that our expectations will crumble as easily as the buildings in the game.
There are always two parts to a Battlefield game: the story mode and the multiplayer. Now, anyone with a background in the Battlefield series knows the meat of the games lie in the multiplayer suite. Nothing's cooler than jumping online and seeing the madness erupt around you as tanks, planes, boats and soldiers zip around the maps with explosions littering the field as everyone partakes in their own "Battlefield Moments." But with Battlefield 4, DICE has made a concentrated effort to make the story mode compelling and worth playing. And, for the most part, they've succeeded. But, perhaps for the best, none of the thunder is stolen from the multiplayer. After all, signing up for Battlefield Premium gives you access to all of the expansions that are multiplayer-centric, with no sign of any single-player downloadable content on the horizon. Sorry, Tombstone squad.
To its credit, Battlefield 4's single-player mode offers a serviceable story that's centered on a character named Sgt. Daniel "Reck" Recker (what a badass name, right?). Recker is joined by SSgt. William Dunn, SSgt. Kimble "Irish" Graves and Sgt. Clayton "Pac" Pakowski to make up a U.S. spec-ops squad called "Tombstone." After a pretty traumatic start (the first thing you hear is Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart"), you're thrust into a storyline that puts you on the brink of World War III.
It seems a character named Admiral Chang wants to overthrow the Chinese government and lend support to Russia in the war against the United States. This all takes place six years after the events of Battlefield 3 and is a direct sequel, featuring some of the same characters. If you ever finished Battlefield 3's story, then prepared to see some familiar faces. The main difference between the story modes is that, in Battlefield 4, you only control Recker throughout the entire campaign, whereas Battlefield 3 had you jumping around between four different characters. This makes for a more cohesive and personal experience, though I never grew as fond of Tombstone as I did with Battlefield: Bad Company and Battlefield: Bad Company 2's lovable bunch of misfits, "B" Company.
What's interesting about the story mode is that it employs some of the features from multiplayer, such as the ability to mark targets (both personnel and vehicles), and order your squad to kill or suppress. Squad orders are a pretty useful addition and help train up noobies for the job of spotting enemies online. An added bonus is the ability to collect and unlock weapons and other equipment to use online, such as a shiv that can replace your combat knife.
But, as I said, the meat of Battlefield games lie in their moist, delicious multiplayer suites. And in this regard, Battlefield 4 does not disappoint. Currently, there are 11 multiplayer modes. These modes are: Conquest, Rush, Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Squad Deathmatch, Rush, Obliteration, Defuse, Domination, Air Superiority and Capture the Flag.
Conquest, for non-vets, is a mode in which two teams launch large-scale offensives across a huge map. Each team gets a set amount of respawn tickets that bleed as the game goes on. The more capture points a team controls, the slower their tickets will bleed. The first team to run out of tickets loses.
Rush is a medium-scale mode in which two objectives must either be attacked or defended by either team. It is the attacking team's job to set charges and detonate the objectives. After both objectives have been destroyed, the action moves further down the field where two more objectives must be attacked/protected. If all objectives are destroyed, the attacking team wins. If the attacking team's tickets reach zero, they automatically lose.
Of course, Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Squad Deathmatch and Squad Rush are pretty self-explanatory and are just smaller-scaled versions of those respective games. But some new modes have made it into Battlefield 4, such as Obliteration and Defuse. Obliteration tasks players with finding a randomly-spawning bomb and planting it on the enemy team's objectives. The first team to successfully destroy all enemy objectives wins. This can be likened to a form of extreme football.
Defuse is an infantry-only mode with no respawns. This means that players only get one chance to either plant the bomb if attacking or protect the M-COM stations if defending. It's reminiscent of classic games such as Counter Strike, in which killed players must wait until the next round to respawn.
The rest of the returning game modes are fun throwbacks and should feel like home for returning Battlefield vets. There have been a number of improvements to the game, so while everything about the user interface looks the same, there's a considerable amount of change under the hood. For example, the Frost Engine 3 allows for destruction on all levels, letting you bring down whole buildings or shoot out bits of a wall to penetrate cover. Watching wood splinter as you perforate it with bullets is satisfying, as is watching a wall crumble to reveal a squad of enemies that look like they could use a grenade or two.
Some other welcome changes include the ability to dive underwater and pull out your sidearm. No longer are you left defenseless in the drink. Of course, the dynamic undulation of the waves can make it so that aiming is a bit tricky, but at least we're well-equipped. In maps like Flood Zone, which gradually gets more and more flooded over with time, being able to navigate the water is paramount to survival, and a good sidearm at the ready can mean the difference between a kill and being killed.
There have been massive additions to the customization options as well. Not only can you trick out your profile with new dog tags, but your weapons now have even more goodies and attachments. New scope attachments can add two sights to your guns, such as a long range scope with a canted sight. The canted sight allows you to turn the gun to the side to aim with an iron sight for close-quarters encounters. The ability to mix and match as you please means that your loadout will be unique to your needs. The possibilities are almost endless, so being able to test out different combinations is a welcome addiction. Nope, I didn't spell "addition" wrong; I mean that testing out different attachments on loadouts is addictive.
As a game on a next-gen console like the PlayStation 4, Battlefield 4 enjoys crisper-than-crisp visuals with amazing sound. You'll marvel at how realistic everything looks and sounds. And thanks to the networking power of the PlayStation 4, you can participate in large-scale battles with up to 64 players on a server.
You can also take advantage of Battlefield 4's second screen features on the PlayStation 4 by loading up the Battlelog on a tablet. From your secondary device, you can take over the action in Commander Mode and strategically lead your team to victory. Or you can make things a lot easier on yourself by changing your loadout and queuing up on specific servers without ever having to exit the action on your console.
It certainly feels as if it's a great time to be a Battlefield player, especially with all of the advances made in the gameplay and all of its technical aspects. The only problem now is scrounging up the money needed to pay for Battlefield Premium to get access to all of the upcoming expansions. Sign up for this ride. You won't regret it.
This review is based on a retail copy of Battlefield 4 for the PlayStation 4 that was purchased for review.