Xbox One
Recommended
4 stars
List Price
$19.99
Amazon
$13.00 (35%)
3rd Party
$12.73
Usually ships in 24 hours Buy Now»
Overall Grade
4 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Game Itself
4 Stars
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
4.5 Stars
The Audio: Rating the Sound
4.5 Stars
Replay Factor
5 Stars
Bonus Content
4 Stars
Bottom Line
Recommended

Battlefield 4

Street Date:
November 19th, 2013
Reviewed by:
Review Date:1
November 29th, 2013
Game Release Year:
2013
Platform:
Xbox One
Publisher:
Electronic Arts
Developer:
DICE
ESRB Rating:
M (Mature)

Editor's Notes

Xbox One version reviewed. Server issues and various bugs detracted from the launch-week experience, but it is expected that these issues will mostly be corrected within a few weeks.

Introduction

DICE aims to raise the bar with the latest installment of their first-person shooter, vehicular combat, team-based 'Battlefield' series as 'Battlefield 4' is brought to bear on five separate platforms. Without a spinoff or odd expansion in between the new game and 'Battlefield 3,' the pressure is higher than ever to deliver a next-generation playground of wonton destruction. That guy on the cover of the game half alit with orange- well he's ready, but are you?

The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

Jumping into a 'Battlefield 4' match online means a couple of things. You're going to choose a class – Recon, Assault, Engineer or Support. You're likely going to die, multiple times, at the gun of somebody employing a tactic you hadn't considered, to which, you will (eventually) adjust accordingly. But more importantly, you're going to be taken by surprise. A jet might crash-land at your very feet. A tank shell might narrowly miss your head and take out a jeep ten meters behind you. A skyscraper might fall. You might see that last one coming, but it's still a sight to behold and each map has its own massive twist of the sort, so don't roll your eyes too far at the much-touted "Levolution" gimmick. Despite the market-speak, 'Battlefield 4' really does evolve at the whim of your gun. No other shooter connects you to the environment so easily and with such lasting impact.

That said, 'Battlefield 4' is in many ways more of a refinement of 'Battlefield 3' and less of a leap forward. The class system works virtually the same, though progression has seen a few meaningful tweaks, and the best online modes of the 'Battlefield' series are back with two extras that couldn't be further apart in their impact. Before delving into the nuances, and with a savory deep intake of air, one thing must be highlighted. It must:

The maps. Oh my, the maps.

These are maps of a world, not a box full of props, and they glisten and break and crumble like the world you know. The water bounds and troughs, viciously striking at attack boats, while buildings simply break and buckle, soldiers buried within. The destruction from the 'Bad Company' spinoff series is married with the visual clarity and overwhelming expansiveness of 'Battlefield 3.' You have Golmund Railway, an absolutely massive vista upon which the tanks may play and the jets can streak over, littered with buildings ripe for demolition. Rogue Transmission is similarly expansive, though with an enormous radar dish sprawling across the middle. Players can choose to zip across in an ATV or Jeep, or push on beneath towards varying objectives, depending on the game type.

Most other maps have their own sort of breathtaking quirk, but they can't go mentioned without recognition of DICE's most permeating addition to the Frostbite Engine. That's the water, of course, which has been transformed from a flat and sterile road for ineffective boats to a raging and rolling battleground for tanks on water. Paracel Storm, in particular, enables absolute power for players willing to embrace nautical warfare, especially when the map transitions from a set of islands floating peacefully on tranquil waters to the aforementioned battleground with speckled oases in between. Flood Zone sees previous footpaths turned into zip-lines for jet skis after a levee breaks and the titular flood ensues. As likely the most divisive map among current players – it's a bit intricate – it's also one of the best examples of DICE's desire to take map design to a new level.

