Like the annual FIFA and PES footie games war, it’s now the turn of first person shooters to fight it out, headed up by Battlefield 4. The annual atrocity exhibition this year kicks off with EA’s Battlefield 4, a title destined to bring joy to millions of gamers come Christmas morning. After all, nothing says Baby Jesus’ Birthday like shooting a stranger in the face.
Arguably positing itself as the more cerebral warfare simulator, with its vehicles and strategy elements, the Battlefield series has traditionally been about the meat and potatoes of combat, as opposed to the increasingly histrionic Call Of Duty behemoth.
Not so this time round, though, with the developers at Dice perhaps realising that not everyone’s idea of fun is being ritually slaughtered online by a teenager from Texas. As such, Battlefield 4 features a fully blown single player campaign, replete with obligatory world-shattering plot and a smattering of Hollywood talent.
Does it elevate Battlefield 4 into the enviable position of being the first person shooter to bag this year, or is it all just a bit too much of the same?
The A Team
Fans of interminable box sets will recognise the voice of Michael K. Williams, otherwise known as Omar out of The Wire and Chalky White from Boardwalk Empire. Here he plays Irish, a member of Tombstone, your small and changeable squad of Marines.
There’s some other bloke called Pac, and yourself, a wordless leader called Recker. Being entirely mute does tend to impinge upon the realism, particularly when someone is talking to you, and we found ourselves attempting to maintain the illusion of involvement by nodding along to the conversation using the controller’s right stick.
The World At War
As for that plot, this year’s enemy seems to be the Chinese, perhaps with some help from the Russians, the upshot being that the future of the civilised world is in your hands, Marine. It’s slickly done, and instantly sucks you into the action, with some dramatic in-game cut scenes and close personal loss setting the pace.
Not afraid to expose you to the horrors of war, Battlefield 4 brings some mildly disturbing moments, with Williams providing the voice of moral outrage in the face of cold military reality. Nobody gets left behind, except when they do, usually because they’re dead.
Despite the often-frenetic pace, it’s by no means a run-and-gun affair, with huge open levels frequently requiring a degree of strategy, along with shrewd weapon selection - thankfully they’re sitting around in handily placed crates. Phew.
In line with Battlefield tradition, an array of vehicles is used, and you even take to the seas for some naval action in this latest title. Very cool.
The game is a truly global affair too. You get to slaughter people all over the world - maybe the developers’ way of showing a bit of, um, balance? - and when a plan comes together, it’s exhilarating stuff. Some of the key sequences play out like the climax of a James Bond film.
This is War
Of course, great swathes of people won’t even bother with Battlefield 4’s story mode, jumping straight into the multiplayer and staying there for the foreseeable future, or at least until Call of Duty: Ghosts comes out. And, if you’re reading this on 1 November, then you’ll only have to wait a mere four days for that. Like we say, it’s a gaming war out there.
As pioneers of online war, Dice was hardly likely to break what wasn’t fixed, and of the seven or eight multiplayer modes, top of the shop is Conquest, the dynamic war zone that lets you jump into the action and do your bit for king and country until you die two minutes later.
As ever, it’s all about the vehicles, with the ability to take the fight over land and sea adding an even more epic dimension, with huge open world maps that feel like you’re actually at war as opposed to running around a map designer’s half-baked idea.
On a smaller scale, the usual Team Deathmatch and Squad Deathmatch are present and correct, with the big difference this year being five-player squads as opposed to four: you do the math.
Elsewhere there are variations on a theme, with modes such as Obliteration and Domination tweaking previous incarnations. And with no respawns and a bomb to deliver, Defuse is shamefully Counter-Strike in all but name. For those who don’t like getting their hands dirty, Commander Mode is back, enabling bedroom generals to sweep above the action in safety.
As for genuinely new features, Battlefield 4’s big focus this time round is on the irksomely named Levolution. On the surface, it simply refers to the destruction of scenery.
From lowly outhouses to vast skyscrapers, they all come tumbling down, which can be inconvenient if you happen to be inside one of them.
On a deeper, more gameplay-focussed level, these events can impact on the action, such as bursting a dam to flood an area, or as Dice seems keen to point out, raising some bollards to prevent vehicle access.
To be honest, if nobody told you about Levolution, you probably wouldn’t know it existed, and ultimately it’s more of a press release than a deal breaker in the game, despite some cool visuals when ‘scrapers come a-tumbling down.
While Battlefield 4 is an undeniably a comprehensive package, Dice seems to have simply stuck its arm into the grab bag of Battlefield ideas past and present and thrown together whatever came out. As such, it will be familiar to fans of the series, and mildly bewildering to total newcomers.
The single player is a rip-roaring affair, although not without the odd bug, our favourite being a sniper falling to his death in a constant loop. And even the multiplayer can sometimes spawn you into instant death.
On the technical side, it seems to be struggling a touch with the current hardware - at least on Xbox 360 - with a degree of choppiness in evidence, even with a full install. While it plays a decent game of war, Dice clearly has one eye on the next-gen, and you may be advised to follow suit.