Battlefield 4 Review

Battlefield 4 may very well go down in history as the most broken, unbalanced AAA launch of all time, and that's not a hyperbole. EA's been pushing the envelope in terms of pathetic game launches lately, but even the earthshaking failure of the studio's SimCity can't compare to the catastrophe that was the Battlefield 4 launch. Shortly following the game's October 29 release on PC and last-gen consoles, we declared the game unfit for a review due to the broken state of affairs in the game's online mode - the primary attraction in the game. The launch of the next-gen versions of the title didn't help things, and we prolonged our review further. Playing on the PlayStation 4 (our test platform) or the Xbox One was nigh impossible for over a week, with server crashes running rampant, multiplayer progress being erased, and even single-player saves disappearing into thin air. It was a dangerous, wild west scenario that kept us far, far away from the online battlefield for the better part of the Thanksgiving holidays.

What they don't tell you is this is all running at about 15 fps

DICE has been hard at work on Battlefield 4 since then, and we're not trying to diminish the work they've done to make the game playable and stable. But the problem is, it's been three months, and while the game's technically playable, it's still far from stable. And even if it were, there's a whole host of design issues buried underneath the mountain of bugs and glitches that make this the worst Battlefield game since... well, since Battlefield 3.

Let's start at the most basic of issues and work our way up. Three months past the the launch of a multiplayer-focused video game, it is simply unacceptable that almost 90% of matches are nearly crippled by lag. And this isn't my internet connection (the fastest available here in the Bay Area) or the PlayStation Network talking, folks, it's the groupings of code commonly referred to as "netcode", the stuff designed to keep online play appearing to run smoothly, even when there's little hitches and cutouts happening with the internet connections of the 64 different people playing the game.

As an Engineer player, I rely heavily on rockets and slams (little anti-tank mines) to get points. When I fire a rocket from my RPG and the lag in the server is so crippling that I frequently am forced to watch the projectile disappear into thin air before it has a chance to connect with its target, that's going to heavily impact my gameplay experience. When I drop a slam on the ground, and the lag is so absurdly prevelant that I am then forced to watch the slam lag up off the ground, back into my hand, and back into my inventory, that's going to upset me a little bit. Not to mention the difficulties I've faced mounting over obstacles, driving vehicles, swimming, or even just running in a straight line. Some matches are miraculously free of lag, and those run great. But they are the smallest exception to the rule right now, and it nearly ruins the game to have to watch parts of it like a slideshow.

It is very pretty in spots, though

Other classes are heavily influenced by lag as well. As a Recon, I found it increasingly difficult to line up a good shot the more character movement lagged. The Aassault class faces similar woes with its more accurate rifles, and reviving teammates can be really finnicky when it looks like you're standing in one spot, but the game thinks you're standing in another. It's probably easiest on the Support class, whose spray-and-pray brand of gunplay translates best to scoring hits on lagging players.

Aside from lag, dropped games are still an issue. I know DICE said they fixed the crashes weeks ago, but they didn't. Just last night my game crashed in the midst of an exhilerating match, taking all of my progress with it. It's definitly less common now than it was before, but game crashes in Battlefield 4 are still a very real issue. So are progression-wiping bugs, which DICE has not completely eliminated.

Then there are the more subtle glitches, the ones that might not be immediately apparent but which ruin the balance of the game. Helicopters and tanks can use a certain combination of loadouts to glitch the game and receive homing rockets/bullets/shells which will seek in on a target like rockets fired from a Javelin missile launcher. Sometimes when you die, your killcam screen will show your killer as having zero health, and yet he'll still be running around just fine. The killcam screen will also often show your killer as having used a pistol, despite the fact that he clearly wasn't (and still isn't) carrying a pistol around. Sometimes you'll level up, only for all of the progress you just made in the last match to be wiped when you enter the next match, effectively forcing you to level-up twice. It's a real mess out there.

Remember when you could do stuff like this at any time, and not just in scripted events?