But all the map flourishes would be for naught if the gunplay and vehicular warfare didn't mesh perfectly with the game modes on demand. And for the most part it does, though for any an avid fan of vehicle-based maps in 'Battlefield,' modes like Team Deathmatch and the new Defuse, which forgo vehicles altogether, skew negatively towards 'Call of Duty' style play. One map, Operation Locker, similarly shoots for corridor warfare in a game that, for the most part, is designed exactly for the opposite. The run and gun side of things work well, and the cramped hallways of Operation Locker are tense in the flurry of advanced particle effects and wonderful sound design, but being confined in such a way doesn't feel fresh. Infinitely more important, however, is that DICE seems to have taken many lessons learned from 'Battlefield 3' vehicular balancing and applied it successfully to its predecessor.

First off, attack helicopters are no longer a bane for every defenseless soul below, despite more intuitive controls. It's arguable that the scout choppers, those more nimble but less overtly powerful, are the more dangerous flier now, which brings down the bar of lethality from above a considerable amount. A good pilot is going to find his or her mark, but anyone without positional awareness and knowledge of the various anti-air systems is going to find a quick death. The same sentiment can be extended to armor on the ground. Tanks pack a punch, but new weak points along the top and sides make it more vulnerable than before. Jets are split into two categories, one equipped with default air-to-ground missiles and the other designed for aerial combat, a welcome variety.

And, of course, the new attack boats are absolute beasts, which makes trekking water less a chore and more an opportunity. Most of these changes positively enforce vehicular combat while keeping those interested in infantry play capable of doing their own kind of damage, though Golmund Railway is one map that has infantry at distinct disadvantage. The one exception, which favors anyone on wheels or in the air over anyone on their feet. (Infantry types, be prepared to blow up.)

While Conquest works largely the same as before, Rush is a mode heavily dependent on intelligent placement of bomb sites along the maps and happily sees a bit of a comeback in 'Battlefield 4.' The matches feel much more fluid from section to section this time around, while the improved vehicle balance means you won't feel like fish in a barrel on the defending side.

As for the new game modes, Obliteration is absolutely worth a try. Defuse is absolutely not. While the latter slows gameplay down to a crawl by eliminating respawns and sectoring a match into rounds, the former sets 'Battlefield' loose in all the best ways. A bomb is set in the middle of the stage, opposing teams required to wrestle over its control and plant it in one of three locations on the opposite end of the map. Destroy all three and you win. This is DICE's way of focusing the combat into one mobile point on the map while avoiding common annoyances with capture-the-flag. The unpredictability and all out chaos that follows the bomb keeps the adrenaline pumping and emphasizes squad play more than Conquest or even Rush. You absolutely need your teammates to come away victorious, which unfortunately means if you're stuck with a squad that cares only for their kill/death ratios you might find the experience a little taxing.

One last small yet significant change to the series' formula is the way you unlock guns and advance your classes. Before, when guns unlocked at various points along each classes' progression, it wasn't hard to find a favorite setup early on. Now, guns are unlocked along their own progression within a certain gun category and separate from the overarching character class. Specifically, this means in order to get the second assault rifle, you absolutely have to use the first one. Long-term, this doesn't change much, but early on the game is forcing you to use weapons you might not find suitable. In particular, early Assault and Engineer weapons feel weak and useless. Admittedly, it's a minor and fleeting annoyance, but one that DICE is requiring everyone to go through. As for the Squad Perks system, it rewards specific squad actions (like repairs and revives), but it is a slight system that can be slightly distracting.

There's another minor and fleeting annoyance and it's called the single-player campaign. Bravado, heroism and worldwide conflict ensue, but DICE seems absolutely set on ignoring the dynamism seen in multiplayer in favor of a by-the numbers, linear and pointless set of infantry-heavy missions. The few times you do step into a vehicle, you're set down as narrow a path as ever and forced into a lineup of predictable conflicts. The net effect is to add a check in the single player campaign box in the list of game features, which makes perfect sense for a lot of other shooting games that aren't named 'Battlefield.'

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

The Xbox One version of 'Battlefield 4' loses the resolution numbers game to both the PC and PS4, (720p Xbox One, 900p PS4) but high resolution isn't the game's main visual draw. Five minutes into the multiplayer with 64-player battles and 60 frames per second, and next-gen console players won't find themselves clamoring for the better version. They have it now.

