The “Fishing in Baku” trailer for Battlefield 4 was an incredible trailer. More of a tech demo for DICE’s Frostbite 3 engine than for the actual gameplay, it showed off just what Battlefield 4 would be pumping into our telly screens come next-gen launch. As a piece of marketing propaganda, it was astounding. For one, it made us largely forgive the shortcomings of Battlefield 4 on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 because we knew a better version was coming. It made us overlook (or, at the very least, forgive) the multitude of bugs and glitches that troubled the last-gen versions. More than this, it made us salivate for the “better” editions, made us hungry, ravenous, for the next-gen launch.
Having now thrown myself into the PlayStation 4 version, it’s safe to say that EA and DICE were very clever in making us anticipate it so much, because, graphically speaking, next-gen Battlefield 4 was absolutely worth the wait. You might notice that once you’re beyond the opening level upon which the aforementioned trailer was based, the graphical oomph is dialled down just slightly (there are less dazzling lighting effects, for a start), but that doesn’t matter. Battlefield 4 is still one of the best-looking launch games on either console, even if it is a skin-deep beauty that hides a multitude of sins in the single player campaign.
Looking almost as good as a PC version running on a high-end rig, Battlefield 4 is glorious to behold for soloists. The light and particle effects are beyond beautiful, and the facial detail in the characters is second to none. But, in the campaign at least, it’s a calculated and convenient beauty – because, as I said in my last-gen review – the campaign isn’t really that good. Despite the sheer size of each level and the wonderful opportunities for flanking and destruction, it’s very by-the-numbers, and both squad and enemy AI leaves a lot to be desired.
The story follows protagonist Daniel Recker and his squad of testosterone-fuelled Special Forces operatives as they attempt to stop a Chinese separatist from launching World War III. Somehow DICE manage to squeeze every single action movie cliché into the plot, and they flog several to death. The writing is decent and the voice acting top-notch, but the tedium of the narrative pervades everything. Every cut-scene ends with Recker being knocked out or blown up, and the underused characters follow fairly rigid genre archetypes throughout. That said, as a piece of popcorn gaming it’s enjoyable enough in itself, even if you do groan when Recker overtakes Frodo Baggins as ‘Protagonist Most Likely to Need Rescuing’. Everyone has to save Recker, a lot.
Of course, what was forgivable on PlayStation 3 remains so on PlayStation 4, and no one is buying Battlefield 4 for the riveting storyline or the light it shines upon the brutal realities of war (mostly because it shines no such light, ever). You’re buying it for the destructive gameplay and the destructible environments, and in all fairness to DICE the next-gen version does eradicate the issues I had with game-crashes, visual and audio bugs, and wonky framerate.
Everything in the campaign looks smoother, silkier, and runs so much better. No more mid-firefight bugs requiring a hard reset to get around; no more loss of sound for no apparent reason during a cut-scene. And to top it off, did I say it looks amazing? Because it does. It looks truly, truly amazing. That is, until you jump into multiplayer, where things aren’t quite so extravagant.
For quite obvious reasons, concessions have been made in the multiplayer that have marginally reduced the overall quality back down to roughly the same level as the last-gen version. The set-up is just the same, the game modes are all present and correct and the maps, while slightly more detailed, remain the same. The boost comes from the smoothness of it all; the noticeable lack of screen tear and lag; the solid draw-distance that doesn’t have to pop in to existence as you move towards it.
Perhaps the biggest benefit of the next-gen versions is in the number of available players. Boosting from 24-players to 64 is staggering, and the extra bodies really fill up the gargantuan maps. Just the idea of having 32 enemy players on the field at a given time is staggering, and it’s really very noticeable – particularly in the mid-sized maps.
The PS Vita does allow for Remote Play, but it’s not worth bothering with, purely because the functionality of L2, R2, L3 and R3 are relegated to the rear touchpad and, as such, simple actions like running and scanning the environment or throwing grenades become a horrible chore that rob you of most of the fun. The second screen can be used as a handy tactical map though, which, while it will pull your focus away from the action, is pretty cool.
VERDICT: Battlefield 4 is the same game you’ve already played on last-gen consoles, but with all the technical kinks ironed out, a gloriously up-scaled engine and a mammoth online element. It is a definitively better version of arguably the year’s finest multiplayer shooter, and as such is absolutely worth picking up if you haven’t already. I’d even recommend upgrading to the next-gen version if you bought the original game as part of a deal that allows it. Yes, the package is undeniably and deliberately pretty, but even if it’s what’s inside that truly counts, Battlefield 4 won’t disappoint.
SUPERB. This is the mark of greatness, only awarded to games that engage us from start to finish. Titles that score 9/10 will have very few problems or negative issues, and will deliver high quality and value for money across all aspects of their design.
Review copy provided by publisher.