Having the chance to be amongst the very first people in the world to play Battlefield 4 multiplayer at E3 earlier this year was quite an experience and hopping into the game’s debut competitive map, Siege of Shanghai (the one with the crumbling skyscraper), running on PC was thrilling given that I had seen the action play out at EA’s press conference and was still in awe of the possibilities.
It follows, then, that I would be looking forward to play Battlefield 4 again at gamescom 2013, only this time on a different map, but unfortunately the experience of playing on an all-new level, Paracel Storm, running on PlayStation 4 didn’t fill me with the kind of awe I was hoping for.
During a pre-hands-on presentation, we were told that Battlefield 3 enjoys a playerbase of 24 million people, which means sales have been rock solid since its release at the end of 2011 no doubt thanks (in part) to the excellent Battlefield 3 Premium downloadable content offering.
Following on from the last game, naturally the team at DICE in Sweden set out to create “the best Battlefield experience ever on PC and console,” and with the power of Frostbite 3 and the help of some gameplay innovations, Battlefield 4 looks set to be just what the studio is aiming for.
You may have heard of the ‘Levolution’ concept applied to Battlefield 4, and the most striking example of the ideology is the ability to bring that towering skyscraper crashing to the ground in order to create new routes and strategic points, and also to kick up an unhealthy amount of dust and detritus into the air to restrict visibility, all of which means that the map has dynamically changed forcing players to adjust their approach.
In the newly unveiled map, Paracel Storm, players take to a group of small islands in the South China Sea to battle it out for dominance, but this map’s interpretation of ‘Levolution’ is the way in which the weather of this tropical and idyllic looking archipelago can turn incredibly violent very quickly, resulting in raging storms and huge rolling waves.
So fierce is the storm, it’s possible that a naval battleship might crush its way onto the coastline of an island, again creating new strategic opportunities to take advantage of. Levolution isn’t just about gigantic level changing events, though, and the team says that the concept shows itself in smaller player-triggered actions like cutting power to a building to stop elevators and darken areas, opening and closing doors, being able to hide behind the rolling waves, or shooting a fire extinguisher to disorient enemies.
Of course, Battlefield 4 still includes all of the land and air vehicles you expect like helicopters, jets, tanks and jeeps, but there will be a renewed focus on naval warfare and water-based vehicles like boats and jetskis, which will this time be upgradeable and customisable like other vehicles were in Battlefield 3.
DICE has gone all the way with this aspect of the battle, though, using water and wave physics that not only realistically affect you and your craft, but the weather system has been networked correctly so that “the waves that you see will be the same waves that someone else sees” online. If you’re hiding in the water behind a series of rolling waves, that will be an effective strategy.
The DICE team was also intent on making sure we knew that major improvements have been made to the console version of Battlefield’s social and stats-tracking tool, Battlelog, with “full integration into consoles” coming with Battlefield 4 and stats available at “just the press of a button.” You’ll also be able to access Battlelog on PC, of course, and via smartphones and tablets. Battlelog is updated real-time, so if you’re browsing the service while playing you’ll even be able to see your stats and weapons load-up change as the match progresses.
Also key to the Battlefield 4 feature-list will be Commander Mode which makes its return from Battlefield 2142, where a single player on either side of the match will take a top-down view of the battlefield and strategically help their team with supply drops and by giving orders and directions, and also by activating gunships and calling in tactical missiles when the going gets rough. Commanders can also fight an enemy commander by deactivating their abilities with an EMP blast, for example.
Completely new to the Battlefield series, however, is the ‘Obliteration’ multiplayer game mode where players need to pick up a centrally spawning bomb and hoof it over to a target to detonate the explosive to win a round. First team to win three rounds takes the match. Obliteration was described as similar to rugby, and is said to be a “very fast-paced and team oriented” game mode.
What we were there to play, however, was ‘Conquest Domination’ mode, a variant of regular Battlefield 3 ‘Domination’ that is infantry only (no vehicles) with three objectives to capture. If a team captures and holds two points, the enemy team’s tickets (the overall points that you begin the round with) begin to tick down to zero. If your team reaches zero tickets, you lose.
To make things a little more interesting, another new Battlefield feature was introduced in the form of ‘Battle Pick-ups,’ which on Paracel Storm meant a powerful sniper rifle or shotgun that teams would need to fight over for control. These weapons, while deadly, can’t be restocked with ammo so you’ll need to find them, use them quickly and effectively, and then go on the hunt for a new pick-up while controlling points on the map.
Battlefield 4 – Paracel Storm Multiplayer Trailer
While playing Conquest Domination, the teams were fairly small (up to about five or six aside if memory serves) but despite the lack of players gameplay pace was kept up with a high encounter rate as players circled the domination points and a mighty storm swirled through the small island base. As expected in a map designed by DICE, the routes through the level were easy to navigate and learn with great elevation and strategic points to carve through, as well as sniper points to look out for.
What was strange was that the visual quality of Battlefield 4 running on PlayStation 4 wasn’t nearly what I had hoped for. There was a strange blandness to the visuals that I couldn’t really put my finger on – either the textures were lower resolution or the lighting was flattening everything out – and despite other graphical flair like tree shadows dancing and raging on the floor to match their physical entities, I was kind of disappointed.
Gameplay-wise, though, Battlefield 4 plays as you might expect a Battlefield game to control with sprinting, vaulting and frantic trigger squeezing action ensuing, while the audio is once again overall excellent – loud, crunchy, snappy and piercing where appropriate. I didn’t get to see Paracel Storm’s big Levolution moment, but I did play a bit of hide-and-seek with an enemy by opening and closing doors leading into and out of a large metallic container – a well-placed grenade inside the shuttered box took out my confused foe.
I think the disappointment with my time at gamescom stemmed from the fact that I had played in a much larger arena at E3 and was maybe expecting something a bit more extravagant instead of gameplay I can find and enjoy in Battlefield 3 right now.
With a proper team of friends by my side and more time to learn the ins-and-outs of Conquest Domination on Paracel Storm, however, I’m sure the matches will become that much more intense, while taking advantage of the Levolution tricks and traps hidden in the map will continue to be as thrilling as my brief moment of cleverness with the container was.
Battlefield 4 is out on October 29th in the US and November 1st in Europe and the UK across Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC, and will also launch on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
Also don’t miss our exclusive interview with DICE producer Daniel Matros who talks about changing careers from a community manager, his favourite feature of Battlefield 4 so far, and the development of South Africa.