If you've been sitting on the fence regarding the purchase of a next generation console, Battlefield 4 is the game that will topple you off in no time. Emboldened by the muscular power of the PlayStation 4, DICE has elevated the console version of its seminal warfare sim so that it now sits comfortably alongside the experience enjoyed by top notch PC owners.
The Greatest War
Battlefield has always been about scale, and this fourth official entry offers multiplayer moments that would make you stop and stare, if doing that wasn't such a good way to get shot. Across ten massive maps, you'll engage in blistering 64 player battles where tanks, quad bikes, gun boats, jet skis, helicopters, troop carriers and jet fighters all clash to explosive effect. The only thing missing is an armoured skateboard, and that might well turn up in a future patch, given DICE's exhaustive list of military hardware.
In gameplay terms, not a lot has changed. The game still revolves around Conquest, the online mode that finds players scrambling to take and hold command points. Matches can last upwards of thirty minutes, and feel thrillingly realistic in the way they recreate the ebb and flow of actual combat. You'll advance, fall back, fortify and attack, and it all feels incredibly dynamic and unscripted. There are no corridors to funnel you into specific choke points here - just wide open spaces, both horizontal and vertical, on top of which you can build your own tactics.
Change The Tempo
As well as scale, in recent years Battlefield has also been known for its destruction, with each iteration of DICE's Frostbite engine allowing for ever more impressive ways to demolish the scenery that the developer has so painstakingly built. That's even more true now, as not only can concrete walls be brought down, but the entire maps can change thanks to something called "Levolution".
It's a corny name, but the result is still spectacular. What it means is that each map has some dramatic feature which can be triggered by player actions. Fans will no doubt have seen the collapsing skyscraper from the Siege of Shanghai map, but the destruction of the titular structure on Lancang Dam and the drifting battleship that slams into the coast, framed by typhoon weather in Paracel Storm, are the sort of show-stopping "woah" moments that will change the way you view first-person shooter map design. In the fantastic Flood Zone, a deluge can be unleashed that submerges the entire map, forcing you to swap from tanks to boats, or head to higher ground. These are no longer rigid arenas for you to run around in, but epic ever-changing stages on which to act out your heroism time and again.
These maps are flexible too, able to expand out to accommodate massive pitched battles, or be tightened up for smaller, faster play modes. New to the series is Obliteration, a sort of explosive football game in which two teams race to grab a randomly spawned bomb, and then set it in one of the opponent's two goals. Also new is Defuse, another mode in which players race to set bombs at enemy positions. This time, however, there are no respawns, and with only four-man teams this is perhaps the punchiest multiplayer mode you'll play - rounds generally last less than one minute, but it's a minute that will leave you panting for breath and soaked in sweat.
It's a testament to DICE's design nous that simply by varying where the map borders lie, the same game can play so differently. Almost every building can be entered, almost every rooftop can be reached. It's exciting, but also challenging - unlike other shooters, this is not a game where you can get comfortable in your play style. You'll always need to react to changing circumstances, and if that means taking to the air, or bunkering down, victory goes to the team that adapts quickest.
Same Old Story?
The only real downside is that this phenomenal multiplayer game comes with a rather generic single player campaign. That's hardly the worst sin an online shooter can commit, of course, and the story mode offers more than enough bombastic set pieces to justify at least one playthrough. An occasional mission will open up the play area and let you approximate the freedom of the multiplayer core, but even when it restricts you to corridors and courtyards, you'll never be bored - even if it does feel like we've seen it before.
This is a multiplayer game through and through - it's even the top option in the main menu - and if you want to experience it at its best, you'll want to pick it up for a next gen platform. The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions are good, but with 32 players instead of 64 and fewer capture points per map, it's a compromised pleasure. If you love online shooters, and you've been debating whether to splash out on a new console before Christmas, here's your answer: a big beefy yes.
GAME's Verdict: 9/10
- Huge, thrilling maps crammed with vehicles and action
- Well-balanced XP system ensures you're constantly rewarded
- Levolution features will blow you away
- Single player campaign is forgettable
- Current gen console versions feel small in comparison
- No co-op missions or bonus modes