What you will notice five minutes in, if you're the type to take occasional pause from the action, are the varying and encapsulating environments in each map. Paracel Storm's shifting horizons and visibility-altering weather effects bring home aspects of reality bolstered in every map by a surprising amount of destruction and interactivity. When Siege of Shanghai's skyscraper falls, you'll know not because of the earthquake that follows, but by the way the rest of the environment shifts in response as dust lingering in the air and the center of the map obliterated into rubble.

DICE's unbelievable attention to visual detail, marred only by launch-era bugs and glitches, keeps you sucked into these little worlds.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

There are powerful weapons sparsely littered throughout the maps. Mostly these weapons are fun but ineffective to the outcome, but I'm mentioning them now for one reason. The .50 caliber sniper rifle is worth firing, not for the one-hit-kill, but for the thunder that emerges from your hands and warns the entire battlefield of the power wielded. Audio in the 'Battlefield' series can do this like no other, and 'Battlefield 4' is continuing that tradition. Guns roar outdoors and echo inside, these sounds all intelligently rendered with distance, location and surroundings in mind. You'll hear a helicopter's rotors emerge over a building, instilling fear or jubilation at the recognition of your foe or friend. Tanks creak over hills. Boats huff and puff through rough seas. The storm bellows as you fight to survive. This is award-winning stuff.

That said, the musical score comes across as a pair of dying subwoofers attempting to squirt out last year's hottest dubstep track. So there's that. While not totally unpleasant, there's nothing at all emotionally emergent or creative about the tunes, serving merely as a literal "amping up" of the single-player gameplay or a multiplayer match's end. Uninspired is the word.

Voice acting, headlined by Michael K. Williams of 'The Wire,' is surprisingly emotive at times. It's too bad the writing is so wrapped up in its own seriousness to be taken as such, hampered by a needlessly voiceless protagonist, though there are moments now and again along the campaign that make these characters feel like oddly optimistic buddies you might want to know.

Replay Factor

At ten humongous and intricate maps, each supported by all seven game modes, 'Battlefield 4' wants your life. It'll have it, too, if you're up for giving it away. Of course, the game has a season pass for a reason, and that reason is for hardcore players looking for new content on a monthly basis.

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

As with 'Battlefield 3,' a onetime, $50 purchase for Premium nets you the five planned DLC expansions - map packs likely consisting of 4 maps and new vehicles/weapons - and various perks along the way. Seeing as how the entirety of the game is in its maps, if you're planning on sticking with 'Battlefield 4' for the duration, this is a no-brainer. In addition to an overall discount from the standalone prices, you'll receive priority in server queues, double XP promotions and, on Xbox One, a two week head start on the new maps.

I'm particularly looking forward to the Naval Strike expansion, and you can probably guess why.

Final Thoughts

The excellent disparity between the multiplayer and single player makes it clear; DICE should not even bother with the forgettable single-player. DICE is a multiplayer studio, and proves it again and again with every new 'Battlefield' release. The fourth core installment of the series is the biggest, most glorious realization of massive, vehicular warfare yet, and DICE has made some admirable strides with balance and destructibility. The maps deserve special praise. I would live in them if they weren't so dangerous and gratifyingly unpredictable. I'd take to the surf if an attack boat wasn't likely to shred me to pieces.

The marketing campaign around this game is about 'Battlefield' moments, and though I'm loathe to step in line with marketing, DICE and EA know exactly what makes this game work, sans the single-player campaign. On one side of the coin is childish, violent wonder. On the other is pure boredom. Happily, no one, not even DICE, really expects you to pay attention to the latter after a day. The former will take you months to explore. And then the DLC comes.

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Video Resolution/Codec

  • 720p

Multiplayer Mode(s)

  • Online Co-op
  • Online Versus

Motion Controls

  • No

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List Price
$19.99
Amazon
$13.00 (35%)
3rd Party
$12.73
Usually ships in 24 hours Buy Now»