To be clear, there is a highly compelling, if very flawed, multiplayer game hidden beneath all the blemishes in Battlefield 4. The shooting, when it works as intended, is more staisfyingly heavy than the likes of Call of Duty or Halo, and both the movement and the sounds of the guns is more reailstic than the competition, both in and outdoors. The sandbox nature of the game, combined with mostly large and open maps, allows for ridiculous, watercooler scenarios to create themselves by virtue of 64 players all interacting within a large, open environment. It's the kind of game that you can play for years and always have new, exciting experiences in... if it would just work right.

There are a host of design issues that keep Battlefield 4 from standing among the highs of Battlefield 2 and the Bad Company games, though. Maps in this game have far less in the way of brush cover than they ever have before, and the Recon class no longer gets a ghillie suit, making it harder to find cover and snipe than it has been before. It's also annoying to not have a loadouts system like Call of Duty's in place, meaning that you can effectively only have one easily accessible loadout per class in the game before you have to go in and start tinkering with options. As an Engineer, I wanted an anti-tank rocket and slams in some maps, and anti-air rockets and a repair tool in others. This required constant tinkering.

Larger design issues encompass the inclusion of Battlepacks, little booster packs that contain new attachments, XP boosts, and skins, as well as the progression system itself, which is broken on a high level. 

Battlepacks seem like the kind of thing that were at one point intended to milk microtransactions out of the game, and probably were until EA realized they'd have a PR nightmare on their hands thanks to the busted nature of the game without microtransactions. There are certain attachments that you can only get out of a Battlepack, and these attachments are numerous. You'll only get a Battlepack every few levels, so it reduces upgrading your guns to a guessing game. You can keep the skins and knives and XP boosts behind a randomized wall; I don't care. But it shouldn't be so hard to get the attachment you want for your gun. 

The charm of Bad Company is dead and gone. These guys fight and argue for no reason

It's hard enough to get attachments that aren't part of a Battlepack thanks to the lousy progression, which affords you no control over when you get which items. This is nothing new to those who played Battlefield 3 or Bad Company 2, but it was a busted system in those games, and it hasn't gotten any better. Gone are the days of the original Bad Company, in which you'd earn a point from leveling up and you could spend it to earn whatever you wanted in whichever class you wanted. 

To make the progression system even more of a joke, the order in which you get the guns, attachments, and gadgets seems to be completely randomized. You'll start the game with the worst PDW in the entire game, but the best Carbine. I thus chose to use Carbines, and lo and behold, I never changed my gun again, because why would I? Statistically, the AK 5C, which is unlocked almost immediately, is by far one of the best automatic weapons in the game. Every other gun you unlock in the Carbine tree is garbage by comparison. Then there's the Recon tree, which must've been designed by a real joker. After racking up a few kills with the first sniper rifle, a semi-automatic little peashooter with a measly scope, you'll unlock a gun that's... exactly the same. That's right. The stats of the two guns are the same. Their clip capacity is exactly the same, their reload speed is exactly the same, their available attachments are exactly the same, their damage, range, accuracy, stability and movement stats are exactly the same. As a developer, why would you put two guns in a game that are exactly the same, and why in God's name would you put them right next to each other in the progression tree? And as a player, why would you ever switch to the second gun when you've already gone to the trouble to unlock all of the attachments for the first gun? It's the most baffling design I've ever seen.

Battlefield 4 has a single-player campaign as well, but the less said about it the better. It's yet another hyper-linear, ultra-macho 'splosion-fest fueled by a third-grader's idea of drama. Characters yell at each other for no reason to manufacture "drama", and as a result the whole thing comes across as mean-spirited. Where are the inspired days of the first Bad Company game? Where is the sprawling sandbox campaign with destructable environments that you and I both know the Battlefield series is very capable of? Where are the witty, charming, and utterly unique characters that DICE has clearly demonstrated themselves capable of writing? There's nothing but a hollow, empty mess of grey concrete and screaming synths left in their wake.

It's so extreme and emotional, man

Without a compelling campaign, Battlefield 4's multiplayer is left to stand on its own feebled legs, and that's not a good thing. Even three months after its release, the list of glitches needing fixing is so long as to inspire geniune dispair for what this once-great series has become. The gameplay is still there, buried deep, deep down beneath some of the worst design and coding mistakes DICE has ever made. But they're going to have to do a lot of digging if they want to keep this series above ground for long.

Score: 3.5/10

This game was reviewed on PS4

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