We didn’t receive the review code for Battlefield 4 until Friday, so we don’t have a full review quite yet. The multiplayer servers were flipped on just last night, and it’s hard to grade a multiplayer-focused game like BF4 without testing it in the wild with production servers. Battlefield 3 faced a significant number of server issues at launch, so we’re going to see how things shake out in BF4 before rendering an opinion. My initial impressions, based on about two hours of multiplayer, lead me to think the game is going to do better at launch than its predecessor, but we’ll see what happens once the crush of the first wave of folks hits the servers this week.
Instead, I’m going to talk about the single-player campaign as that’s what I’ve played through so far. Judging a Battlefield game on its single-player component is like going to a good steak restaurant and ordering a hamburger, but you deal with the cards that you’re dealt.
The good news is that the single-player campaign for BF4 is significantly better than BF3’s. The plot is much tighter and more cohesive this time around, and it’s actually a decent yarn. While it is not quite on par with the Bad Company series, it is at least in the same ballpark as the the last few Call of Duty games.
You control Recker, a member of Tombstone squadron, who is thrust into the center of a plot by a Chinese admiral to overthrow the Chinese government. To do this, the admiral convinces the Chinese people that the U.S. has assassinated a progressive Chinese candidate. As you play through the six to seven hour campaign, you will explore everything from the dark depths of an aircraft carrier to bright snow-capped mountains. Along the way you will even run into a few characters from BF3 as you try to stop the world from descending into war. The game does feature a few cool signature moments including a battle through a war-torn Shanghai which shows off new levels of destruction in the game.
As a tutorial for the multiplayer portion, the single-player campaign does its job. You see basic combat mechanics in action, drive some vehicles, and, most importantly, you’re introduced to the spotting mechanic. That’s right, Battlefield 4 forces you to use the spotting command (Q button) if you want your non-player characters/vehicles to actively engage the enemy. This is one of the most critical and under-utilized features of the multiplayer portion of the game and I was overjoyed to see it featured so prominently in the single-player.
There are a few other twists to the single-player game, as you earn points for completing actions (killing enemies, destroying vehicles, squad kills, etc.), and each level has score-based objectives that unlock new weapons for you to use in the single-player. These unlocks are then added to the various weapons crates scattered throughout the level and can be immediately brought into combat. In addition to these unlocks, you’ll also be able to pick up weapons from fallen enemies to add to your armory. This adds a bit of replay value, but I’m not sure it’s something I personally would go back for as none of these unlocks carry over the the multiplayer side.
While the plot is global in nature, the story feels small as you’re just dealing with one set of characters. It helps that the main NPC is digitally acted by Michael K. Williams from HBO’s The Wire and Boardwalk Empire; he really nails his performance. If you’ve played any modern first-person shooter over the last few years, you’re going to see the plot twists coming as well as a lot of familiar moments. The game even has what appears to be an homage to Metro 2023 and Last Light.
The game did have a few small glitches towards the end, but, for the most part, it was a bug-free affair. The enemy AI occasionally does a few odd things like not flanking correctly or not running for cover when they are under fire, but it didn’t detract from the experience that much.
I’ll have a full review of the game within a week or so, but I’m happy to report that developer DICE has made some significant strides in their storytelling. I’m not sure I’d buy the game just for the single-player, but it doesn’t feel like the tacked-on campaign of the previous game.